OMSI Makes STEAM Learning Accessible and Fun

STEAM is Pouring Out of a Place that Used to Spout Steam [Part 1 of 4]

Portland, Ore. – From the first planetarium in Oregon to educational outreach programs spanning the Pacific Northwest, to the first petting zoo in the U.S., the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) has always been an innovative organization. Now, through the center for innovation, the 75-year-old institution is taking the next step in reimagining what a science museum can be by transforming the historic Turbine Hall. 

The evolution in Turbine Hall signals the museum’s continued endeavor to champion science education and spark curiosity in visitors of all ages. As the organization’s 75th birthday approaches next month, this marks the first major conversion of permanent exhibit space at the museum in almost two decades.

“It is no longer enough for science museums to talk about physics, chemistry and engineering as isolated subjects – and especially not if we want to truly invite everyone to the table,” said Nancy Stueber, president and CEO of OMSI. “If we think that everyone’s voice is needed, if we want to solve the big challenges of the future, and if we want to inspire innovation, we have to make science relevant to everyone.” 

Built in the early 20th century, and home to the Physics Lab, Chemistry Lab, Curium and Epicenter, the newly transformed Turbine Hall now hosts the Innovation Stations, which offer hands-on learning experiences empowering visitors to solve some of modern society’s biggest challenges through science, technology, engineering, art and math (STEAM).

“The world is changing, especially the way people get information and the speed at which they get it, and we are constantly thinking about the methods we use to engage people,” said Stueber. “OMSI is one piece of a much larger learning ecosystem, and we want to ensure we bring in as many different tools and partners as we can to cultivate this ecosystem.”

In order to make STEAM accessible to people of all abilities and backgrounds, the Innovation Station learning experiences are organized around four key components:
    1) They are shaped by compelling narratives.
    2) The design challenges rotate to keep content fresh and new.
    3) They connect people with local and regional industry.
    4) They improve accessibility to a diverse audience.

Compelling Narrative
Educational content featured in the hall is organized around the narrative of tackling ‘Global Goals,’ – worldwide threats to humankind’s ability to thrive over the next 100 years. Employing a human-centered design approach makes worldwide issues more approachable and personally relevant. 

Design Challenges
Developed hand-in-hand with industry partners, design challenges provide fresh, rotating content where visitors can employ scientific thinking to design their unique solutions.

Industry Connections
A key goal for the design challenges is to inspire the next generation of STEAM professionals. By highlighting industry and local innovations, OMSI and its partners hope to provide career-centered learning and pathways to STEAM employment.

Science is for everyone and the design challenges are meant to empower youth to self-identify as problem solvers, equipped to address the complex problems of the 21st century. Much of the experience is meant to teach young people that it’s okay to fail, and there are many different ways to solve a problem. The goal is to bolster confidence and enable visitors to see themselves successful in STEAM subject matter.

“By educating people in STEAM we are equipping them with the power to change the community and make the world a better place. We take our mission to share that power with everyone very seriously, which is why the center for innovation matters,” said Stueber.

OMSI’s center for innovation would not have been possible without the generous support, commitment and partnership of the following organizations:
•    Autodesk
•    Cambia Health Foundation
•    Oregon MESA
•    M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust
•    Union Pacific Railroad
•    Vernier Software & Technology

Read more about the exciting transformation taking place at OMSI:
•    [Part 2] Connecting People to STEAM: OMSI’s Turbine Hall Gets a New Look and Updated Programming
•    [Part 3] Preparing People for the Future: Why OMSI is Renovating, Updating and Restructuring the Turbine Hall
•    [Part 4] The Global Goal: How Compelling Narrative is an Effective Way to Engage People With STEAM