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Morehead takes national leadership role in EvalFest

Leaders from 24 science festivals in 21 states will meet this week in Chapel Hill, N.C., in a first-of-its-kind effort to assess the rapidly-growing science festival movement in the United States.

The 24 science festivals are collaborating in a $1.8-million National Science Foundation research project, EvalFest, that will measure the impact these science festivals make on their participants. Over the next three years, the science festivals will survey their participants -- men, women and children of all races and ages who attend festival-sponsored educational programs and events -- to help identify how effective science festivals are.

The goal for those science festivals is increasing the science literacy of the American public, and EvalFest will help determine how well they are accomplishing that goal, according to EvalFest's three lead investigators: Karen Peterman, principal evaluator of Karen Peterman Consulting; Katherine Nielsen, co-founder of the Bay Area Science Festival and co-director of the Science and Health Education Partnership at the University of California, San Francisco; and Denise Young, co-founder of the North Carolina Science Festival and education and planning director of Morehead Planetarium and Science Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

"A lot of people think they don't like science, but that is mostly because they think of boring science textbooks," Peterman said. "Festivals take science to the people, remind them that science IS cool and make them want more."

Science festivals range from one day to two weeks in length. Some are based in a single city, and others serve statewide audiences, with activities and events at multiple locations. Most festivals include hands-on activities, tours, guest speakers, exhibits and other educational programs about science in lively settings that emphasize fun.

The festivals are relatively new in the United States, but they are growing in popularity, according to Nielsen. However, because they are new, scientists and educators do not have much data yet about how effective the festivals are. EvalFest is the first national effort to evaluate the effectiveness of the festivals.

Results from EvalFest could help improve all kinds of informal science education, not only science festivals, Young said.

"We have the opportunity to hear directly from tens of thousands of citizens about what kinds of science activities are most engaging and interesting for them," she explained.

Over the next three days, coordinators and evaluators from the participating science festivals will review existing research, learn to use EvalFest research methods and tools, and develop plans for conducting EvalFest research at their own science festivals.

Research activities begin later this year, and EvalFest results will be published so that all science festivals can benefit.

EvalFest participating states, science festivals and representatives (festival coordinators and evaluators) are listed here:

  • ARIZONA: Arizona Science Festival (Jeremy Babendure, Richard Toon)
  • ARKANSAS: Arkansas Science Festival (Amy Pearce, Karen Yanowitz)
  • CALIFORNIA: Bay Area Science Festival (Kishore Hari, Michelle Phillips)
  • CALIFORNIA: San Diego Festival of Science and Engineering (Sara Pagano, Leanne Jacobson)
  • COLORADO: Colorado Springs Science Festival (John Poss, Debora Elam)
  • FLORIDA: Jacksonville Science Festival (Nadia Hionides, Victor Toribio)
  • FLORIDA: St. Petersburg Science Festival (Howard Rutherford, Karin Braunsberger)
  • GEORGIA: Atlanta Science Festival (Jordan Rose, Meltem Alemdar)
  • IDAHO: STEM Exploration (Leandra Aburusa-Lete, Gina Schatteman)
  • INDIANA: Celebrate Science Indiana (Robert Yost, Larry Sernyk)
  • KENTUCKY: SKySci (Richard Gelderman)
  • MASSACHUSETTS: Cambridge Science Festival (Sung Kim)
  • MICHIGAN: Michigan State University Science Festival (Renee Leone, Kyung Sook Lee)
  • MONTANA: The Science Learning Tent at the Arlee Celebration (Jessie Herbert, Zach Mauer)
  • NEBRASKA: Nebraska Science Festival (Kacie Baum)
  • NEW HAMPSHIRE: New Hampshire Tech Fest (Yvonne Tsai, Paula Frank)
  • NEW YORK: Science Festival of the Capital Region (Elizabeth Hoffman, Susanne Dorr)
  • NEW YORK: World Science Festival (Kadi Hughes)
  • NORTH CAROLINA: North Carolina Science Festival (Jonathan Frederick, Marissa Hartzler)
  • OREGON: TinkerFest (Gregory Dills, Summer Brandon)
  • PENNSYLVANIA: Philadelphia Science Festival (Gerri Trooskin, Minda Borun)
  • SOUTH CAROLINA: Charleston STEM Festival (Darren Prevost, Cynthia Hall)
  • TEXAS: Texas A&M Physics and Engineering Festival (Tatiana Erukhimova, Chelsea Harris)
  • WISCONSIN: Wisconsin Science Festival (Laura Heisler, Adam Erdmann)