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NC GlaxoSmithKline Foundation awards $750,000 grant to Morehead

NC GlaxoSmithKline Foundation has awarded a $750,000 grant to Morehead Planetarium and Science Center, a unit of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, in support of the North Carolina Science Festival expansion across the state.

Morehead will use the four-year grant to build a statewide network of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) professionals who will serve as Science Festival Ambassadors. The network will reflect and serve populations that are underserved and underrepresented in STEM, according to Morehead’s director, Todd Boyette.

“We want to reach every community in our state through the North Carolina Science Festival, and NC GlaxoSmithKline Foundation is helping to make that a reality,” Boyette said. “The new Science Festival Ambassadors program will help us reach families and individuals who might not think of themselves as ‘science people’ but who still can connect with STEM.”

The new Science Festival Ambassadors program will recruit 50 scientists and researchers each year from many STEM fields, with an emphasis on recruiting individuals from populations (including African American, American Indian, Latino and female populations) that have been underrepresented in STEM. They will receive training in science communications and develop their abilities to explain complex science ideas to people of all educational backgrounds.

Each STEM professional will participate in three or more community-based North Carolina Science Festival events, sharing his or her knowledge with children and adults.

“It’s important for the public to see scientists from many different backgrounds — when children are making career choices, they often seek role models who look like them and who share their backgrounds,” Boyette explained. “As North Carolina becomes more diverse, we want to provide children with role models who can inspire them to pursue STEM careers. That’s the goal behind the Science Festival Ambassadors program.”

Mark Werner, NC GlaxoSmithKline Foundation board director, commented, “I grew up in a rural farming region, which did not offer access to scientists and scientific projects. I think it’s great that the Science Festival will reach out to students in rural areas of the state to provide them with exposure to science education and projects.”

The grant will also fund additional opportunities for the Science Festival Ambassadors to reach new audiences through the expansion of several existing North Carolina Science Festival initiatives:

  • Morehead’s STEMville Science Symposium, a one-day science conference for children in grades 5-8, will grow from one event in Chapel Hill to four events statewide.
  • Three universities will focus on underserved and underrepresented populations in hosting public science expos (with guest speakers, lab tours, demonstrations and other activities). Winston-Salem State University has already committed to host one of these expos.
  • The Festival will increase the availability of Invite-A-Scientist visits to middle schools across the state, providing career exploration and inspiration for students.

Science Festival Ambassadors will share their expertise at these events, which will also feature STEM professionals from each event’s host organization. Recruitment for the Science Festival Ambassadors program will begin in fall 2016.

NC GlaxoSmithKline Foundation is an independent self-funding 501(c)3 nonprofit organization supporting activities that help meet the educational and health needs of today's society and future generations. Since its creation in 1986, the foundation has granted $68.9 million to support North Carolina projects and programs that emphasize the understanding and application of science, health and education at all academic and professional levels. The foundation has been a supporter of North Carolina Science Festival since 2010.

North Carolina Science Festival presented by Biogen was founded in 2010 and is the first statewide science festival in the United States. Each spring, the Festival offers hundreds of events that celebrate the economic, educational and cultural impact of science throughout North Carolina. The Festival was founded and is produced by Morehead Planetarium and Science Center (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill). For more information about the North Carolina Science Festival, visit the Festival’s website, www.ncsciencefestival.org.