Discovering What’s Important
For many children, summer vacations at the beach consist of building sandcastles and splashing in the waves. For Michele Crowl, Executive Director of Discovery Space, one childhood vacation sparked deeper curiosity.
“I remember sitting on the beach and watching the waves when I overheard my family members discussing high tide and low tide. I asked, “Why does the moon up there have anything to do with the water in front of me.” From that moment on, I remember being curious about things, but it wasn’t until later when I realized that science was the answer,” says Michele.
Michele’s curious nature didn’t stop after her childhood. When she returned to Penn State to obtain her Ph.D. in Science Education, she heard rumors about the potential opening of a science center in State College.
Driven by her curiosity and love of science centers, Michele contacted the Borough, scoured the web, and eventually connected with a group of dedicated community members who would soon open Discovery Space in 2011.
Discovery Space’s mission is to provide engaging experiences that spark creativity, curiosity, and imagination through interactive exhibits and hands-on programs. As of June 2019, the nonprofit had over 1,200 families registered as members.
I’m really proud that we’ve had so many families come just for summer camps. Some families come just to explore on their own, but there’s one family that has been involved with us in several different capacities since we first opened.” That family includes Stephanie Herzberg, Aaron Kaufman, and their three children, Ellie (12), Ruby (10), and Frankie (6).
“All of our kids have exhibited a curiosity about the world and how things work, so I don’t think it’s a coincidence that, in a way, they all grew up at Discovery Space,” says Stephanie.
Aaron agrees. “One thing that has kept us coming to Discovery Space after all these years is that we have kids of all ages, but Discovery Space has activities that they can all relate to and be inspired by.”
Frankie first started participating at Discovery Space through the Baby Explorers program, in which children from six months to two years old explore science through books and movement.
“People asked me if I thought their kids were too little, but I told them that as long as their kids could sit up, then they could participate,” says Stephanie. “At that age, it’s all about exploring their world.”
Ellie and Ruby’s favorite program is GLOW, Girls Leadership Opportunity Week, which provides opportunities for girls in middle school to meet with female leaders in STEM fields and to explore possible career options.
As the Kaufman children grow, they can remain involved with Discovery Space through The Rivet, an initiative geared towards teens and adults that was supported by Centre Foundation’s $100,000 Centre Inspires grant in 2018.
The Rivet is a community makerspace that connects multiple generations, hobbyists, and entrepreneurs to the skills and equipment they need to create new products, prepare for careers in STEM, and pursue their creative interests. From woodworking to 3D printing, Riveters can learn how to make just about anything.
“We are grateful for this community with people who would have never met otherwise,” says Michele. “We called it The Rivet because it’s all about making connections, and those connections have grown very quickly since we first launched.”
The Rivet and other Discovery Space programs are sustained by an endowment fund, The Discovery Space Fund, and other Centre Foundation granting programs. In 2018, Discovery Space received a combined $124,903 through these funds and grants.
By providing a wide range of programs and activities, Discovery Space has ignited the curiosity of people of all ages in Centre County and surrounding communities.
“Whether our kids choose to become scientists or not, having confidence and understanding that nothing is beyond their ability to comprehend is foundational,” says Aaron. “They’re building their understanding of the world. It’s going to help them in school, and it’s going to help them in life.”
To read additional stories of Centre Foundation’s impact, click here.