The Homewood Science Center (HSC) might technically be located in the historic Gold home at 18022 Dixie Highway, but the organization hopes its reach will far exceed its walls.
As HSC President Aimee Matthys put it, "The science center is more than a building."
On Tuesday, Aug. 30, the center officially launched STEM Network, a project designed to bring together south suburban people focused on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
The response to the launch event "far surpassed our expectations," Matthys said. "We're thrilled with how many people came to support and be a part of our STEM network. People want this. The need is there, and it's demonstrated by the people who have showed up tonight."
Educators, business people, organization representatives and parents from the H-F community and from elsewhere in the South Suburbs attended, filling the HSC meeting room for a presentation by HSC advisor Barry Aprison of the University of Chicago.
"Partnerships are essential to our work," said HSC Executive Director Edie Dobrez. "Working in isolation is not effective, and it's not very much fun."
The network will help members pursue the mission of getting people excited about science, she said, and will include more events for sharing information and ideas. HSC's redesigned website also includes a way for businesses, schools and organizations to add their information to a STEM Network directory.
"It is no secret that we need to get more young people interested in and able to compete in stem fields," Dobrez concluded before introducing Aprison.
Genetics is a foundation of science education now, he said, noting that students who do not succeed at it are not likely to develop careers in science. He noted that students in conventional science courses often struggle with basic concepts.
PopUp Science happens at the Homewood Science Center, 18022 Dixie Highway.
"I think about how to make this easy to understand and fun and interactive," he said. "Teachers are under a lot of pressure to focus in on core curriculum related to standards. But it sure would be nice to do something cool like at MSI but in your classroom. Who has time to do something like that?"
Science centers can help, he said, by providing experiences that might not be practical in the classroom but are designed to support the same standards schools are expected to meet.
When Aprison invited questions, one audience member, Jeff McClain, director of operations at Schneider Electric in Homewood, noted that a challenge for STEM-oriented businesses is that young workers arrive with good theoretical knowledge but little experience applying it.
Aprison said the science center could help there, too, by partnering with industry to create opportunities for students to see science in action.
Dobrez noted that HSC is open to holding PopUp Science events at area businesses to help illustrate the real-world applications of science knowledge.
Dobrez also took a moment to thank everyone who has contributed to HSC so far, from village officials to volunteers, business partners to scholars. She gave special mention to Holly Kelsven, HSC marketing and events coordinator, and to Canadian National Railway for sponsoring the STEM Network launch and the project's directory.
Disclosure: The writer's spouse is a member of the Homewood Science Center Board of Directors.