In the Hands of Kids
In 1990, long before the STEM* acronym was a catchword, John McConnell was a newly retired physicist who had just relocated to Grand Junction. Retired, but not content to be idle, he volunteered at the elementary school to share his passion for science with kids.
He also began to create hands-on experiments, displays and exhibits for the classroom. Demand for his groundbreaking teaching approach began to spread across the Western Slope, and he took the show on the road — with help from his wife Audrey.
We need people who want to use technology to solve tomorrow’s problems. So we need to get our children up to speed and excited about taking on that mission.
- Jenn Moore, Eureka! McConnell Science Museum executive director
“We’d go out to towns like Dove Creek, Cortez and Maybell. We’d see up to 800 kids in a week,” John said. “And it was just fantastic.”
In 1998, Wingate Elementary offered him a 1,500-square-foot classroom for what he called the Sci Tech Exploratorium. Shortly after, the former Columbus School building was made available. There, over 160 interactive exhibits — each built by John — teach about every branch of science: from physics to chemistry, geology to biology and more.
John ran what became known as the John McConnell Math & Science Center until 2009, when its first paid director was hired. Now, managed by Executive Director Jenn Moore, the Center hosts 17,000 visitors annually. But the story doesn’t end there.
In 2018, the Center will occupy a $5.5million, 13,000-square-foot space in the new engineering building on the Colorado Mesa University campus. This facility will enable double or even triple the number of museum visits and summer camp offerings. With the new location also comes a different name and fresh new logo: Eureka! McConnell Science Museum.
There are always opportunities to help out. According to Jenn, each year the Center needs dozens of volunteers, interns and teachers. And, of course, donors.
“We’ve had donors for this capital campaign all the way down to Cortez and up to Steamboat,” she said. “It’s a very exciting transition time for us right now.”
Jenn, with her education and background in engineering, hydrological research and teaching, carries the passion for sharing science with kids forward.
“Kids get less than one hour of science a week in their classroom. There’s a huge gap in STEM learning across the U.S. and we’re trying to fill that void,” she said. “We need people who want to use technology to solve tomorrow’s problems. So we need to get our children up to speed and excited about taking on that mission.”
*Science, Technology, Engineering, Math