Officials at Virginia Tech and The Science Museum of Western Virginia have announced today a new partnership to expand and enhance community-based science education.

The partnership formally establishes the university and the museum as educational outreach partners to promote and increase science literacy throughout the region.

Virginia Tech faculty and students will collaborate with staff from the downtown Roanoke museum to reinvent the museum as a living laboratory for informal science education. The collaboration will include the development of programs and events that stimulate curiosity and encourage exploration.

"This strategic partnership will enable both organizations to better serve the community,” said Sam English, chair of the museum’s board of trustees. “The Science Museum of Western Virginia has a 40-year history of engaging children in scientific exploration and serves as a resource for teachers, schools, and families throughout western Virginia. The addition of Virginia Tech’s talent and expertise and will build upon that foundation.”

“Virginia Tech sees this partnership as a new way to reach out to the community," said Virginia Tech Senior Vice President and Provost Mark McNamee. "It will allow us to showcase the university’s exciting research locally and by working with the museum, to inspire future generations to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.”

McNamee and English further explained that the partnership is focused on developing new educational programs that combine community-based science education with formal university science education.

A task force made up of representatives from the museum and Virginia Tech has been researching the partnership for two years. The result is that each organization will become appropriately embedded within the other’s infrastructure. Virginia Tech will hold a minimum of two seats on the museum’s board of directors, and the museum’s executive director position will be jointly funded. Museum staff will meet regularly with students and faculty from Virginia Tech to brainstorm ideas for exhibits, events, and outreach in local schools..

“Virginia Tech is on the cutting edge of innovation and research in everything from fisheries biology to robotics, architecture, aeronautics and more,” said English. “We have this tremendous resource in our region, and it makes sense to demonstrate advancements in science that are happening right here in our part of Virginia.”

In addition to showcasing advancements from Virginia Tech, the partnership with the science museum will offer the public the opportunity to engage with university professors and students.

Both sides believe the partnership is an important step in the much-discussed need for Roanoke and Blacksburg to connect in order to create a more unified region.

“The number and strength of linkages between the Roanoke and New River Valleys have been increasing for decades," said McNamee. "This partnership seems like a natural step in the right direction, where the university has a need that can be directly fulfilled by an icon that has been an anchor in Roanoke for decades."

Officials from the two organizations said they would begin work immediately, but the public would not see the fruits of their labor until the reinvented Science Museum of Western Virginia opens in about two years. The museum’s home, Center in the Square, is undergoing a $27 million renovation. Plans call for an expanded science museum in the renovated space that includes exhibits not only on the fourth and fifth floors, but an extensive presence on the building’s roof. Plans there call for attractions such as fish ponds refreshed by rainwater, demonstrations of wind powered technology and a much anticipated butterfly habitat. The Science Museum is raising funds to support the development of exhibits and galleries in the new space.

The science museum announced in January that it would begin a nationwide search for a new executive director, to replace Nancy McCrickard, who is joining ExhibitIQ, a company that specializes in creating innovative exhibits for museums and science centers. ExhibitIQ has partnered with the Science Museum of Western Virginia for the past four years to produce popular exhibits such as Big Mouth and In the Glow. McCrickard will help oversee the exchange of ideas under the new arrangement and then help take projects from concept to exhibit.  

English said he hoped the new executive director would be in place by mid-year. “We want that person to play a key role in developing this partnership,” he said.

Dedicated to its motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), Virginia Tech takes a hands-on, engaging approach to education, preparing scholars to be leaders in their fields and communities. As the commonwealth’s most comprehensive university and its leading research institution, Virginia Tech offers 240 undergraduate and graduate degree programs to more than 31,000 students and manages a research portfolio of $513 million. The university fulfills its land-grant mission of transforming knowledge to practice through technological leadership and by fueling economic growth and job creation locally, regionally, and across Virginia.

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