‘Oh Wow!’ It’s Silly Science Sunday at Home

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The coronavirus pandemic won’t stop Silly Science Sunday, but it is forcing the event to take another form.

As with the annual Science of Brewing fundraiser last month, Oh Wow! The Roger & Gloria Jones Children’s Center for Science & Technology will present Silly Science Sunday as a “Sciencing at Home Edition” event.

That won’t be the only change for this year’s event, which will incorporate an arts element, converting the event focusing on the STEM disciplines – science, technology, engineering and mathematics – into a STEAM event.

Oh Wow itself remains closed, as it has been since early in the pandemic, with a reopening anticipated in 2021 following its $3.5 million renovation.

Normally, Silly Science Sunday brings thousands of people to downtown streets to watch science demonstrations, participate in activities and visit Oh Wow for free, a scenario that can’t take place because of public health measures to combat the coronavirus.

Instead, STEAM Saks – bundles of at least four different activities – are being distributed this week at about two dozen sites in the Mahoning and Shenango valleys.

Oh Wow wanted to continue with the annual event in some form, and the event’s planning committee brainstormed to see what was doable that would meet Oh Wow’s mission and would help families prepare for the school year, in spite – or because of – the pandemic, said Suzanne Barbati, Oh Wow’s executive director. The success of the Science of Brewing Home Edition informed that planning.

As of last week, Oh Wow received about $23,000 in monetary contributions toward the event plus an additional $10,000 in in-kind contributions, including materials for the STEAM Saks, from businesses and organizations.

The title sponsor, Sweeney Chevrolet Buick GMC, Boardman, was committed to moving forward with the event, Barbati said.

“That would have been somewhat of a deal breaker if they had decided to push those dollars to next year’s event, but they saw the benefit of reaching all of those families and sharing all of those resources,” she said.

“With as much upheaval as kids in the community have been through, having an outlet for and access to what the museum provides the community was really important,” said Alexa Sweeney Blackann, vice president of Sweeney Chevrolet Buick GMC.

One reason encouraging young involvement in the STEM fields is important is the increasing role electric vehicles and autonomous technology are playing in the auto industry, she acknowledged.

“The average age of a service technician is well over 40,” she said. “When you couple that with General Motors committing to a fully electric fleet by 2025, those are eighth graders right now who will graduate from high school, and we will need their brains in a different capacity than we’ve previously thought of service technicians,” Blackann said. “We’re really trying to push forward, using our position in the community to have this conversation and say what can we do on the ground to help train, what access do you need.”

In addition to facilitating an online component to the event, Sweeney partnered with Students Motivated by the Arts – or Smarts – Community Art School to produce coloring books that will be included in the STEAM Saks.

“The STEM folks know that there’s value in learning science, technology and math through the arts,” said Becky Keck, Smarts executive director.

Smarts provided 1,000 of its new Smarts to Go packs, arts lessons that students can do at home. The program is intended to complement virtual sessions Smarts is offering.

“We know that there are some students who won’t have access to us while we’re doing virtual classes,” Keck said. Each lesson focuses on a different area of the arts, such as dance or music, and Smarts is in the process of seeking funding for wider distribution.

The New Castle, Pa.-based Pizza Joes chain, which normally provides food for Silly Science Sunday’s volunteers, collaborated with Oh Wow to produce marble labyrinth kits that kids can make at home using Pizza Joe’s pizza boxes.

At the beginning of the pandemic, the two organizations partnered to distribute solar oven kits but Pizza Joe’s wanted to do something different for the fall event, said Katie Seminara-DeToro, chief marketing officer.

“My nieces tested them,” she said. “It was something interesting to watch.”

Seminara-DeToro is pleased that Oh Wow is distributing the kits through the region. “It’s always good to support things that cross the county lines,” she said.

First Energy, which has worked with Oh Wow for several years, is involved with Silly Science Sunday for the first time this year. In addition to providing materials for the packs, its foundation made a $5,000 contribution to the event.

First Energy is interested in getting children, even at an early age, involved in the electric space, said Troy Rhoades, regional external affairs representative for Youngstown. “Anything that relates to the STEM area or field is of interest to First Energy,” he said.

Also participating in Silly Science Sunday for the first time is the Ohio Oil and Gas Energy Education Program. The program donated more than 4,000 activities to be inserted into the STEAM Saks, said Kennedy Copeland, external affairs representative.

“The oil and gas industry places a high priority on education,” Kennedy said. “During these difficult times, we recognize the unique challenges families are faced with. OOGEEP is honored to help out in whatever way we can.”

The program also recently collaborated with Oh Wow for a STEM event at the Boys & Girls Club of Youngstown and is planning to grow its partnership in the future, she said.

More than 4,000 of the STEAM Saks were prepared for the event, four times what was initially projected, Barbati reported. She praised the contributions made by the sponsors, from the organizations that provided financial donations or materials to the kits to Warren-based Covelli Enterprises, which provided 1,000 of the large plastic bags it uses for to-go orders to transport the assembled bundles.

Various organizations including Youngstown State University Honors College provided volunteers to pack the bundles.

Among the volunteers was Brooke Bobovnyik of Youngstown, a YSU graduate student interning at the Youngstown Historical Center of Industry and Labor. Silly Science Sunday is “a cool way to help kids learn in sort of a creative way,” she said.

The bundles are being distributed at libraries throughout the five-county region, including 12 of the Public Library of Youngstown & Mahoning County branches, as well as the Butler Institute of American Art in Youngstown, Associated School Employees Credit Union in Lordstown and Sweeney Chevrolet. They were delivered to the sites last week.

Participants can post their results through an online link that Oh Wow will provide once the site is ready, Barbati said. The kits are available at no cost but she encouraged those interested to register by visiting the Oh Wow website or by calling 330 744 5914. Pickup locations are listed at the website and on the registration form.

“Registration’s not required. It’s just strongly suggested so that we can make sure people can pick up [kits] at their preferred site,” Barbati said.

Pictured: Oh Wow! Executive Director Suzanne Barbati with Troy Rhoades, First Energy’s regional external affairs representative for Youngstown.

Copyright 2020 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.