Education

Silly Science Sunday Going ‘Full STEAM’ Ahead

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – This year’s Silly Science Sunday promises to end with a bang.

Literally, according to Ralf Urbach, senior edutainer at Oh Wow! The Roger & Gloria Jones Children’s Center for Science & Technology.

The Oh Wow staff member — better known to the pubic as “Mr. Ralf” — offered few details about what he has planned, but did so with an enthusiasm for his work that would cause Crazy Harry, the mad bomber from “The Muppet Show” to cackle in agreement.

“Let’s just say that one of the neatest gifts that Oh Wow gives to the public is the fact that we’re allowed to blow things up – and I’m just going to leave it with that,” he said.

This weekend is the eighth annual Silly Science Sunday, a day when Oh Wow spills out onto the streets of downtown Youngstown and partners with other community resources to allow the public to explore how science is part of their everyday lives in ways they don’t always think about, said Elaine Kaneski, associate director.

Admission to Oh Wow for the day is free, as are all the activities associated with the event, she said.

“We do it to celebrate the work of all educators, students and their parents, and kick off the new school year,” said Suzanne Barbati, Oh Wow’s president and executive director.

This year, the festival, along with featured exhibitors focusing on the four STEM disciplines – science, technology, engineering and mathematics – will include participants from Power of the Arts, a collaboration of local arts organizations, to go “full STEAM ahead,” remarked Colleen Ruby, Oh Wow’s operations director.

The addition was driven by a desire to find a way to collaborate with organizations that Oh Wow hadn’t previously, and to make the event bigger and better than in previous years, Ruby said. Power of the Arts organizations will provide seven of the more than 40 exhibits Sunday, as well as three stage shows.

Barbati was a planning partner for the Power of the Arts auction last April, recalled Karen Schubert, Power of the Arts’ coordinator. One of the things they discussed after the auction was having an arts and culture event downtown.

“I have been reading about the national trend to turn STEM to STEAM, adding an ‘A’ for arts. I asked Suzanne what she thought about the idea and she was very welcoming,” Shubert said.

“We in the arts and humanities celebrate the emphasis on STEM. To thrive, Americans need to understand and value science now more than ever. But we also believe there is no real line that separates the sciences and the arts,” she continued. “We believe in offering kids a rich palette of educational experiences, including a robust emphasis on the humanities.”

The participation of the arts organizations will bring “a whole new realm of exhibitors that we haven’t had in the past, organizations that were not invited to a STEM festival, like Ballet Western Reserve,” Ruby said.

Among participants familiar to past attendees are NASA, Youngstown State University, Home Depot and area robotics teams. Also returning this year is the trough filed with oobleck, a non-Newtonian fluid that has properties of solids and liquids that people can walk across. The suspension is made from cornstarch and water.

Staging Silly Science Sunday costs about $50,000 in cash and in-kind contributions, Ruby said. First National Bank is the title sponsor and other sponsors include the Edward J. DeBartolo Corp., Covelli Enterprises and The Business Journal.

Kalenski, who just joined Oh Wow in April and is experiencing Silly Science Sunday for the first time, said she has enjoyed watching the staff pull together to craft the event.

“Their attention to detail is always something that throws me off a little bit. Even if they have their programming done, they’re still thinking about it and thinking about how they can make it better,” she said.

Once Sunday’s event is done, Oh Wow will close though Sept. 25 to accommodate installation of a new floor and prepare for installation of a new temporary exhibit opening in October.

Run! Jump! Fly! Adventures in Action will encourage young people to get physically active by inviting visitors to step into scenes from action-adventure stories and jump into action star training, Kalenski said. It promotes playful activities that kids can do in and around the home to build strength, coordination, balance and endurance. That kind of activity is something that needs to be focused on because of the high childhood obesity rates locally, she said.

Oh Wow representatives expect 4,000 to 5,000 participants this weekend, plus the vendors, exhibitors and 200-plus volunteers.

Except for Urbach. He set a goal of 8,000. “I like that number,” he said.

“Mr. Ralf has no limits,” Ruby said. “No pressure.”

Pictured: (From left) Elaine Kaneski, associate director of Oh Wow!, Ralf Urbach, senior edutainer, and edutainers Francine Hazy and Aislinn Janek.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.