Science Centers and Public Broadcasting: Building Strong Partnerships

(Session summary by Sean Smith, ASTC’s director of government and public relations)

Has your science center ever thought about partnering with a public television or radio station? If so, take advantage of the insight offered by presenters Dante Centuori (Director of Creative Productions, Great Lakes Science Center), Jen Cassidy (Vice President of Programs, COSI), Brent Davis (Senior Director of Content and Executive Producer, WOSU Public Media/WOSU@COSI), and George Viebranz (Mathematics and Science Education Program Director, WVIZ/PBS and 90.3 WCPN ideastream) at the Science Centers and Public Broadcasting: Building Strong Partnerships session held in the WOSU@COSI studios on Monday afternoon.

During the session, attendees heard about how COSI and the Great Lakes Science Center (GLSC) collaborated with their local public broadcasting stations (and vice versa) on a variety of programs, which resulted in beneficial outcomes for all.

Davis began the session by offering some history of the WOSU-COSI connection, which began in the COSI space six years ago. Most of WOSU’s local television segments are actually produced in the COSI studio, and Davis mentioned that this is a real asset that other science centers across the country could potentially offer public broadcasters—a large public space. WOSU’s science center space provides them with good public visibility and a favorable impression, both of which are significantly more substantial than a more isolated campus outpost would offer. Other positives from the COSI-WOSU relationship include built-in audience participation, access to COSI floor demonstrations that teachers can use in the classroom, COSI expertise, etc.

Cassidy used COSI’s Lost Egypt: Ancient Secrets, Modern Science exhibition as example of the way the COSI-WOSU relationship has worked. When COSI went to Egypt, it took a WOSU producer and a professional photographer with them; these images were used in the exhibit. The partnership was a huge success, as it created quality, useful, content for both organizations, proved useful beyond the original plan, and even saved—and made—money. The natural physical/geographic proximity to one another was a plus. Cassidy also mentioned that some of the content visitors can see in the Innovation Showcase exhibit was produced at WOSU, which helped offer consistency in look and quality, additional cost effectiveness, etc.

Viebranz noted that the Great Lakes Science Center and ideastream also share a close proximity and are only 8 city blocks apart. The CEOs of WVIZ and 90.3 decided to merge, and the organizations collectively renovated a historic Cleveland building in the city’s Playhouse Square; the affiliation began about seven years ago. They intentionally built the smallest theatre in the district, with seating for 300; the space is particularly good for kids, and they are able to do remote broadcasts as well. The ties between the two organizations include a shared mission and vision (to strengthen community through science and science education) and an interest in strengthening public and private education systems and the general education of the public. Summed up? “Partnership, purpose, and proximity.”

Centuori shared details from the Great Lakes Science Center’s perspective, and highlighted the collaborative content creation and distribution. He offered an example from the public television series The Human Spark, which helped the science center get new audiences—college age people and young adults. The GLSC held a special preview event for the first episode of the show, and Centuori noted that it was neat to watch a science-related program with a hundred others with similar interests. The partnership was a win-win—it provided exposure for the premiere event, the television show, and the science center. In addition, WVIZ got a commercial (done by GLSC) that they didn’t have to pay their staff to do, etc. The partnership also extends to WVIZ’s PSI: Physical Science Investigation (, which offers multimedia online resources including 28 interactive virtual physics labs. WVIZ ideastream was able to take advantage of the GLSC location, and used its exhibits and demos. The grant-funded website includes videos for teachers in addition to students. It was a perfect partnership, as ideastream had the grant funding and production capability, but was looking for content expertise. GLSC had that content expertise, along with a unique facility, staff with media experience, and was looking for ways to broaden its collaborations within the region. In addition, both organizations had a major interest in improving middle school physical science learning and instruction; because of this collaboration, they didn’t need to work with actors, create scripts, etc.—they actually worked with real experts, which came across a lot more naturally than something more tightly scripted. And again, it was cost-effective.

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