Over the last three years, science centers and museums have faced challenges that have sometimes seemed insurmountable. But the ingenuity and creativity alive in these organizations have helped turn those challenges into opportunities. The closing session of the Association of Science and Technology Centers (ASTC) 2022 Annual Conference highlighted some of the most innovative—and impactful—work across ASTC members with the announcement of several of this year’s Roy L. Shafer Leading Edge Awards. The awards are presented to ASTC-member organizations and their teams in recognition of extraordinary accomplishments that enhance the performance of their organizations while also significantly advancing our field.
During the conference, awards were presented in the Resilience and Community Service categories. The Business Practice and Visitor Experience categories are accepting nominations through October 3. The awards in these categories will presented during the #ASTCvirtual event on November 1 and 3, along with the award in the Individual Leadership category.
Awardees for Resilience
The Resilience category recognizes organizations that have overcome a significant challenge with a focus on how the institution approached hardship to achieve new life, mission, and potential.
Emerald Coast Science Center
Fort Walton Beach, Florida
The Emerald Coast Science Center found strength in its community at a time when it needed it most. When the science center closed in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it went into dire financial straits. The team undertook a campaign to save the science center—even getting the local newspaper to run an article—and the community responded, sending support to the local science center. The Emerald Coast team was amazed at the donations that came from the community, including individuals, businesses, and more, that helped them find the resilience to create new outdoor exhibits that could provide a place for community members to visit and learn during the pandemic. They also found new partners along the way and ended up reporting that the 2021–2022 fiscal year was their best ever.
Museum of Discovery
Little Rock, Arkansas
The Museum of Discovery experienced a devastating flood in its facilities. In February 2021, the boiler on the roof broke. Thousands of gallons of water destroyed two floors of offices and two of the museum’s largest galleries. The museum’s team found an opportunity in this disaster, however, and focused on rebuilding and reopening with a facility that was even more responsive to community needs. As soon as news of the flooding got around, the museum received offers of help from their community. Ultimately, the museum was closed for 27 weeks for repairs and rebuilding. The team made upgrades during the construction process that directly responded to their community—including new exhibits, like one focused on the STEM skills used in the renovation; a renewed animal facility that gives the public more opportunities to observe and appreciate the animals in the museum’s care; and more opportunities for neurodiverse community members.
New York Hall of Science
Corona, New York
The New York Hall of Science is recovering from damage caused by Hurricane Ida. Following 16 months of closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the science center reopened in July 2021 only to have their resilience tested again just two months later when flooding caused by Hurricane Ida resulted in devastating damage, including to parts of the building that had just been updated and refreshed. Faced with this disaster, the science center team found strength in their community, their supporters, local elected officials, and within themselves. Despite the doors being closed, they committed to delivering their educational programs online, in schools, at colleague institutions—everywhere they could reach. In the process, they learned how to thrive in the face of adversity. The New York Hall of Science plans to fully reopen interior exhibition spaces later this year.
Awardees for Community Service
A new category this year, Community Service recognizes outstanding accomplishments in addressing the needs of the member’s community. The focus of this award is on service to the community beyond the STEM engagement mission central to the organization.
Discovery Center of Springfield
The Discovery Center of Springfield stepped in to provide high quality care and education for the families of healthcare workers on the frontline of the COVID-19 pandemic. The team began 2020 focused on helping their community members learn about health and safety through special exhibits. As they prepared to close their doors due to the pandemic, the center reached out to their local health department to discuss how they could best serve the community. The response was to ask the science center to stay open to provide care and meals to the children of healthcare workers once schools closed, ultimately providing over 250,000 hours of free childcare. They reached farther into the community, providing meals on weekends to families facing food insecurity and developing partnerships with local organizations to meet the needs of the kids in the science center’s care. The team also built a robust online learning program and STEM kits. And that was just the beginning—they’ve continued to create educational opportunities for the families in their community, including a STEM-based preschool opened in 2021.
TELUS Spark Science Centre
Calgary, Alberta, Canada
The TELUS Spark Science Centre radically changing its relationship to the Indigenous people on whose lands the center is built. The center in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, is focusing on forging deep relationships with Indigenous communities and celebrating multiple ways of knowing in order to be more relevant to the communities the science center serves. They have created a full-time position focused on Indigenous engagement and have flipped the Spark’s engagement model so that Indigenous programming is Indigenous led. The science center is prioritizing these relationships, investing in partnerships with artists, filmmakers, and scientists in the community. The team has also adapted their administrative and training processes to reflect the value that these relationships hold. Among the new programs developed are a weeklong annual program called Indigenous Science Days, held during the week of the spring solstice, and a three-day camping intensive.
Copernicus Science Centre (Centrum Nauki Kopernik)
After Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, the staff at Copernicus Science Centre in Warsaw, Poland, steadfastly worked to support Ukrainians who escaped to Poland. The science center became a place of refuge—where those fleeing unimaginable violence could find solace and moments of joy in the universal language of science. Copernicus Science Centre opened their planetarium and exhibits for free to refugees. The staff created Ukrainian-language activities for refugee children and provided safe spaces at the science center. They didn’t stop there: the team hit the road and took traveling exhibitions to temporary accommodation centers for refugees. And their work continues as they have developed a nationwide program to reach even more people and to bring so many together in the joy and peace of learning.
Awardee for Special Recognition in Community Service and Resilience
Due to the extraordinary circumstances in Ukraine and the incredible resilience of the Ukrainian people, ASTC presented a special award to the Junior Academy of Sciences of Ukraine for their resilience and continued service to their community.
Junior Academy of Sciences of Ukraine
The Junior Academy of Sciences of Ukraine operates the Science Museum of Kyiv and, just before the Russian invasion, the team was in the planning stages to open a new museum in Mariupol, Ukraine. Tragically, most of Mariupol been destroyed, including the historic building that was to house the new museum, and, even more sadly, at least one of team members involved in planning the museum’s opening lost his life in the bombing. This is one of the troubling stories of loss, displacement, and upheaval that the team at the Junior Academy of Sciences of Ukraine are facing. And yet, even when challenged by unimaginable tragedy, this team has worked to continue providing opportunities for STEM learning and engagement to the people of Ukraine. The team has been able to leverage the online programming that they offered during the pandemic to continue to reach the millions of displaced Ukrainian youth and families living in temporary homes in their country and throughout Europe. With so many Ukrainians having moved from their homes to stay with family members and in temporary housing in the western part of the country, the Junior Academy of Sciences of Ukraine is setting up pop-up exhibits and experiences throughout the region.
About the awards
The awards are named in honor of Roy L. Shafer, a former ASTC board chair who served as President and CEO of the Center of Science and Industry (COSI) in Columbus, Ohio. After his death, the ASTC Board of Directors named the Leading Edge Awards for Shafer in tribute to his progressive thinking, dynamic leadership, and devotion to our profession.
Recipients of the Roy L. Shafer Leading Edge Awards are selected by the ASTC Awards Committee, made up of staff from ASTC-member organizations around the world. Serving on the committee this year are co-chairs Jonah Cohen of McWane Science Center in Birmingham, Alabama, and Sam Dean of Scott Family Amazeum in Bentonville, Arkansas, and the following members: Katie Anderson of U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama; Toph Bryant of Kentucky Science Center in Louisville; Irena Cieślińska of Copernicus Science Centre in Warsaw, Poland; Andrea Durham of Saint Louis Science Center in Missouri; Pody Gay from Museum of Discovery in Little Rock, Arkansas; Robin Gose of MOXI The Wolf Museum of Exploration + Innovation in Santa Barbara, California; Maribel Ibarra from Sietecolores Ideas Interactivas in Mexico City, Mexico; Ali Jackson from Sciencenter in Ithaca, New York; Megan Ramer from Connecticut Science Center in Hartford; Tifferney White from Discovery Place in Charlotte, North Carolina; and Darryl Williams from The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Committee members were not involved in the evaluation or discussion of nominations involving their own institutions.
The Association of Science and Technology Centers (ASTC) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization with a vision of increasing the understanding of and engagement with science and technology among all people. ASTC is a membership association based in North America that has supported the global science engagement field since 1973. ASTC creates strategic opportunities, develops intellectual capital, and assembles resources to support our members in realizing their missions and engaging their communities.