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LVEDC interviews DaVinci Science Center’s Lin Erickson on manufacturing

By LVEDC Staff on August 27, 2013

Editor’s Note: The Da Vinci Science Center is well known for inspiring enthusiasm among youth for the possibilities and nuiances of science, but few know of the museum’s connection with the manufacturing sector and commitment to the overall Lehigh Valley business community and that’s the subject of LVEDC’s interview with Lin Erickson, executive director for Da Vinci.

LVEDC: You’re making quite a splash your first year back – what factors have led to the Da Vinci Science Center scoring its best attendance ever?

Lin Erickson: It has been an incredible year for the Da Vinci Science Center. Over the last year, we increased our total participation to over 125,000 people of all ages drawn from throughout eastern PA and western New Jersey. This includes visitors to the Center and programs at school and community sites throughout the region. We attribute our success to three primary factors – momentum coming into the year generated through its workforce development initiatives, increased visibility generated by the appearance of the world-famous exhibition Bodies Revealed at the Center from Oct. 2012-Feb. 2013, and the quality of our programming.

And, the momentum is continuing with our current exhibition GROSSOLOGY: The (Impolite) Science of the Human Body.  We have seen an increase of visitors to the Center of more than 40 percent since the exhibition opened on Memorial Day weekend.

Q: The Center is working with the MRC and WIB to promote manufacturing – how does this fit into your mission as a science center?

A: Ten percent of the workforce in the Lehigh Valley is employed in manufacturing.  Manufacturing jobs today require a highly skilled workforce, and all require solid skills in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).  Most jobs require at a minimum long-term on-the-job training or postsecondary education. The Da Vinci Science Center’s mission is to bring science to life and lives to science–most importantly to get young people excited about STEM by connecting them to real world applications of science and technology and the growing job opportunities in manufacturing and all STEM fields in the region.

Two years ago we sponsored the Summer of Manufacturing that featured the popular exhibit How People Make Things presented by Air Products and the first Manufacturing Summit. We invited local manufacturers to exhibit at the Center and were able to introduce thousands of young people and their parents to manufacturing careers.

Q: What type of manufacturing-themed events/displays can we expect in the coming months?

A: Today we have a number of exhibits at the Center that introduce visitors to manufacturing—from our dinosaur robot created by Rexroth to our Follett Ice machine and nanotechnology exhibits developed in collaboration with Lehigh University.  This fall we will introduce the Year of Innovation, a year-long celebration of the innovation across industries, including manufacturing.  The year will open with the traveling exhibition Tech City, filled with hands-on opportunities to solve the real world problems that engineers face from designing and testing bridges to utilizing computers to optimize traffic flow.    Throughout the year we will be introducing new exhibits featuring local innovations such as the compressed natural gas exhibit we are developing with Mack Trucks featuring a real truck cab.  Utilizing a touch screen, visitors will be able to design a truck and optimize its fuel efficiency.  We are also planning an exhibit area to display local innovations, as well as several programs and events at the Center for youth and families including the Global Cardboard Challenge during National Manufacturing Week and a series of YouMake programs on Saturdays— Imagine creating a Jack ‘O Lantern using power tools.  Finally, in collaboration with the MRC, LCTI, and the WIB, we are developing hands-on workshops to bring out to the schools and a Dream It Do It website to introduce young people to manufacturing career opportunities in the Lehigh Valley.

Q: How do you see the Da Vinci Science Center’s role in regards to working with local businesses? And how do you get local companies to work with you on sponsorships and events?

A: Our workforce initiatives are developed in partnership with local businesses. Today nearly 19 percent of local jobs require a high level of knowledge in STEM. With baby boomers highly skilled in STEM fields soon to retire, the demand for these jobs is growing.  Local technology companies and health care organizations want to work with us to expose young people to career opportunities in their organizations and support STEM programs in area schools.  Business partners become engaged at multiple levels from providing funding to support school programs or our annual Hall of Fame Gala to collaborating on the design of an exhibit or program.  For example, as the presenting sponsor for the Year of the Human Body, health care professionals from St. Luke’s University Health Network partnered with us to offer a Mini-Medical School for multiple ages, presented lectures on their campus and at the Center, and participated in WFMZ-TV’s Up and Atom Science Series. The public is interested in learning more about career opportunities from local STEM workers. In the coming year, we will share employee stories through displays and video presentations at the Center, as well as on the Dream It Do It website.

Q: Finally, tell us what to expect with ‘Oscar Night’ – when the 8th grade students are acknowledged for their videos on manufacturing?

A: First, before Oscar Night the videos will be posted on the Dream It Do It website, and the Lehigh Valley community will be invited to cast votes for the best videos in different categories.

On “Oscar Night” we’ll host the students who produced the videos and their families, as well as their teachers and partnering manufacturing companies at the Da Vinci Science Center. Judges will present awards to the winning teams. The manufacturing companies will set up tabletop displays, and the employees will be on hand to meet guests and share their experiences.

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