ASTC14: Starships, Women in Science and Marching Orders

Among the vibrant autumn leaves and crisp fall temperatures of Raleigh, North Carolina, museum and science center professionals from around the world convened for the annual Alliance of Science-Technology Centers (ASTC) Conference.  

Over 1, 700 attendees from 42 countries attended the five-day event, which aims to inspire, clara rice ira jack rouse associateseducate, and unite museum and science center professionals, strengthening the science education field as a whole.

By Clara Rice, Jack Rouse Associates

The Conference began last Friday in festive fashion, ushered in by the renowned Helping Hand Mission Band, a drum and dance corps comprised of talented and diverse youth ages seven to 27.

After official welcomes from ASTC, the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, the University of North Carolina and the City of Raleigh, Dr. Hayat Sindi took the stage to offer the Opening Keynote.  Dr. Sindi, a Saudi Arabian native, was the first female from the Gulf earn a PhD in biotechnology, after having studied at Kings College – London, Cambridge University, MIT and Harvard.

She was named a 2011 Emerging Explorer by National Geographic Society and in 2012 was not only named one of Newsweek’s “150 Women That Shake the World” but was also appointed as a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador.  She is now the founder and CEO of the i2 Institute for Imagination and Ingenuity, whose mission is to create an ecosystem of entrepreneurship and social innovation for scientists, technologists and engineers around the world.

Dr. Sindi offered a poignant keynote (above) on the responsibility of scientists in driving social change and on the role women can play to move that change forward.  She lamented the current state of scientific practice, saying she was “surprised by the lack of change approach, ” which she felt stemmed from a current scientific lack of confidence and an overdependence on the ideas of the past.

The antidote, she asserts, is to “paint a completely new picture of the future, ” with social innovation as the artist.  To Dr. Sindi, “social innovation is about building strategies, concepts and ideas that strengthen civil society… and satisfy social needs such as working conditions, education, community and health.”  Scientists, she feels, are too concerned with getting published and achieving tenure, not fully grasping their potential impact on the world: “Being smart and having resources is not enough for true innovation to change people’s lives.  We must use science to tackle social issues.”

According to Sindi, the best scientists to tackle these social issues could be women, a group still drastically underrepresented and under-recognized in the scientific field (17 Nobel Prize winners versus 536 men).  “How does the lack of women scientists impact society?, ” she asks. “I believe that women’s talent, passion, curiosity, intellect and caring are lost in society.”

astc 2014 science centres exhibtion hall

Caring and concern for local communities, coupled with imagination and a desire to break boundaries, are the essential keys to successful social innovation. “We realize that starting with the great ideas of science is not enough, ” she argues. “Instead, starting with the problems of the local community is what is needed.  Then once we have spotted the need in the communities, we need something else – our imagination…this highest level of imaginative thinking is what is needed for a sustainable world.”

In closing, she encouraged scientists – male and female – to rid themselves of the “white coat”, release themselves from the lab, and resist taking “no” for an answer:  “We need to be out there talking to people, to feel them and to understand their needs.  To inspire them and to put our ideas to work in the real world.”

Shawn McCoy of JRA jack rouse associates Angry Birds astc 2014

Stirred and energized by Dr. Sindi’s “marching orders”, conference attendees were then let loose to experience the near dizzying array of conference programs on offer. Besides an exhibit hall filled to bursting with vendors showcasing the latest science-related products and services, the weekend’s conference menu included networking events, the ASTC job bank, dozens of product demonstrations, and over 100 concurrent educational sessions on topics ranging from exhibits and environments to community engagement.

Saturday evening, guests enjoyed food, dancing and libations over seven floors in two buildings at a “Party Through Space and Time” at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, and Sunday, attendees quenched their thirst at the Crank Arm Brewing Company via a mixer hosted by the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA).  Monday’s agenda featured additional educational sessions, as well as another insightful keynote presentation by artist, biologist, space systems researcher and community organizer, Angelo Vermuelen (below). The Conference concluded Tuesday with a Museum Open House Day hosted by the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences and a Museum Cinema Day hosted by Marbles Kids Museum and sponsored by the Giant Screen Cinema Association (GSCA).

These educational offerings, networking opportunities and innovative discoveries keep attendees coming back year after year:

“I am a regular (25+) years attendee and participant in ASTC Conferences.  The 2014 meeting had the largest number of countries represented – and several of the sessions were very clearly focused on the international exchange of ideas and experiences.  That, in and of itself, makes the ASTC conference a useful, challenging and interesting experience.” – Robert (Mac) West, PhD, Principal, Informal Learning Experiences (ILE)

“As a first-timer, I went to ASTC to see what the state of the industry
was in terms of technology-powered exhibits, and to better understand how
we as an experiential technology firm might help to bring new ideas to the
conversation.”
Darren David, CEO, Stimulant

“We really enjoyed meeting and talking with the community of science centers and museums.  It’s always interesting to have some time to focus on a small part of the entertainment industry; we sometimes forget the specific expectations of a market segment when we look at the big picture.” – Alan Anderson and Stephan Villet, Principals, Smart Monkeys Inc.astc logo

Check out ASTC’s Conference Blog for in-depth re-caps of the educational sessions from this year’s event, and pen October 17-20, 2015 in your calendar for the next ASTC Conference in Montreal!

Images & Video

1. All video and Angelo Vermuelen image kind courtesy the ASTC’s YouTube channel.   2. ASTC exhibition hall and Shawn McCoy, JRA, kind courtesy Clara Rice