Question: What happens when you pour green-tinted water into a vat of liquid nitrogen? Answer: A group of kindergarteners finds it pretty awesome! Welcome to the Bend Science Station, where that sort of magic takes place all the time.
Today's STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) workforce demands a solid science education for today's kids. Now comes the question: How do we make sure Central Oregon students keep up?
Lectures and textbooks are crucial, but students (and teachers) also need hands-on experience. The Bend Science Station, operating in the COCC Chandler Labs since 2002, has long provided a lab-based science education for students as well as training for teachers.
As it looks toward the future, the people behind Science Station are planning a move. With its COCC lease coming to an end, organizers have chosen a new site on the OSU-Cascades campus. They're in the late stages of a $2.3 million fundraising effort to build the 3,700-square-foot facility. The goal? A state-of-the-art, stand-alone lab and teaching space not just for Bend, but for the entire region.
The idea blossomed when Bend Science Station Executive Director David Bermudez and his wife Lisa attended a state science fair and saw projects from all over Oregon, southern Washington and Idaho. All areas, they noticed, except for Central Oregon.
Clearly, this area needed labs.
"I asked the question: 'Is there a niche here for labs— dedicated to the idea that science isn't just facts in a book—but actually a way to ask and answer questions?,'" Bermudez says. "If you want kids to be research-based scientists, you have to get them into a lab at an early age."
Bermudez soon realized that a centralized facility would better serve the community, as opposed to creating more than two dozen labs for all the schools in the Bend-LaPine district alone. "What we found is a way to deliver that on a limited budget with a small staff," he says.
The idea clicked, and eventually came plans for an upgrade. The Station currently serves around 7,000 students, 200 teachers and 40 schools each year. All this with an instructional staff of just three.
The Station's "teacher training component" is crucial since it arms local science teachers with the knowledge to carry out some of the hands-on instruction themselves. "We made a conscientious decision that the way we were going to reach more of Central Oregon—and raise the bar on STEM instruction in this region—was to teach teachers what we do and get them the gear that they need to do it," says Bermudez. From that was born the Station's teacher training module.
Extra space at the OSU campus will allow Bermudez to add a special teacher training room so both the student and teacher programs can run at the same time. That's just one advantage to the move.
"I have to credit [Vice President] Becky Johnson in terms of the vision that she had. When she heard that we needed space, she immediately contacted us and said, 'We want you on our new site.' It's really clear to me that they see the benefit."
Bermudez says Johnson wants to see "every kid in this county—regardless of their financial background, where they were born, or the color of their skin—to get on [the OSU-Cascades] campus, have a positive learning experience at an early age, and ultimately be able to envision themselves pursuing higher education.
"If you were to ask me what the single most important aspect of us being on that site is, I think that's it right there."
It works both ways. Grad students in OSU's MA teaching program will also benefit by interacting with Bermudez and his staff in the labs, while the Station's high-end research students will be able to work with college mentors.
As for fundraising, the effort has currently raised just over $2 million, with a family-friendly event set for later this month to launch the final phase. The event features science experiments, contests, tours, as well as food and drinks. Assuming Bermudez and his staff reach their goal, they hope to break ground in September of this year, with a planned opening date of August 2018.
Festival of Science
OSU-Cascades Campus (opposite Tykeson Hall)
1500 SW Chandler Ave., Bend
Sun., June 11