The Buck’s new 1,400-square-foot learning center will be whimsical in design and color and chock-full of scientific equipment aimed at engaging kids of all ages. But that whimsy comes with serious intent – addressing this country’s achievement gap in science education. The new learning center also comes with two key champions: Buck Trustee Larry Rosenberger and his wife Diane donated $500,000 to build the learning lab and provide programmatic support for its start-up. Providing access to high quality education is one of the pillars of their philanthropic strategy.
"We knew there were no funds in the operating budget to pay for the expansion of the Buck’s educational programs, yet it was obvious there was superb talent with great ideas ready to move forward," said Trustee Rosenberger, the former President and CEO of Fair Isaac, a pioneering credit score company now known as FICO. "Once we understood the goals of the program and knew how much CEO Brian Kennedy was focused on educational outreach and growth, the new center became an obvious focal point for our support."
Set to open in April, the new learning center is long awaited. During the past decade, dozens of bioscience teachers have attended continuing education seminars with no dedicated space for activities. In 2012 more than 1,700 students came through the Institute’s doors to participate in field trips and after-school and weekend programs. That number does not include the 1,000 visitors who attended last year’s open house.
"This center will be an educational nexus that will allow us to provide a wide range of opportunities for young people as well as lifelong learners," said Kristen Gates, EdD, Director of Postgraduate Education and Chief Academic Officer at the Institute. She will oversee the lab. "Our hope is that K-12 students will be moved to pursue careers in a variety of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines – something that’s being encouraged by President Obama. We also want to give the general public and our Members opportunities to engage in hands-on activities with our scientists and to appreciate our mission to extend healthspan."
The new facility, located on the ground floor of the Gensler Building, will have 30 seats, microscopes, and a 3D printer. Movable lab workbenches will enable instructors to reconfigure the room to accommodate various learning activities. The floor of the learning center will feature a rendering of a DNA double helix and a blue circle that represents a cell. Students will be able to place components of the cell within the structure to give them a physical experience of cell biology.
The center will provide a training space for high school Summer Scholar interns and master’s students from Dominican University’s biological sciences program. When school buses pull up at the Institute’s front door, the kids will finally have someplace to go.
The Buck’s K-12 Education Coordinator Julie Mangada, PhD, a former stem cell researcher, will provide much of the hands-on expertise in the new space. Larry Rosenberger describes her as "the pied piper of getting children excited about science." Gates will continue her efforts to expand our overall science education program – something that pleases the Rosenbergers. "The fact that we have an actual learning center has enabled Kristen to apply for a number of new grants. Diane and I like that the Buck Institute for Research on Aging will be able to take advantage of this space to grow their educational program in new ways."