Bright Lights Community Engagement Award – The Tech Challenge, Presented by Cisco

The Tech Museum of Innovation has won a Bright Lights Community Engagement Award from The Noyce Foundation in recognition of The Tech Challenge, presented by Cisco, the museum’s annual design and engineering program.

Bright Lights prizes recognize U.S. science centers, children’s museums, and natural history museums that have done an outstanding job engaging with their communities. The awards, given to nine institutions, put a strong emphasis on outreach efforts in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).

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“This award is a tremendous honor for The Tech,” said President Tim Ritchie. “The prize will be used to deepen The Tech Challenge’s penetration into communities that need it most — those full of kids who are at the margins of the mainstream, for whom deep engagement with science and technology is more elusive than it should be.”

More than 2,000 students participate in The Tech Challenge presented by Cisco. Teams of students spend months working together to solve an engineering problem. In 2014, for example — the program’s 27th year — they devised ways to use the wind to move water to people who need it, a particularly timely theme given California’s severe drought.

The Tech Challenge teaches the complete engineering process — research, brainstorm, design, prototype, test, iterate — and helps students develop lifelong problem solving and critical thinking skills that are crucial to innovation. It builds confidence and encourages kids from all backgrounds to pursue education and careers in the STEM fields. The program culminates with two event days during which teams of students present their designs and engineering journals to volunteer judges from the Silicon Valley technology world.

The program goes to great lengths to ensure every child, regardless of socio-economic background, has an opportunity to participate and succeed, a reflection of The Tech’s mission to inspire the innovator in everyone. Throughout its history, The Tech Challenge has steadily increased participation among low-income children and girls through targeted and effective community outreach. About 40 percent of participants are from low-income families and 45 percent are girls.

“The program’s success in engaging low-income kids and girls has been remarkable,” the Noyce Foundation wrote.

“With this grant, it will become even more remarkable,” Ritchie said.

In a pool of 94 applicants judged through three rounds, The Tech was one of seven winners. The Foundation said the winners were “truly exceptional for the depth, breadth and impact of their community outreach work. Common to all the winners was their ability to reach out to parts of their communities that have needs not typically recognized or addressed by science centers.”

In addition to The Tech, the winners included Explora (Albuquerque, N.M.); the Hands On Children’s Museum (Olympia, Wash.); the Science Museum of Minnesota (St. Paul, Minn.); the Monterey Bay Aquarium; the Museum of Science and Industry (Tampa, Fla.); and The Franklin Institute (Philadelphia). Two other organizations with new and promising programs, the Great Lakes Science Center (Cleveland) and the spectrUM Discovery Area (Missoula, Mont.), received honorable mention awards.

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