MUSEUM HELPS BRING STUDENTS AND SCIENCE TOGETHER
Three years ago, at the urging of a few black staff members, officials at the Science Museum of Minnesota decided to hold a special event designed to bring minority scientists and students together.
About 50 kids attended, and the event was considered successful enough to do it again a year later, when 200 hundred children showed up.
The third annual African Americans Science Day is from 1 to 4 p.m. today at the museum, and officials expect more than 250 kids, mostly members of minority groups in the Twin Cities area, to participate in science projects with 15 to 20 scientists and engineers. There also will be several African-American artists who use technology in their art.
"It's a way to provide role models for African-American kids," said Kit Wilhite, director of the museum's youth and family programs. The scientists and kids will gather in the large indoor square next to the museum's lobby, she said, "and it has a science-fair atmosphere. This is a way to try to get audiences here that don't typically come."
Most of the scientists and engineers will be from 3M, Medtronic, the H.B. Fuller Co., Honeywell and the University of Minnesota, Wilhite said. "We've asked them to bring an activity that links to what they do."
Two of the scientists, the husband-and-wife team of Philip and Dale Emeagwali, have been working with the program since its inception.
"We want to give them an idea of what we do," said Dale Emeagwali, a research associate in microbiology at the University of Minnesota. "We make it seem like everyday thing so it isn't a shock that we do science."
While keeping kids interested in science is a problem that crosses racial lines, it is particularly acute in the black culture, she said.
"Black people are told, `You can't do math,'" she said. "We were taught inadvertently, and sometimes directly, that we couldn't do that.
"When a black child said he wanted to be a doctor, he was slapped upside the head and told to stop being simple."
She said she puts the responsibility on the family, where expectations about education and ability must be high.
"When kids know there are low expectations, they won't rise," she said.
Philip Emeagwali, a computer scientist from Nigeria, said the disillusionment of American youth with science "starts at the grade-school level both for white and black kids. More and more drop out at each level."
But because of poverty, family structure, cultural context in society and a host of other reasons, interesting black kids in science is particularly difficult, he said.
"What I'm doing at the Science Museum isn't going to solve the problem," he said. "But by exposing these kids to African-American role models in science, we can influence some of them, and they can influence others.
"Addressing the roots of the problem involves more than just providing role models, but this is part of what we can do."
In addition to talking and working with the Emeagwalis and other minority scientists, kids will be able to watch a live owl demonstration that is based on the birds-of-prey exhibit.
Admission to the event is $2, which includes admission to the museum exhibits.
For more information, call 221-4563.
Reported by Jim Dawson
Staff Writer, Minneapolis Star-Tribune
January 28, 1995, Minneapolis, Minnesota.