“We have once again reached the magnitude of impact we were having pre-pandemic. And how remarkable that this is also the year of our tenth Atlanta Science Festival,” state Science ATL Co-Executive Directors Jordan Ross and Meisa Salaita in their introduction to the recently released Science ATL Annual Report.
“Ten!!! That’s a big deal!!! This little glimmer of an idea we had over a decade ago has turned into something huge. Not only is the festival bigger and better than ever, it’s served as the stepping stone to grow the work we do throughout the year,” the introduction continues.
With lead sponsors Emory University and Delta Air Lines along with approximately 30 other sponsors and more than 130 community partners, the nonprofit organization Science ATL, according to its website, “produces events and community building activities to improve access to science, technology, engineering, arts, and math (STEM/STEAM) learning opportunities and to strengthen Atlanta’s STEM ecosystem.” The annual Atlanta Science Festival is Science ATL’s flagship initiative.
The report listed 127 public event partner organizations, including Agnes Scott College, DeKalb Agricultural, Technological and Environmental Charter School, DeKalb County School District, Fernbank Museum, Fernbank Science Center, Oglethorpe University, Wylde Center and other institutions in DeKalb and other metro counties. It also lists 120 school and youth programing partners, including the city of Avondale Estates and 17 schools in the DeKalb County School District.
The Science ATL’s school and youth programs, according to the report, have shown particular success. These include a STEM leadership and development program for middle and high school students called Georgia Chief Science Officers (CSOs). Students participating in this program reported in a self-perception rating moving from 3.47 in “being heard” to 4.13. In “leadership capacity” they reported rising to a 4.15 from 3.37.
The annual report quotes a teacher saying, “I have noted that [the CSO students] have become better leaders. They are more resilient and truly understand what it is to be responsible over major projects. They both have become problem solvers and are more willing to speak up.”
Science ATL states that its primary strategy with its school and youth programs is to “build school capacity for transformational—not transactional—partnerships with local STEM companies, universities and their employees”; ensure diverse representation among STEM professional volunteers; empower youth to lead community change and bring STEM opportunities to their peers; and engage with neighborhoods with low or very low Child Well-Being.” United Way of Greater Atlanta’s Child Well-Being index helps identify neighborhoods that lack the basic opportunities and resources for children to thrive.
Under the heading “Measuring Success,” Science ATL reported 77 participating schools in low or very low Child Well-Being Zip codes; 18,000 students reached, 165 youth leaders developed, 6,000 STEM professional volunteer hours and that 75 percent of STEM professionals are from groups underrepresented in STEM.
Other school and youth programs are STEM Professional School Partnerships, a year-long program in which STEM professionals partner with teachers to share career journeys, and integrate real-world STEM challenges into classroom experiences; Imagining the Future, a full-day event during which STEM professions visit classrooms; Youth Ambassadors, “a program designed to keep the youth voice actively involved in Science ATL programing”; and STEM+21 Clubs, an after-school club model and self-guided online learning modules for high school students.
With a vision of “bringing people together through the wonder of science,” the report states, “We envision Atlanta as a science city where people celebrate a shared appreciation for the ways science and technology are fundamental to the health and prosperity of our community. Science ATL’s mission is to cultivate an equitable community of lifelong learners across metro Atlanta who are connected and inspired by the wonder of science.”
Figures in the report indicate significant progress in Science ATL’s stated mission. Following the 2023 festival, Science ATL found that 93 percent of attendees indicated that they became more aware of STEM in their lives. The final numbers showed the festival had 47,000 attendees from more than 100 unique ZIP codes. There were 150 events, 81 venues, 161 partners, 928 presenters and volunteers and 118 media hits.
In its efforts to reach audience underrepresented in STEM, Science ATL reported that this year’s expo attendees were 36 percent White, 29 percent Black, 18 percent Asian, 10 percent Hispanic and 7 percent other. This compares with 2020 figures that show 39 percent White, 36 percent Black, 8 percent Asian, 13 percent Hispanic and 4 percent other. This year’s attendees were 60 percent female.