During crisis, importance of science grows

STEM confidence is something we all need

THIS IS A TIME of reckoning for our nation.  We are seeing the disastrous results of discounting public health experts, scientists, and the facts when we should have listened.  The fight against the coronavirus is giving us the chance to reconsider the value of science in our public policy and in how we live our lives.  It is encouraging us to embrace science and the power it gives us to overcome the challenges we face.

It is an unfortunate irony that in the midst of this science reckoning, we as science institutions were some of the first public institutions to close our doors. This has been a painful period for our visitors, staffs, and boards. Yet, we are taking this time to learn how to become even stronger at serving our community, and how together we are ushering in a needed science renaissance that will continue once we open again.

STEM education is often positioned as a pipeline into jobs, but this crisis is demonstrating that fluency around basic science goes far beyond vocation. Access to STEM creates the ability to think critically, separate fact from fiction, and ultimately feel more assured about the day-to-day decisions you make in a fast-paced world – what you might call “STEM confidence.”

For many people in our community, love of science, passion for the natural world, and confidence about problem solving is nurtured in our aquariums, zoos, children’s museums and science centers.  It is there that they come to understand that our world is both fantastic and knowable.  It is there they realize their own power to solve problems in innovative ways.

Our missions have always included building STEM confidence in our community.  We are the conduit that connects science to people’s everyday lives.  This mission manifests in ways that spark action. When you leave the New England Aquarium, you think differently about climate change and how it impacts our ocean and the world around us. A Museum of Science visit empowers you to ask uestions and test ideas to create a better world.  A trip to Boston Children’s Museum may be the first time a young child is encouraged to explore basic science phenomena such as gravity, air, and light, and a visit to Zoo New England’s Franklin Park Zoo and Stone Zoo inspires you to learn more about the importance of biodiversity and global stewardship.

This is STEM confidence. STEM confidence is like a muscle that needs to be flexed to grow stronger over time so that we as a society are steadfast enough to believe the science even when it’s tough, and not succumb to false soundbites on social media because they’re easy.

Though we were forced to close our physical doors to the public as a result of COVID-19, we are finding new ways to fulfill our missions. We have responded to this crisis by creating new, free digital versions of our programs and exhibits. We are doing all we can to serve people in their homes, in ways they value and that are accessible to all.

We are using this time to create our new normal that will emerge from this crisis: the ability to both connect with people anywhere they are and welcome them to the place-based institutions they count on us to be.  We have done this because now, more than ever, building STEM confidence and equitable access to the world-class institutions in our community is needed.

Collectively our institutions were visited by more than 4 million people last year through tourism, personal visits, field trips, and more. There will never be a substitute for in-person visits.  But this crisis is demonstrating how we can become trusted places people of all ages and backgrounds know they can count on when they want to learn, interact, and engage in issues impacting their day-to-day lives. We are partners with the immense scientific expertise that is within our own community already.  We are identifying and breaking down barriers to accessing all that we have to offer to help people succeed in a world driven by science and technology.

Meet the Author

Tim Ritchie

President, Boston Museum of Science
Meet the Author

Vikki Spruill

President and CEO, New England Aquarium
Meet the Author

Carole Charnow

President and CEO, Boston Children's Museum
Meet the Author

John Linehan

President and CEO, Zoo New
As we enter each phase of the COVID-19 crisis, we believe deeply that the appetite for this knowledge and environment will continue to grow and become greater than ever before. In the long run, we hope our efforts mean doing our part to build the knowledge, curiosity, and, most important, the diverse community we need to learn from today’s crisis. Together, we can be confident in confronting the exponentially more complex challenges we continue to tackle, and those that we’ll face in the years ahead.

Tim Ritchie is president of the Boston Museum of Science, Vikki N. Spruill is president and chief executive officer of the New England Aquarium, Carole Charnow is president and chief executive officer of the Boston Children’s Museum, and John Linehan is president and chief executive officer of Zoo New England.