WonderLab Museum in Bloomington Receives $417K Grant from Lilly Endowment Inc.

Courtesy photos

Staff report written from press release

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — WonderLab Museum of Science, Health, and Technology in Bloomington, Indiana, has been awarded a grant of $417,116 from Lilly Endowment Inc. The grant aims to bolster the museum’s core outreach program, bridging existing gaps in serving underprivileged groups and fostering new community collaborations to enrich STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education across a ten-county region.

The funding stems from Lilly Endowment’s initiative, Strengthening Youth Programs in Indiana. This initiative seeks to empower youth-serving organizations throughout Indiana, enhancing their capacity to promote the academic, physical, and social well-being of young individuals aged five through 18.

The WonderLab project, named ‘The Impact Community Outreach Program’, seeks to extend the museum’s provision of educational experiences that complement classroom learning. These experiences will create safe and immersive learning environments for youths residing in low-income households or lacking access to STEM educational resources.

Since its inception in 1995, WonderLab has prioritized community outreach, initially operating solely in this capacity. Over the years, the museum has offered an array of STEM outreach experiences, ranging from themed activities to interactive demonstrations led by presenters.

In 2022, WonderLab provided complimentary outreach programs to two rural libraries, generously funded by an individual donor. However, the demand surged, with 33 rural Indiana libraries waitlisted for free programs. As of September 2023, ten libraries have received fully subsidized programs, but the waitlist continues to grow.

Moreover, in Monroe and six neighboring counties, approximately 35 Title I elementary and middle schools qualify for fully or partially subsidized STEM outreach programs. However, in 2022, WonderLab’s Outreach team could only cater to one school.

The funding for ‘The Impact Community Outreach Program’ will augment WonderLab’s outreach capabilities over three years. The program aims to:

  • Offer after-school science programs twice a semester to 14 schools
  • Provide cost-free outreach sessions to rural libraries statewide
  • Conduct multiple monthly outreach events for select youth-serving agencies in Bloomington

Kelli Debikey, WonderLab’s Education Director, emphasized the positive impact of engaging STEM activities on students. “Informal education allows us to make STEM very hands-on. We get to go straight to the kids,” Debikey said. “And we aren’t limited by the constraints of formal education, such as testing or limited time.”

The grant support from Lilly Endowment will facilitate the initiation of ‘The Impact Community Outreach Program’, enabling the hiring of additional outreach staff, procuring a dedicated WonderLab outreach van (also known as the Science Mobile), and providing professional development for the education department.

“Outreach allows us to expose STEM activities to students with different learning styles who might not otherwise have the opportunity,” Debikey continued. “Going to them removes barriers of transportation, money, accessibility. And ultimately, it makes learning fun because it’s learning by doing.”

WonderLab is among the 187 organizations benefitting from grants through the Strengthening Youth Programs in Indiana initiative.

Ted Maple, Lilly Endowment’s vice president for education, underscored the significance of youth-serving organizations in Indiana. “Indiana’s youth-serving organizations are crucial to the healthy development of children and youth across the state,” Maple said. “Lilly Endowment is pleased to support their efforts to strengthen programs and serve more youth more effectively.”

Lilly Endowment launched the Strengthening Youth Programs in Indiana Initiative in 2022, initially awarding grants to nine national youth-serving organizations. These grants aimed to expand and enhance the work of their Indiana affiliates or chapters.

About Lilly Endowment Inc.

Established in 1937 by J.K. Lilly Sr. and his sons Eli and J.K. Jr., Lilly Endowment Inc. is a private foundation founded on gifts of stock from their pharmaceutical business, Eli Lilly and Company. The Endowment, although funding programs nationwide, maintains a distinct commitment to Indianapolis, its hometown, and Indiana, its home state.

About WonderLab Museum

WonderLab, an award-winning science museum situated at 308 W. Fourth St. on the B-Line Trail in Bloomington, Indiana, consistently offers innovative programs and exhibits. For the latest updates on programs and exhibits, visit wonderlab.org or WonderLab’s Facebook page.

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