SciFest just one of UNMC's science literacy efforts

by John Keenan, UNMC public relations | April 18, 2014

Image with caption: Students enjoying activities at the 2013 Nebraska Science Festival.

Students enjoying activities at the 2013 Nebraska Science Festival.

Since her first papier-mache volcano, Kacie Gerard has known science is fun.

These days, she's helping get that message out across the state as UNMC's science outreach coordinator. Next week, one of the university's flagship outreach efforts -- the Nebraska Science Festival -- will be held, and Gerard can't wait.

After 2013's inaugural event drew more than 2,000 people in Omaha, the Science Festival is expanding, with more venues, more presenters, and a greater reach across Nebraska, with activities in Lincoln, Papillion, Ashland and Jansen.

"We have very exciting programs this year," Gerard said. "Children and families will enjoy the speakers, events and booth at the expos, and there also are a variety of community events planned."

The Science Festival isn't the only way UNMC expands science literacy in Nebraska.

Events that promote science literacy are a priority for the university. From 1997 to 2008, UNMC sponsored the semiannual Mini-Medical School lectures that were broadcast across the state. In February, UNMC celebrated the fifth anniversary of its popular Science Cafes, which gather a group of people in a casual setting to listen to an expert discuss an interesting scientific topic.

When Gerard was named the science outreach coordinator in 2013, she was tasked with expanding the Science Festival and the Science Cafes while creating even more events.

"It gives me the opportunity to reach out to communities and develop new science outreach programs throughout the year," she said. "We definitely have specific activities geared to children and families, and this year we've added a lot of adult programming."

For example: With Omaha Community Playhouse officials, she helped develop two well-attended, post-performance events.

When the playhouse mounted "Evil Dead: The Musical," faculty of UNMC's College of Public Health gave presentations on surviving a zombie apocalypse that was loaded with information on disaster preparedness, pandemics, biohazards and other topics. And for a production of "Next to Normal," a Pulitzer Prize-winning musical that features a character with bipolar disorder, UNMC experts discussed mental illness.

"It was a way to try something new and reach an audience that wouldn't normally attend a science-related event," she said.

In 2015, Gerard wants to move the Science Festival even farther west, as well as create Science Cafes for high-school students.

"There are a lot of great possibilities, and if you do it right, people will always be interested," she said. "Make it interesting, and they'll have a great time."

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