Introducing John McConnell
I first read about John McConnell when I stumbled across Alpine Bank's Nonprofit Trailblazers, and much to my surprise, I think they're onto something really big here. As it turns out, John McConnell is somewhat like Colorado's own Bill Nye in that he's a scientist-turned-science educator that lets kids get hands-on with science.
It all started in Grand Junction, in 1990, when the newly retired physicist decided he'd rather share his passion for science with kids than remain idle. So, he started volunteering at elementary schools to show kids science demonstrations, perform hands-on experiments, and explain scientific concepts with displays and exhibits he built himself. Not surprisingly, the show quickly gained popularity forcing McConnell, with the help of his wife Audrey, to take the show all around the Western Slope.
“We’d go out to towns like Dove Creek, Cortez and Maybell. We’d see up to 800 kids in a week,” John said. “And it was just fantastic.”
Fast forward to 1998, Wingate Elementary granted McConnell 1,500 square feet of classroom space to house 160 interactive exhibits -- that were each hand-built by John -- showcasing everything he knew. The exhibits to this day feature everything from Biology to Chemistry, Geology, Engineering, Physics, and more.
By the year 2009, John's work attracted approximately 17,000 visitors annually and caught the attention of donors from around the state. In fact, it's caused such a stir that, in 2018, the center will occupy a $5.5 million, 13,000-square-foot space in the new engineering building at Colorado Mesa University.
“Kids get less than one hour of science a week in their classroom. There’s a huge gap in STEM learning across the U.S. and we’re trying to fill that void,” says Jenn Moore, the organization's executive director. “We need people who want to use technology to solve tomorrow’s problems. So we need to get our children up to speed and excited about taking on that mission.”
How's that for a cool field trip? Want to learn more? Look up the Eureka! McConnell Science Museum