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Eckerd College Mobile MakerSpace makes appearance at St. Pete Science Festival

By Ashlyn Fransen '24
Published March 7, 2023
Categories: About Eckerd, Academics, Community Engagement, Students
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Eckerd staff share their love of science with Pinellas County school children who visited the Eckerd College tent during this year’s annual science festival in downtown St. Petersburg. Photos by Penh Alicandro ’22

Under a massive white tent along the waterfront at University of South Florida–St. Petersburg, school children reached into a touch tank full of invertebrates. Their faces contorted in disgust and amazement upon feeling the animals’ slimy bodies.

On Feb. 17 and 18, Eckerd College mathematics and science faculty and students brought a host of interactive activities to the St. Petersburg Science Festival, an annual community event where local organizations bring the wonders of science to the community, particularly the young.

At the Eckerd tent, tiny fingers twisted pipe cleaners to form neurons, carefully following Assistant Professor of Biology Scott Dobrin’s instructions. With one eye closed, they peered through the cardboard kaleidoscope they’d just constructed outside the Eckerd College Mobile MakerSpace. Little legs stood on step stools to watch the laser cutter etch into recycled cardboard and make shapes for building blocks. Outside the tent, a DJ blared electro-pop music that didn’t seem to fit, but the oddity was excused when an energetic man began rapping about science to fit the theme.

Anne Cox, Ph.D., professor of physics and director of the Mobile MakerSpace, was happy to see the excitement around the laser cutter. She had brought eight of her physics students to volunteer with her, and they interacted with kids and parents to teach them about science.

Professor showing student a geometric piece

Assistant Professor of Mathematics Bjoern Muetzel, Ph.D., discusses geometric shapes with a visitor.

School children visit the Eckerd College tent.

Cox’s vision for the Mobile MakerSpace is to get children excited about math and science. Too often, especially in middle school, kids begin to decide they “aren’t a math person” or “aren’t a science person,” and she wants to flip the script.

Professor standing in front a trailer that says "Mobile Makerspace"

Professor of Physics Anne Cox brought Eckerd’s Mobile MakerSpace and eight physics students to the festival to get children excited about science.

The Mobile MakerSpace was made possible by a grant from the Duke Energy Foundation. Loretta Murray, foundation manager of Florida at Duke Energy, says the Science Festival was a wonderful opportunity for her to experience the MakerSpace in action.

“It was great to see Eckerd students engaging with the event and supporting their college,” she says.

Eva Dellea, a junior physics student from North Oxford, Massachusetts, said her favorite thing about the event was seeing all of Eckerd’s STEM disciplines come together under one tent. It’s not often they all  gather and share their passions, which is why events like this are so fun. Another physics student, senior Hannah Lander of New Smyrna, Florida, says her favorite part was seeing kids genuinely having a good time while doing science experiments.

Murray came to the event with a team of Duke Energy employee volunteers. She is proud to champion employee involvement in the community and “plug them into” connections beyond the Foundation.

College student speaking to school children

Sophomore Sophie Strock presents to an audience of school children under the tent.

“This event is important because it gives me hope for the future,” says Jess Eskew, one of the Duke volunteers. “When I was growing up, girls weren’t encouraged to go into the sciences. It’s awesome to see that changing. Parents are involved in cultivating their kids’ passions like mine did for me. Both my parents had careers in wastewater treatment and encouraged me to be interested in science. Now, my job provides me with this outlet to engage in science with the community.”

Duke Energy’s superintendent of Pinellas County came by with his son to build a kaleidoscope. Murray says she was lucky enough to watch his son’s face erupt in a smile when he looked through the contraption.

“This is what it’s all about,” Murray says. “The Mobile MakerSpace was money well spent.”