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C&I Professor Barbara Hug announces new science education outreach project: FIND Orphy

by The College of Education / Feb 2, 2012

A new collaborative project between the Orpheum Children's Museum in Champaign and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign called "FIND Orphy" will be launched next month, according to Barbara Hug, clinical assistant professor in Curriculum and Instruction at the College of Education and principal investigator, and Donna Korol, associate professor in the Neuroscience Program and Psychology.

Hug said the community outreach project, which is funded through the University of Illinois Office of Public Engagement, will provide a range of informal science education opportunities for children, parents, schools, and interested community members. Key to the project will be two mobile science carts highlighting five U of I neuroscientists whose work is featured in Project NEURON curricula, an NIH Science Education Partnership Award project that helped facilitate FIND Orphy since its inception.

The program follows a small pilot project called FIND (Faces in Neuroscience Discovery) from last spring where neuroscientists were highlighted at the Orpheum through an informal seminar series and hands-on activities.

The carts will have information about the U of I neuroscientists, with their work represented in both text and interactive hands-on activities. While the carts will primarily remain at the museum, they are portable, which makes them suitable for science fairs and other local school events.

"Orphy," the Orpheum's mascot, will serve as a teaching mechanism to help young museum visitors relate to the project. Orphy will serve as a commentator to the scientists' narratives and hands-on activities, adding color and clarity to the exhibit.

During summer FIND Orphy sessions, Orphy cutouts will be given to each child or visitor to help keep track of information presented. On the backside of the cutout, information is included about the scientist and science content, but from Orphy's perspective. Orphy serves as a kind of alter-ego of the scientists by asking questions to clarify scientific information that might not necessarily be easily conveyed or understood.

Orphy's persona is similar to the "Flat Stanley" cultural phenomenon, which has been used as a successful literacy tool for young children. Grade school students send the flat character across the country and then write about his adventures in an autobiographical style.

"Because of the approach we are taking, we believe this project has the ability to reach a population that is often overlooked in STEM fields," Hug explained. "This connects directly to a core mission of the University–to increase the diversity of its student population and in STEM fields through working with a varied population of all ages," she added.

An opening event on March 11 is scheduled to coincide with National Brain Awareness Week (March 12-16).  The Orpheum will also host the FIND Orphy exhibits at the U of I Neuroscience Program's annual Brain Awareness Day (April 14) and throughout the summer, including a FIND Orphy summer camp July 9-13. For additional information about FIND Orphy, contact Hug.