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Lincoln Park Zoo awarded $3 million leadership gift for education

This week, Lincoln Park Zoo rolls out several new educational initiatives designed by the newly created Hurvis Center for Learning Innovation and Collaboration. The center, an ambitious new endeavor made possible thanks to a $3 million leadership gift by the Hurvis Charitable Foundation, is poised to address the growing need within the zoo, museum and aquarium community nationwide to explore new approaches to effectively engage visitors in science learning.

Studies have demonstrated the profound effect that zoos and museums can have on science learners, and the National Research Council recommends cultural institutions to focus on developing new models of research and collaboration. While still in the early stages of development, the Hurvis Center is primed to become a leader in this area developing, testing and researching informal education concepts while simultaneously providing innovative educational programming.

"People expect novel experiences, but with limited resources many cultural institutions may shy away from new or unproven approaches to audience engagement because of the risk involved," explained the center's Senior Director Leah Melber, Ph.D. "That is where the Hurvis Center steps in. We have been provided the resources and support to take risks in order to develop and implement new programming approaches using the zoo and partner institutions as learning laboratories to test and measure the success of new models."

Melber, who brings more than two decades of experience with informal and formal science education, will lead her team in new approaches to deliverable programs. Every new initiative will be coupled with stringent research, measurement and evaluation so that concepts can be honed, sharpened and maximized to have the greatest impact the goal being to increase public understanding of, and engagement with, science. Collaboration with colleagues across the zoo and museum community is a critical part of the center's mission.

New Programs Now Available

This week, a free educational application for iPad created by the Hurvis Center called Observe to Learn goes live in the App StoreSM. This application is available for anyone to download and use to explore animal behavior in their backyard, a local zoo, or nearby nature area. The app and an associated curriculum guide were designed for use by informal learning institutions and schools nationwide to provide youth an opportunity to learn about the natural world through self-directed, animal behavior (ethology) studies. The application is also available in Spanish, and may potentially be translated into other languages as new partners from other nations express interest.

The aim of Observe to Learn, which evolved from Lincoln Park Zoo's successful program, Young Researchers Collaborative, is to provide technology that combines established approaches in animal behavior research with simplicity to allow any institution to implement the program in a way that will complement or enhance existing programs.

To date, Hurvis Center partners on using Observe to Learn include Roger Williams Park Zoo in New England, St. Louis Zoo, San Francisco Zoo and Columbia's Zoologico Santa Cruz.

Career programs for underserved Chicago-area teens

In addition to the launch of Observe to Learn, the Hurvis Center is now accepting applications from Chicago-area high schoolers for two newly created career-focused programs: Career Explorers and Research Apprenticeship Program.

Career Explorers is a two-week-long early exposure program focused on different career paths within a zoo, aquarium or museum to give youth a deeper understanding about a range of careers. The Research Apprenticeship Program will give select high schoolers an opportunity to spend four weeks working alongside a Lincoln Park Zoo scientist and engaging in authentic research experiences. These youth will continue their connection with the zoo after the project through follow-up activities throughout the school year.

There is no cost for students to participate in either program, but spaces are limited. Both career-focused programs are primarily aimed at underserved youth who might not otherwise receive specialized support regarding career choice due to socioeconomic status, ethnicity or other barriers.

Contact: Sharon Dewar
Lincoln Park Zoo

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