The lifelong dream of John McConnell was to inspire others to appreciate and enjoy science and math. His dream has come to fruition and far exceeds his initial project idea called Science In The Hands Of Kids (Sithok). He developed hands-on science demonstrations for children after retiring as a physicist from Los Alamos National Laboratory. He took his program (Sithok) to the children in Grand Junction, Colorado, so that they could begin early to enjoy the excitement of what science can offer.
This project has grown into many presentations per month and more than 5,000 children each year learn that “math and science are cool.” McConnell has directly influenced some students. He has mentored one student since third grade, and this young man has been a winner in the State of Colorado Science & Engineering Fair. From the Sithok idea, McConnell created and developed a Sci-Tech Exploratorium in a vacant classroom at one of the elementary schools. This is a hands-on learning center for all students K-12, teachers, and parents.
McConnell has been an active volunteer with the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) over the years and helped establish the Senior Scholar Project (SSP) in 1992. This project, under the auspices of RSVP, was developed to assist students through mentoring and tutoring. He has been an exemplary member of SSP providing guidance to new volunteers and sharing the benefits of involvement with students in an intergenerational experience.
The Sci-Tech Exploratorium has been completed at McConnell’s own expense with assistance from a few local grant providers. The center has been opened to special groups even at night and on the weekends, which provides a stimulating experience for children and their parents. Students who are blind can enjoy the Exploratorium as much as sighted children, because all of the experimental stations are printed in braille. Teachers are able to enroll in classes taught in the Exploratorium and learn new teaching methods to use with their students.
McConnell envisioned an intergenerational program for seniors and students in Mesa County. Through this idea, he helped establish the SSP, which has grown from 20 members in 1992 to more than 150 senior volunteers. He serves as a member of the Education Committee, which oversees the SSP and is a guest presenter at all orientation meetings for new Senior Scholars. Thorugh the publicitiy about his volunteering with Sithok and the Exploratorium, he has inspired other seniors (55 and over) to mentor/tutor students. He has a Web site connection with the Department of Education to encourage others to construct science/math-learning centers and to serve as a resource for developing experimental stations.
The Exploratorium was developed so that any student in the school district could visit, and it provides a place for teachers to work on curriculum, and develop science assessments. There are continuing exhibits developed through the joint efforts of business/industry and higher education. McConnell foresees new science/math themes developing for the center, new students visiting each year, and new thrills by children being “turned on” to math and science.