Middle aged woman leads a group of elementary aged children in a science experiment.

WonderLab Education Director, Kelli Debikey, leads a group of children during a WonderLab outreach event.

WonderLab Museum of Science, Health, and Technology in Bloomington, Indiana has received a grant of $417,116 from Lilly Endowment Inc. to help transform our core outreach program, addressing current gaps to serving the groups in need and developing new community partnerships that will enhance STEM learning throughout our ten-county region.

The program is being funded through Lilly Endowment’s initiative, Strengthening Youth Programs in Indiana. The aim of the competitive initiative is to help youth-serving organizations working throughout Indiana improve their abilities to promote the academic, physical and social well-being of young people, ages five through 18.

The WonderLab project, The Impact Community Outreach Program, will expand WonderLab’s delivery of educational experiences that supplement classroom learning and provide safe and enriching learning environments for youth who are in low-income households or otherwise lack access to STEM experiences.

Outreach to communities in the south-central Indiana area has been a core element of WonderLab’s strategic goals since the beginning of the organization. WonderLab began in 1995 as an outreach-only organization, and has since provided a wide array of STEM outreach experiences, from themed activities to presenter-led interactive demonstrations.

In 2022, WonderLab provided free outreach programs to 2 rural libraries, covered by a grant from an individual donor. In 2022, there was a waitlist of 33 rural Indiana libraries that had requested free programs. Through September 2023, 10 libraries have received fully subsidized programs, and the waitlist continues to grow.

In Monroe and six adjacent counties, there are at least 35 Title I elementary and middle schools that would qualify for fully or partially subsidized STEM outreach programs, and in 2022, WonderLab’s Outreach team was only able to serve one.

Funding for The Impact Community Outreach Program will expand WonderLab’s outreach abilities over three years to ultimately:

  • Offer 14 schools after-school science programs twice a semester
  • Offer free outreaches to rural libraries throughout Indiana that would not be able to pay
  • Provide multiple outreaches per month for select youth-serving agencies in the Bloomington area.

Engaging enrichment activities focused on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) can positively affect students in both the classroom and at home.

“Informal education allows us to make STEM very hands-on” said WonderLab Education Director, Kelli Debikey. “We get to go straight to the source, to the kids. And we aren’t limited by the constraints of formal education, such as testing or limited time. Kids don’t feel the pressure of school, which eliminates the idea that they have to be good at STEM in order to get something out of it.”

Grant support for WonderLab to initiate The Impact Community Outreach Program includes increasing outreach staff, purchasing a dedicated WonderLab outreach van (aka: Science Mobile) and professional development for members of the education department.

A group of children work on an engineering challenge using plastic cups and string during a WonderLab outreach event.

A group of children work on an engineering challenge using plastic cups and string during a WonderLab outreach event.

“Outreach allows us to expose STEM activities to students with different learning styles who might not otherwise have the opportunity,” Debikey continued. “Going to them removes the barriers of transportation, money, accessibility. And ultimately, it makes learning fun because it’s learning by doing.”

WonderLab is one of 187 organizations receiving grants through Strengthening Youth Programs in Indiana.

“Indiana’s youth-serving organizations are crucial to the healthy development of children and youth across the state,’ said Ted Maple, Lilly Endowment’s vice president for education. “The challenges these organizations have faced in meeting the needs of young people in recent years have made their work increasingly difficult. Lilly Endowment is pleased to support their efforts to strengthen programs and serve more youth more effectively.”

Lilly Endowment launched Strengthening Youth Programs in Indiana Initiative in 2022 with an invitational round of grants to nine national youth-serving organizations to help them expand and enhance the work of their Indiana affiliates or chapters.

About Lilly Endowment Inc.

Lilly Endowment Inc. is a private foundation created in 1937 by J.K. Lilly Sr. and his sons Eli and J.K. Jr. through gifts of stock in their pharmaceutical business, Eli Lilly and Company. While those gifts remain the financial bedrock of the Endowment, it is a separate entity from the company, with a distinct governing board, staff and location. Although the Endowment funds programs throughout the United States, especially in the field of religion, it maintains a special commitment to its hometown, Indianapolis, and home state, Indiana.

About WonderLab Museum

WonderLab is an award-winning science museum located at 308 W. Fourth St. on the B-Line Trail in Bloomington, Indiana. For the most up-to-date information about programs and exhibits go to wonderlab.org or WonderLab’s Facebook page.

Want to learn more? Have questions? Contact Aleisha Kropf, WonderLab Marketing Director marketing@wonderlab.org / 812-337-1337 x 212