For over 30 years, the South Dakota Discovery Center (SDDC) in Pierre has been the heart of scientific exploration for all ages.
“It’s amazing to see people ‘light up’ when something clicks or they feel affirmed in their curiosity and knowledge.” -RHEA WALDMAN
Their mission has evolved from introducing science to children and their families to including instruction for educators from all levels and enhancing scientific understanding through programs to inspire critical thinking and creative minds.
“We are a multifaceted organization with an energetic team devoted to increasing awareness of the world around us,” said executive director Dr. Rhea Waldman. “As an educational resource, we offer many types of classes that connect scientific professionals through informal learning to public audiences.”
Their youth programs work to introduce children to various science disciplines, all while focusing on the importance of protecting the environment, the impact of technology, and what it means to be a citizen scientist.
Rescue Readers at Paws
Paws Animal Rescue, Pierre
April 4 // 5:30 p.m.
Discovery Center, Pierre
April 8 // 11 A.M.
Discovery on Tap
St. Charles Longue, Pierre
April 21 // 5:30 P.M.
Upper Eagle Butte Elementary, Eagle Butte
April 25 // 5:00 P.M.
But kids aren’t the only ones who benefit from the Discovery Center programs. Educators can take advantage of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) instruction, hands-on professional development, and book traveling SDDC programs, all with the goal of bringing and centering hands-on STEM education in the classroom.
Each year, the dedicated staff works to bring foundational science and new information to the public in creative, interactive ways.
“We are passionate about eliminating barriers to STEM discovery, identity, and career development,” expressed Waldman.
For years, children have been able to explore and engage with science at their own pace and on their own terms. Through hands-on and culturally sustaining learning techniques, SDDC bridges the gap between Western Science and Indigenous knowledge, according to Waldman.
“We want every child and participant in our programs, and visitor to our Exhibit Hall to see themselves in what we’re teaching to build confidence in their STEM identity and to, just maybe, get their hands dirty,” said Waldman.
The Discovery Center offers various informal and formal education opportunities.
The Little STEMers Preschool, for kids ages 3 to 5, offers foundational early childhood experiences that allow them to build confidence and perseverance for formal education. Kids learn from a qualified educator that uses literature, free exploration, sensory experiments, art, and conversation to engage their curiosity and develop their observational skills.
Each opportunity, from preschool to 12th grade, is designed to enhance the in-school curriculum, says Waldman. The STEMventures program, which brings SDDC educators to schools, encourages a deeper dive and understanding of STEM in the classroom.
If patrons are simply passing through with families, groups, or on school field trips, the Discovery Town, in the exhibit hall, is a great place to explore. The popular exhibit introduces young minds to STEM careers found everywhere.
With educational hands-on activities, including a large treehouse reaching up to the rafters, kids have endless possibilities to explore on-site at the SDDC.
Another popular attraction of the Discovery Center has become their summer camps, giving campers days of fun insights into STEM careers and activities.
“We introduce kids to the path towards skill development for the twenty-first century and beyond,” said Waldman.
“As a team, we value learning and collaboration, along with diversity, equity, and inclusion.” – Rhea Waldman
The team is currently gearing up for the fun-filled camps that begin in May and run nearly every week until mid-August. Visitors taking advantage of a few days on the river and residents in the Pierre area are encouraged to enroll their children, from kindergarten to eighth grade, in classes ranging from horticulture to coding.
Children can select from different camps based on their interests, including Think Like An Engineer, Wildlife Biologist, Astrophysicist, Emergency Responder, and more.
On top of weekly summer camps, Waldman says they host a variety of monthly events. Every first Saturday, SDDC members can join their young explorers for Itty Bitty Einsteins—an event focused on giving caregivers the tools to become their kid’s first STEM teachers.
The second Saturday of the month is dedicated to looking up. At Starry Saturday, the public, and everyone of any age is welcome to take a trip around the solar system, the galaxy, the universe, and more to learn about what is happening in the skies and beyond.
Any adults, 21 and older, who would enjoy a glimpse into the world of STEM can partake in Discovery on Tap. On every third Friday of the month at the St. Charles Lounge, participants are introduced to a new aspect of STEM all while sipping on a beverage of their choice, and, as usual, they’re encouraged to get their hands on science, during a speaker-led activity.
Waldman shares that the biggest lesson people, young and old, will learn, independently as a citizen scientists, during a camp, or at an event is to explore and engage.
“Their thoughts and observations matter, discovery is fun, curiosity is important, and if they share what they observe, they can impact our understanding of the world,” said Waldman.
She shares that throughout her time with the Discovery Center, she has seen a multitude of children find their passion within the science field. The Discovery Center has become a space for empowering others.
“From the little ones that see themselves as scientists to the middle schoolers that find their passion and the confidence to pursue a STEM career to our STEM professionals who learn to inspire others and our staff who become the best versions of themselves,” said Waldman. “Everyone has a place at the South Dakota Discovery Center.”
She continued, “We’ll continue to be a go-to resource for STEM education and educators in the state as we grow our team and our mission to empower and impact more people.”
For more information, visit SD-DISCOVERY.ORG