On June 18-20, 2006 in Washington, D.C., the SPRY Foundation in partnership with the Association of Science -Technology Centers (ASTC), the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the National Retired Teachers Association (NRTA) AARP's Educator Community, and the Gerontological Society of America (GSA), together with support from the National Science Foundation (NSF), sponsored a ground-breaking national conference to lay the foundation and stimulate the development of creative new strategic partners between seniors and science centers throughout the United States. The primary focus was on programs that would take place at the community level.
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The participants consisted of leaders from thirty (30) science centers around the country who came paired with a counterpart colleague from the aging field in their community. In addition, over 50 representatives from national and regional organizations involved or interested in the development of this theme, also were invited to attend to provide both technical suggestions and to identify potential ways for their constituent collaboration as a follow up. Each paired team of participants met prior to the conference and prepared a draft plan for a “new initative” that they believed would be accepted well in their community and which they would like to undertake once they returned home after the conference. Throughout the conference they discussed and modified their plans, benefiting from the input and feedback from their colleagues.
This extraordinary meeting enabled the participants not only to share experiences and new ideas through informal conversations, but it also provided a venue to understand the current state of the art for program development in this new area, to identify issues that were critical to further development, and to foster new partnerships.
In preparation for the conference data was collected and conversations were held with selected sites where programs were found to be talking place. A literature search was also included to identify other bodies of knowledge. Together these materials were consolidated into a background document for the conference participants.
Conference Themes and Highlights:
A number of important themes recurred through the plenary and working group session:
• Changing demographics will have a powerful impact and scientific literacy is a critical issue for the 21 st . Century. Science centers and the aging community can seize the opportunity and make significant contributions.
• Science Centers are already masters at engaging the public and need to extend themselves to seniors with interesting ideas for programs and exhibits.
• A caveat: Evaluation to date has been limited
• Creative learning is a primary motivator for older adult participation
• The diversity of the older population goes beyond tradition definitions and has major implication for outreach and on-site experiences.
• Attracting older adults to science centers requires science centers to rethink what they serve and how they market.
• Accessibility and comfort are key design issues
• Recognizing we are all aging; we need to understand the audience and involve them/us.
• Funding is available but not keeping pace with the anticipated demographic changes
• Partnerships are key to success
• The population is aging, but the field is young
• More work needs to be done to identify best practices, and to develop practical models that can work in a variety of situations and with different audiences.
Supplemental Conference Activities:
As a follow up to the conference,
ASTC ( www.astc.org ), NRTA ( www.aarp.org/about_aarp/nrta ), GSA ( www.geron.org ) and SPRY ( www.spry.org ) have undertaken several supplemental activities to further promote awareness of the conference and its outcome. These include the development of special January/February 2007 issues of ASTC's DIMENSIONS and GSA's PUBLIC POLICY AND AGING Report devoted exclusively to the conference and its outcome. The distribution of these publications is national to both the science center and aging community, as well as to policy leaders. Copies are available from both organizations.