Partner Spotlight: Discovery Lab

Jaime WaltonFront Page, Partners, Spotlight

In a world where curiosity often takes a backseat, Discovery Lab in Tulsa stands as a beacon of wonder, igniting the flames of imagination and exploration in young minds. This cherished partner of the Tulsa Regional STEM Alliance (TRSA) has been shaping the future of informal education, one playful discovery at a time.

The journey began in 2007 when Dr. Ray Vandiver’s visionary idea of a “museum without walls” took root. What started as a mobile program quickly evolved into a beloved destination, welcoming over 130,000 children and families annually to its first physical location at the Owen Park Recreation Center in 2013.

But Discovery Lab’s commitment to immersive learning experiences knew no bounds. In early 2022, they unveiled a state-of-the-art facility at Gathering Place, ushering in a new era of transformative educational experiences. As the bond-funded STEAM Center for Tulsa Public Schools, Discovery Lab has taken the lead in developing and delivering curriculum-aligned programming for the district’s 25,000 PreK-5th grade students each year.

At the heart of Discovery Lab’s success lies its commitment to meaningful play – a philosophy that empowers children to take the reins of their learning journey. Through hands-on exhibits and interactive programming, children not only acquire critical thinking, problem-solving, and collaboration skills crucial for success in the 21st century, but they also experience pure joy and excitement. It’s a place where best practices in informal learning meet the magic of childhood, inspiring wonder and curiosity in children of all ages.

Discovery Lab’s impact extends far beyond its walls. Through strong collaborative efforts with TRSA, like Space Week and our SENSEsational Science Professional Development program, they have provided educators with invaluable resources and sparked a passion for STEM in countless students. These initiatives are a testament to the power of community involvement and the transformative impact it can have on education. Their commitment to professional development, disguised as play, has empowered teachers to inspire a lifelong love for STEM in the classroom.

Discovery Lab’s mission goes beyond just fostering curiosity – it’s a commitment to accessibility and inclusivity. Through partnerships with community organizations and initiatives like Accessible Discovery, they ensure that STEM learning is available to all, breaking down barriers and bringing education to everyone, regardless of their circumstances. This unwavering commitment to inclusivity is an inspiration to all, showing that with dedication, barriers can be overcome.

One such example is the sensory-friendly play hours, where children with sensory processing disorders can explore the museum in a welcoming and accommodating environment. Additionally, their exhibits at Tulsa International Airport have brought the joy of discovery to travelers, sparking curiosity in unexpected places.

As a long-standing informal education partner of TRSA and a North & Central STEM Hub member, Discovery Lab’s impact is woven into the fabric of the community. Chip Lindsey, the director of education, sits on TRSA’s Program Committee, advising and guiding the Alliance’s work. Executive Director Ray Vandiver served on the Board of Directors from 2017 until last year, further solidifying the organization’s collaborative efforts.

But Discovery Lab’s impact extends beyond the present. Through initiatives like their involvement in TRSA’s MOMENTUM program, where they piloted digital badges during their summer programming, they are paving the way for innovative approaches to STEM education.

As Discovery Lab continues to grow and evolve, its commitment to inspiring curiosity and wonder in the next generation remains unwavering. With a vision to create a future where every child has the opportunity to explore, innovate, and discover, this remarkable institution stands as a testament to the power of informal education and the transformative impact it can have on young minds.