The UW Space Place was full of excitement on Dec. 4 as about 400 people unleashed their inner scientist as part of Family Science Night on Madison’s south side.

““We’ve found that people really enjoy the science part of these events and the exploring. STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering and Math] is something that we feel is really important to introduce young people to. Being able to see kids at play, but not actually playing per se is fun for us. They are having fun while they are actually learning something,” says Hedi Rudd, Development and Events Manager at Urban League of Greater Madison, who helped organize the event. “The young people have such incredible inquisitiveness.”

A number of Madison community and nonprofit organizations joined together to coordinate this exciting family evening of stimulating scientific information, hands-on activities, and amazing experiments. Children were taught scientific concepts and processes with conversation-starting demonstrations they could relate to in their everyday world. For many attendees, it was the type of event that they had never been to before.
“There was one mom, in particular, who when she and her family were leaving was walking out and she told me, ‘Thank you so much. The whole time I was tearing up. As a family, we’ve never done anything like this together. We are so blessed to have this opportunity,’” Rudd remembers. “She was kinda crying as she was talking to me and that made me feel so good.”

The joint effort between the Urban League of Greater Madison and UW-Madison partners saw children moving from one science station to the next to view exhibits, watch amazing experiments and sometimes participating in the experiments themselves. There were 16 Science Exploration Stations available for young and old alike to peruse. The Family Science Night crowd saw people come from all over Madison. “The attendees were incredibly diverse and I noticed that most everybody stayed for the whole time,” Rudd says.

“We want something that could bring families together for some serious family engagement,” Rudd adds. “We were looking for things that families could do collaboratively. We didn’t just want them to drop of their kids and then we watch them. It was important for parents to do activities with kids.”
Family Science Night started a couple years ago with a collaboration between UW Space Place and the Goodman Branch Library on Madison’s south side and was run by the Urban League’s South Madison Promise Zone. “Now that the UW South Madison partnership is here we have another strong partner,” Rudd says.

Other partners include Centro Hispano of Dane County and the Catholic Multicultural Center.

Exhibitors at the event include Genetics, Neuroscience Training Program, Covance, Integrated Program in Biochemistry, SciMed GRS Outreach Committee, Discovery Outreach, Madison Children’s Museum, Growing Power, University Health Services, The Cargo Bike Shop and more. Food was provided at the event including Melly Mell’s “half autumn bake and half bourbon chicken” and Slow Food UW’s healthy green salads and desserts.

Family Science Night is a tremendous godsend to a community often lacking in science-related opportunities. It’s also a great benefit to UW Space Place. “I feel that once we started partnering with UW Space Place for this events and other events that it really helped bring some traffic through the place,” Rudd says. “A lot of people I talked to were like, ‘I didn’t even know this place existed.’ It’s such a great resource for our community.”
The event also brought a lot of visibility to all of the organizations who were exhibitors. “I’m not sure if many people know of the incredible organizations we have here collaborating,” Rudd says. “People learned about [UW] Odyssey [Program], UW Space Place, Urban League, Growing Power, Slow Foods, Covance Labs and more. It was a win-win situation for everybody.”

Telescopes were available outside of UW Space Place for people to look at the stars as they left Family Science Night. Rudd is already thinking about the next event.

“We are shooting to hold one again in the summer,” Rudd says. “I’d love to see it grow to where we have to offer something at the Urban League space and other little spaces we have here by the Villager Mall. I would love to maybe even do it outdoors. I think that would be a lot of fun.”