Maynard Okereke was one of those kids who was always outside, exploring nature.
“We had a really cool pond close by our house. I used to explore that with some of my friends in the neighborhood. We used to catch frogs and snakes and all sorts of different things, and I just loved outdoors and being invested into ecosystems and environments.”
At the same time, Maynard loved performing. Ever since elementary school, he’d performed as an artist and had a passion for being in front of a camera and entertaining. “I was always that person that anytime there would be a talent show, anytime there’d be an opportunity to be on stage, that was me out there performing.”
Maynard combined his two passions to create the Hip Hop Science platform.
“I had my artistic side, entertainment, performing and doing creative content. And then I had my science side, which was educating and just being immersed in nature and all areas of STEM, and the Hip Hop Science was that fusion of both. It was me, this crazy, kind of quirky scientist that was into all sorts of different things: fashion, dance, entertainment. And it was great for me, because it was finally a way for me to be able to express my true, authentic self and really dive into all these different areas that I loved doing.”
Now Maynard works as a science communicator through Hip Hop Science, with the goal of encouraging more minority and youth involvement in the STEM fields by using music, entertainment and comedy to educate.
He presents science in a relatable way that youth can understand, that adults can connect with, and that shows how it applies to our day-to-day life so we don’t look at science as just this outlying field.
“Being able to bridge that gap between entertainment and science is a really unique way to be able to educate, because we’re all absorbing different entertainment on a regular basis, whether it be our favorite musicians, music stations that we listen to, music videos that we watch, movies that we go to and watch, different things happening in pop culture, different trends, fashion, dance. Our youth are really connected to these, especially now with social media and TikTok videos and entertaining videos and comedy and all of these different things.”
The weeklong Wisconsin Science Festival – held October 10-16 – is a fantastic opportunity to unleash your curiosity and discover how science connects to our everyday lives.
The festival celebrates science in communities throughout Wisconsin with many free activities for the young, the old and everyone in between. All are welcome to drop in and explore dozens of offerings, including hands-on activities, talks with scientists and authors, films, performances, nature hikes, virtual programs, take-home science kits and so much more.
Maynard works to spark curiosity and excitement and encourages more involvement in STEM because, “We need all of our voices. We need all of us represented to bring new ideas and spark new ways of thinking, and to help lead us into the future. You need to have diverse involvement if you’re going to grow and develop and thrive as a civilization.”
“And think about the STEM fields,” says Maynard. “These are all the fields that are dominating the main areas that help us survive, help us thrive and help us grow. Our youth can be participants in changing and reshaping our future with opportunities that are afforded to them in STEM.”
Each year, the Wisconsin Science Festival highlights a specific aspect of STEM and the world around us. This year, as a nod to the International Year of Glass, we’re focusing on glass and the many ways it impacts science, art and technology.
Glass can help us see new perspectives, improve our communication and further explore our world and beyond. Whether we are looking at something too small or far away to see with our human eyes or using technology (like the smartphone or computer monitor you’re reading this on), chances are that glass is involved.
One of the Wisconsin Science Festival events focused on glass is Kiss My Glass, held 6:30-10 p.m. on Tuesday, October 11, at the High Noon Saloon. Maynard will moderate the fast-paced Big Ideas for Busy People, featuring five-minute flash talks on various aspects on glass from some of UW-Madison’s biggest brains. Big Ideas will be followed by talks from a few of our favorite nerds at Nerd Nite. Plus, the evening includes hands-on activities, audience Q&A, fluorescent cocktails, prizes and more.
“That’s really going to be a fun event, because sparking curiosity is something I love doing and I think it’s important for us to do that as adults, and find ways to learn new things and to be able to connect with others that are interested in the science fields as well,” says Maynard.
Maynard will also speak to youth during field trips at the Discovery Building. He’ll share his background and how he got into science and science communication. “I’ll probably talk a little bit about my trip out at sea, my zero gravity flight that I went on and some other fun science expeditions, hopefully with the goal of sparking excitement and curiosity and getting them intrigued about some opportunities that are available for them in the STEM fields.”
The advice Maynard leaves for today’s youth is something everyone is invited to do at the Wisconsin Science Festival and beyond: “Stay curious.”