HomeSuscribe TodayBack IssuesMembershipCarnegie Museums of PittsburghMedia Kit

PHOTO: Cami Mesa

Above: Evan Frazier, president and CEO of the Hill House Association, wants more kids to benefit from programs like Mission Discovery, which is coordinated by Carnegie Science Center's Mayada Mansour.





“The most profound thing about a program like Mission Discovery is the bond it creates between students, community, learning, and the future.”
- Jo Haas,
Carnegie Science Center


































Hill House and Carnegie Museums plan to take a successful outreach effort—Mission Discovery—and make it even better.

Mission On The Hill

Darlene Moore doesn’t need quantitative stats to confirm what she knows to be fact: “Mission Discovery was a lifesaver for my daughter,” Moore says.

Three years ago, Mareena Woodbury-Moore was among the first group of 30 middle-school students to take part in Mission Discovery, an after-school and summer program based at Pittsburgh’s Hill House and run by Carnegie Science Center. The program set out to provide two basic services to middle-school students attending public school in the Hill District: offer a safe and stimulating place to go after school, and make science and math learning fun and accessible for kids who typically don’t excel in those subjects.

Darlene Moore says Mission Discovery has done both—and so much more.

Mission Discovery provided a great foundation for my daughter,” Moore says. “It helped to define her identity, her skills, and her talents. It gave her a sense of self-confidence and provided an environment that promoted care and affection as well as education and exploration.”

Feedback like this has been music to the ear for Evan Frazier, president and CEO of the Hill House Association, a community service agency that has been an integral part of life in the city’s Hill District for more than 40 years, serving some 70,000 people a year. “Mission Discovery fits
perfectly with our strategic vision for Hill House,” Frazier says. “We’re dealing with young mothers who lack parenting skills, children who lack literacy skills, noncustodial fathers trying to unify their families or find employment. We understand the important regional role we play by reaching out in progressive ways.”

The clear success of Mission Discovery—which, as part of its enrollment criteria, requires that parents or guardians of participating kids volunteer with the program and, therefore, get more involved in their kids’ education—inspired Frazier to apply for grants that would fund its expansion to include a wider range of subjects and reach out to kids of all ages, in grades K-12. To make it happen, he turned to Carnegie Science Center parent, Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh.

In October 2005, Hill House and Carnegie Museums announced they had received $400,000 from The Grable Foundation and another $175,000 from the DSF Foundation for the future of Mission Discovery—a future that would include programming from all four Carnegie Museums, including Carnegie Museum of Art, Carnegie Museum of Natural History, The Andy Warhol Museum, and more from the Science Center.

“ This partnership with Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh is vital to our development of comprehensive youth services,” Frazier says. In fact, he feels Mission Discovery could and should serve as a national model. “There are real national implications for how other communities use cultural institutions to reach out and powerfully impact youth at the neighborhood level,” he notes.

Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh President David Hillenbrand agrees. “At a time when funding for our public schools is so limited, programs like this are an educational necessity, not a luxury,” he says. “The cultural community plays a pivotal role in filling critical voids in formal education. At Carnegie Museums, we consider this a core strength and an absolute responsibility.”

Live Pets, Computers, and Hope
A group of scientists are working side-by-side, peering intently into their microscopes. They’re studying hormones in human cells, watching for patterns that will help them engineer new tissue—tissue that can help restore a dying kidney or regenerate a failing liver.

But these scientists aren’t medical researchers, biochemists, or tissue engineers. They’re middle-school students from the Hill District, and their research is a lesson currently being taught at Mission Discovery.

Mission Discovery is a wonderful alternative to the school environment,” says Meredith Murray, principal of Milliones Middle School. “We have students from throughout the Pittsburgh Public School system who attend the program. It’s a good fit, and the students love it.

“ How many science classrooms in city schools have live pets, or computer labs?” she adds. “Cultural organizations have resources that we don’t have, due to budget limitations. They’re addressing academic and social needs in ways that go beyond complementary.”

They also give kids something that doesn’t come from a textbook: hope.

“ This program gives kids hope that they can be scientists and astronauts, discover cures and explore the universe,” Frazier says. “And in the short term, we hope it will help improve academic scores and close the racial achievement gap that persists in the public school system.”

“ It’s also fun,” says Mayada Mansour, Carnegie Science Center’s coordinator for Mission Discovery programming at Hill House. “We encourage kids to question what they’re learning. We give them the tools to think through a process, and then apply that knowledge to an interpretation of their own world.”

Some examples: “Our unit on physics relates everything back to sports. Kids learn about angles and arcs by making foul shots while playing basketball, or banking a cue ball in a game of pool. And the unit on forensics allows them to identify different blood types and understand why fingerprints are unique to each person. The students watch crime shows on television, so the study of forensics immediately captures their interest.”

Mansour is already considering the possibilities of Mission Discovery’s expanded programming: “Students like art, and science is related to art. For example, we can make glowing paint and link it to the study of an animal that has bioluminescence (that is, it glows in the dark); or we can create shapes to link art with geometry. Students will have the opportunity to see many facets of one topic, and the whole idea fits well with Hill House’s goal to create a broader content spectrum. It’s really exciting.”

A National Model
Mission Discovery has already been recognized nationally for its creative partnering between cultural organizations, schools, and community service agencies.

In January 2004, Carnegie Science Center received the 2003 National Museum Service Award from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), in no small way due to the innovative Mission Discovery. A contingent from Pittsburgh traveled to Washington, D.C., to accept the award from First Lady Laura Bush. It included Joanna Haas, The Henry Buhl, Jr., Director of Carnegie Science Center; Howard Bruschi, Science Center board chair; the Hill House’s Evan Frazier; and, last but not least, Mareena Woodbury-Moore.

“ She knocked the socks off everyone,” Jo Haas recalls—including First Lady Laura Bush who, after presenting the awards and posing for group photos, requested a private photo shoot with Mareena.

“ It was special being there to see Mareena buzzing through the White House with her two cameras and cellphone/camera, posing for pictures with the First Lady and giving interviews to the national media. She energized us all, and she embodied the many, many young people whose lives have been made richer by programs like Mission Discovery.”

“ For young people who lack a sense of focus in their lives, Mission Discovery provides direction and enlightenment,” says Mareena’s mother, Darlene. “It helps them to explore their inner selves and excel in ways they can’t imagine.” And neither Mareena nor her mother would have imagined that she would enjoy science so much that she’d go on to become a “Youth Explorer” in the Science Center’s Science in Your Neighborhood program, which trains teens to be science-learning mentors at after-school locations throughout the city.

“ The most profound thing about a program like Mission Discovery is the bond it creates between students, community, learning, and the future,” Haas adds. “Cultural and educational institutions absolutely have an obligation to be a catalyst for those kinds of connections and facilitate their wide-reaching impact.

“ In the years to come, students engaged with Mission Discovery will not only become more scientifically passionate and literate, but they will also become ambassadors of art and explorers of natural history. We are catapulting them toward a possibility-oriented, culturally rich, intellectually stimulating future.”

Says Evan Frazier: “It’s our responsibility to inspire the youth of today. Ultimately, they are the leaders of tomorrow.

One such leader of tomorrow is Mark, a 12-year-old “scientist” with Mission Discovery. In a true testament to the hope and drive that Hill House and Carnegie Museums are trying to instill in the kids they reach through programs like Mission Discovery, Mark’s got his life pretty much plotted out. And it’s a good one.

“ I want a career in science, and this will help me get there,” Mark says, unabashedly. “I learn stuff here that I don’t learn in science class at school. My plan is to be engaged when I get out of high school at 18, then get married when I graduate from college at 21. When I’m 24, I’ll have a master’s degree and will start having kids. And by the time I turn 28, I’ll have my Ph.D. and will be a chemist. I’m going to have a perfect life!”

That’s one mission of discovery definitely on its way to being fulfilled.

Back | Top