Science, industry, and young learners meet at STEMfest! by The Works science museum

Meghan Federer headshotThe pandemic has forced much of the hands-on learning typical of STEM classrooms to be shared virtually. And so it was with STEMfest!, an annual design challenge sponsored by The Works: Ohio Center for History, Art & Technology. The Works, which is located in Newark in central Ohio’s Licking County, made STEMfest! a virtual event in this year with great success. And one of the STEMfest! design challenges that middle and high school students could pursue was #STEMpowersOhio – the Ohio STEM Learning Network’s Design & Entrepreneurship Challenge. We wanted to learn more about STEMfest! and The Works. To get the scoop, we contacted Meghan R. Federer, the center’s director of STEM education:

Q: Tell us, in general, about the exhibits and programs – in-person, virtual and STEM-related – offered at The Works, and about your job there.

A: Here at The Works, we are 25 years and counting! Guests at the museum can explore the solar system in our SciDome planetarium, be inspired by regional and national artists in our Main Gallery, connect with Licking County’s rich past in our local history exhibits, experience glass-blowing demonstrations in our hot-glass studio and get hands-on while exploring in our first-floor science labs.

We offer a variety of in-person programs for families to have fun, learn and create together. Curious Kids is a weekly program for our youngest visitors (9:30-10 a.m. Tuesday and Friday, free with admission).

We also offer daily SciDome shows and glass-blowing demonstrations. During the school year, we are also offering an “all access” pass for Homeschool Days at The Works each month. Our virtual program suite, Works@Home, includes options for the entire family with Curious Kids@Home, SciDome@Home and History@Home each offered monthly.

students doing activities at the works

All of our @Home sessions from previous months can be found on The Works YouTube Channel.

As director of STEM Education, I work with a fantastic team that has a passion for creating learning experiences for kids and adults. We get to be creative and have fun planning new programs and opportunities to excite our members and guests.

Each member of the team has a different background and focus of programming. While I oversee education programming at large, my particular focus is currently on programs for middle and high school youth, exhibit planning and development, and operating our SciDome planetarium.

Q: How have operations and offerings at The Works changed because of the pandemic?

A: Nothing is more important to The Works than the health and safety of our guests and team. The Works understands the importance of maintaining a healthy and safe environment and the science behind COVID-19 transmission and prevention.

The Works made a decision early in the COVID-19 crisis to reopen to the public only when it was safe to do so. The Works has closely aligned its reopening protocols with Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine’s Responsible RestartOhio guidelines and will follow best practices for museums. We have also carefully instituted new health and safety protocols throughout The Works campus, including:

  • Enhanced cleaning practices and procedures, including increased sanitation of high-touch surface areas and manipulatives.
  • In advance of a visit, members and guests must reserve a timed admission ticket online before arriving at the museum. This ensures adequate space inside The Works for social distancing.
  • All Works team members and guests age 8 and older must wear face coverings while visiting The Works.

Early in the pandemic, The Works began offering a variety of virtual experiences for youth and adults across history, art and STEM. We also partnered with libraries and other community organizations to distribute free Works@Home STEM activity kits for families throughout our service region. We have continued many of these program initiatives into 2021 even now that we are open for visitation.

students doing activities at the works

Q: Now tell us about STEMfest! What is it, who participated and how have you altered it from years past to adhere to coronavirus safety guidelines?

A: STEMfest! at The Works is an annual event that challenges middle and high school students to explore big questions across a variety of STEM fields. Each year, The Works partners with local industries and educational institutions to identify the STEMfest! Design Challenges. Each challenge represents real problems or issues that are faced in the industry.

In a typical year, student teams present their solutions to panels of volunteer judges from our industry partners. During the event, we also feature our Industry and Education Showcase throughout the museum and highlight all of the innovative education and career opportunities in our community.

In 2021, we went virtual and organized a weeklong “STEM extravaganza” in early March for participating students and held virtual judging sessions through the week that culminated in an online Industry Scavenger Hunt and STEMfest! Awards Ceremony. This year’s Design Challenges included bridge architecture, Mars rover wheel engineering, technology for good, and #STEMpowersOhio (the Ohio STEM Learning Network’s Design Challenge).

Even with the demands of participating in a virtual competition, we had more than 60 middle and high school teams compete in the STEMfest! Virtual Showcase this year!

Q: As you mentioned, some STEMfest! participants are also taking part in the OSLN Design Challenge, #STEMpowersOhio. How did this work at STEMfest! and what were some of the presentations on energy?

A: We were excited to partner with the Ohio STEM Learning Network to offer the #STEMpowersOhio challenge as one of our four design challenges that student teams could select. Teams were encouraged to reimagine energy production or consumption to improve their community. Teams were tasked to research topics in energy related to their chosen issue, demonstrate their design process and development of their ideas, and create a pitch that clearly and creatively explained the benefits of their solution.

The most exciting part of STEMfest! is seeing the creative ideas and approaches that teams come up with – from a fully functional solar backpack that can charge personal electronics to using the power of plants to create electricity for your home!

We’re making our final preparations for the conclusion of the #STEMpowersOhio Design & Entrepreneurship Challenge. If you and your students participated in the challenge and have not completed your registration with Zac Ames at Battelle, please email OSLN at today!

Q: Can you tell us about upcoming exhibits/programs at The Works and what might be on the drawing board, especially STEM-related offerings?

A: On Saturday, June 5, we will celebrate 25 years of learning and growing at The Works. Hands-on activities, special guests and a new SciDome show will commemorate the learning and fun that take place here every day.

June 5 will also mark the grand opening of “Habitat,” our new outdoor Smithsonian exhibit, in our LeFevre Courtyard. Habitats provide homes for all living things, from the tiniest ant to the tallest tree. The exhibition “Habitat” explores the critical need for varied habitats, how interconnected and fragile they are and what we can do to protect them.

“Habitat” was developed by Smithsonian Gardens and is made available by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service.

In partnership with this new exhibit, The Works will be offering new summer programs for youth and adults that explore the science and art of nature.

exhibits at the works

Q: Is there anything else you would like to share about The Works?

A: Starting April 1, The Works will be open 9 a.m.-noon and 1-4 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday. Timed tickets are required for admission and are available online at

Stay up-to-date on our current hours, news and events by following The Works on Facebook and Instagram and visiting our website at

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