Universe Awareness (UNAWE) - USA "Inspiring every child with our wonderful cosmos."

Our Universe, in all of its vastness and elegance, captures imaginations globally. In this way, astronomy provides a unique gateway for children to frontier science and cutting edge technology. Universe Awareness (UNAWE) is an international network dedicated to inspiring young children (ages 4-10) in underprivileged environments with the wonders of our cosmos.

While UNAWE is active in 40 countries, we still hope to develop a lasting program in the United States. To kick-start this program, we will create a UNAWE “MobileBus” that travels between under-served American communities, delivering resources to help children explore our Universe. The Bus will be staffed by a team of dedicated interdisciplinary university students, chosen based on enthusiasm, expertise, and idealism.

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Universe Awareness

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Country where this project is creating social impact

United States

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Non‐profit/NGO/citizen sector organization

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1‐5 years

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Universe Awareness (UNAWE) - USA "Inspiring every child with our wonderful cosmos."

What change do you want to bring to the world?

Our Universe, in all of its vastness and elegance, captures imaginations globally. In this way, astronomy provides a unique gateway for children to frontier science and cutting edge technology. Universe Awareness (UNAWE) is an international network dedicated to inspiring young children (ages 4-10) in underprivileged environments with the wonders of our cosmos.
While UNAWE is active in 40 countries, we still hope to develop a lasting program in the United States. To kick-start this program, we will create a UNAWE “MobileBus” that travels between under-served American communities, delivering resources to help children explore our Universe. The Bus will be staffed by a team of dedicated interdisciplinary university students, chosen based on enthusiasm, expertise, and idealism.

What are the primary activities of your project?

Our MobileBus team will use astronomy to inspire STEM education while also promoting cultural awareness and global citizenship. We will make each of our activities fun, active, and exciting for young children. By playing, creating, and directly exploring the wonders of our Universe, young kids can better connect with science. Additionally, by providing teachers with instructional tools and activities they can implement in their classrooms, we aim to create a sustained influence. The traveling program will not only provide one-time programs for these communities, but also facilitate the creation of a network of schools to perpetuate our work once we leave.

Our MobileBus team would be made of interdisciplinary university student volunteers, with experience in STEM fields, education, and multicultural outreach. The project would therefore be a cost-effective way of inspiring young children during their most formative stage of development.

Activities delivered by the MobileBus will include:

- Workshops for children and educators: activities held for large groups doing hands-on and interactive lessons in astronomy, (i.e. learning how to use sky charts, understanding eclipses, scaled models of the solar system).

- Galileoscopes: Inexpensive mass-produced telescopes developed for the International Year of Astronomy 2009, (http://www.galileoscope.org). We hope to deliver a Galileoscope to every school visited and demonstrate how they’re used.

- Star parties for the general public: Observational nights where the whole community would be invited to participate. By involving parents and guardians of young children, we hope to create a lasting influence in these communities.

- Skypecasts: Connecting American students to other international classrooms in the UNAWE network will be an important way of stimulating global awareness among young children.

- Planetarium shows: With enough funding, it would be possible for the MobileBus to carry its own portable planetarium. Shows and lessons would then be possible in any classroom we visit.

- Sustained Network Connections: Once the MobileBus leaves, we intend to extend the resources of the UNAWE network to interested educators indefinitely.

What is innovative about your initiative? How is it a new contribution to the field?

Although the same night sky hangs above all of our heads, not everyone has the ability to go outside and look at the stars, or learn the science behind those stars. The UNAWE program and MobileBus aim to bring the wonder of astronomy to children ages 4-10 in communities where access to science education is limited.

While this issue of access to interactive STEM education is addressed by many organizations, UNAWE is unique in that it (i) concentrates on very young children in disadvantaged communities, and (ii) is a global project that connects students from all parts of the world through a well-established international network. Beyond providing astronomy education to children internationally, UNAWE promotes global citizenship through “unity under the same sky.” By learning about other parts of the world, and by connecting with other international classrooms, children can better understand the importance of their own education through a global lens.

With the MobileBus, we are presenting a new and innovative approach to delivering STEM education to a far-reaching student base. We do not intend to replace teachers or schools, but instead strengthen their capabilities by providing them with tools they may not otherwise have. In our short (1-3 day) visits, we hope to target all parts of the community that contribute to a child’s educational success -- teachers, families and children themselves. By strengthening and inspiring the entire community with our visits and continued support, we allow young children the opportunity to develop interest in science and engineering.

What stage is your project in?

Idea phase

Tell us about the community that you engage? eg. economic conditions, political structures, norms and values, demographic trends, history, and experience with engagement efforts.

UNAWE is aimed at children between the ages of 4 to 10 from disadvantaged communities. “Disadvantaged” is a term that covers a variety of conditions for children. Primarily, we work in communities of socioeconomic disadvantage, where children may not have their basic needs, such as food, shelter, or stability, met on a regular basis. Education for these children can be difficult to obtain, as school often takes a secondary role when primary needs are not consistently met.

In the US, these are the communities that have the least funding for STEM education. Telescopes and portable planetariums would be completely unheard of in schools that can’t afford computers. By bringing these tools on the MobileBus, we give children a view into the world of STEM through modern and hands-on educational tools. All children, independent of their circumstance, deserve to have the ability to connect with science through the most influential technology.

UNAWE celebrates the individuality of each country’s background and history. Children are urged to think about how their unique culture fits into the larger scheme of the world. In the US, we anticipate working in communities of great ethnic and cultural diversity. By bringing UNAWE to the US through our MobileBus program, we hope to promote the unique cultures of each individual student while uniting them through the wonders of astronomy. While every child may come from a different set of values, every child can be motivated by knowing what makes our sun rise, how our seasons change, and what lies in the skies beyond.

Share the story of the founder and what inspired the founder to start this project

Leiden University professor George Miley was originally inspired to start UNAWE when he gave talks to the classes of his own children. As he says, “It was marvelous to see how very young kids became excited when I showed them Hubble pictures and told them about the strange inhabitants of the Universe.” At that time, there were few international astronomy outreach programs that focused on connecting with young children.

When Miley was awarded the Academy Professorship by the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2004, he began to put ideas and dreams into action. He decided to use part of the associated funding to start an organization that focused specifically on young children in disadvantaged communities. His vision was to use astronomy as a tool to add fulfillment, motivation and joy to the lives of children in communities that otherwise had little or no access to astronomy education.

Soon afterwards, a dedicated team was formed to support the UNAWE network. In 2006, thanks to a grant provided by the Netherlands Minister of Education Culture and Science, the UNAWE International Office was founded at the Leiden Observatory. Within a short time, UNAWE was built into a thriving global project, with a network of about 400 experts from 40 countries. In 2010, Pedro Russo, former Global Coordinator for the International Year of Astronomy, became the UNAWE International Project Manager.

While the network has grown and the organization has developed, George Miley’s philosophy still carries the UNAWE mission to inspire every child with our wonderful cosmos.

Social Impact

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Please describe how your project has been successful and how that success is measured

A major part of UNAWE’s success comes from being selected as a Cornerstone project for the International Year of Astronomy 2009, (IYA2009). IYA reached at least 815 million people in 148 countries, making it by far the world’s largest science event in decades. Through the exposure from IYA, UNAWE has broadened its network and developed a growing database of educational materials.

Since 2009, UNAWE has continued to thrive. The European Union recognized this success by awarding a 1.9 million euro grant for a 3-year EU-UNAWE program in 6 countries. While this grant has given us the opportunity to further develop as an organization, it does not cover projects outside of the EU-UNAWE network, (including the Netherlands, Italy, Spain, Germany, the UK, and South Africa).

The MobileBus project, as it is still being developed, does not have measurable success as of yet. However, once implemented, we would be able to measure our success based on the number of positive reactions from the communities we interact with. When teachers seek future support, when parents actively engage in our events and when children get excited or inspired by learning about the Universe, we will know we have been successful.

Success can be measured not only by the number of children and educators reached, but how our influence sustains. We hope that by connecting with young children at the beginning of their schooling, and with teachers who will continue to teach for years, we are impacting whole communities to pursue an interest in STEM education.

How many people have been impacted by your project?

More than 10,000

How many people could be impacted by your project in the next three years?

More than 10,000

How will your project evolve over the next three years?

The MobileBus will deliver UNAWE’s resources and support, bringing with us our ideals of inquiry-based learning, global citizenship, and awe of our Universe. In three years time, the MobileBus would have traveled to all parts of the continental US, (see attached maps), and would have connected with over 10,000 children and educators.

With each visit, the MobileBus will gain experience and knowledge on how to best connect with teachers, families, and children in a short period of time. After every visit, we plan to evaluate the successes and challenges of each trip in depth, to get the most from each journey. As we gain expertise, support and funding, we can develop the project to work with schools in the toughest neighborhoods to give to the communities with the greatest need.


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What barriers might hinder the success of your project and how do you plan to overcome them?

Those who operate the MobileBus will need to be trained and well-versed not only in UNAWE’s goals and mission, but also in how to communicate with young children, and how to connect with teachers and school administrators. This training would have to be done remotely, or independently, as there will be no UNAWE-US central location during the tour. The international UNAWE office in the Netherlands will provide advice and expertise. While this may be a challenge, our MobileBus team would be chosen based on motivation, enthusiasm, and past experience.

The MobileBus would only visit schools that invited us to hold activities for several days, but some schools may not be fully prepared to incorporate us into their daily activities with their busy regular schedules. While we may want to dedicate whole days to activities, in reality, schools may only have one hour in their schedule for us to hold a brief assembly. To overcome potential issues such as this, the MobileBus team will be extremely flexible, realistic and understanding while still holding onto our ideals and enthusiasm.

By evaluating the successes and challenges of each trip, we can set realistic goals for future visits. As our experience grows and as we adapt from school to school, we will be able to develop a working program in a short amount of time. Also, by communicating with organizers of similar projects like the GalileoMobile, we can anticipate and plan for possible challenges we might encounter on our tour.

Tell us about your partnerships

While the UNAWE-US project is still in the developmental stage, our most established partnership is from the full support of the international UNAWE office. However, we recently made the following contacts that are interested in supporting us as partners with the UNAWE-US project:

Anita Krishnamurthi, Afterschool Alliance, akrishnamurthi@afterschoolalliance.org: Access to their network of afterschool programs
Jeff Buehler, Missouri AfterSchool Network, buehlerj@umsystem.edu: Access to their network of afterschool programs
Doris Daou, NASA Lunar Space Institute, doris.daou-1@nasa.gov: Educational materials and access to their network of astronomers and educators
Kimberly Kowal Arcand, NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, kkowal@cfa.harvard.edu: Educational materials and access to their network of astronomers and educators
John Stoke, National Radio Astronomical Observatory: Educational materials and access to their network of astronomers and educators
Jim Manning, Astronomical Society of Pacific, : Access to some of their educational material and access to their network of educators
Rick Fienberg, American Astronomical Society Press and Education Officer, ,Access to their network of educators

Also, we have contacts with various other organizations and products may provide support for the MobileBus. These include:

Galileoscope, LLC
IAU (International Astronomical Union)
University connections: Carthage College (through Stephanie Finnvik) and Haverford College (through Maya Barlev)

We expect that once our first MobileBus tour is complete, we will be able to reach out to more organizations and create larger partnerships. With evidence of our success, we will reach out further to major astronomy centers for educational materials and networking, and also to major philanthropic organizations for monetary support.

Current annual budget of project, in US dollars

Less than $1,000

Explain your selections

The UNAWE-USA Program currently does not have any financial support of other organizations as it is in the development stage. Except for the European EU-UNAWE project, UNAWE is a bottom-up global activity with each participating country financing its own national program. Thus, we are seeking funding to begin a program in the United States.

How do you plan to strengthen your project in the next three years?

Initially, the MobileBus will only have funding for short tours. After each journey, we will take time to seek partnerships with major organizations. If awarded a Changemakers prize, we will have enough to begin our first trip, which will give us the footing to make the MobileBus innovation a growing success.

The following is a preliminary timeline for the next year:

November, 2011: If awarded a Changemakers prize, we would have enough funding to rent a vehicle, sustain our team, and provide fuel and supplies for a 30 day journey, (see attached preliminary budget). Reach out to under-served schools and offer a visit from the MobileBus.

January, 2012: Over the January term of Carthage College, (one of our partners through Stephanie Finnvik), a team of 5 students takes the first tour of the MobileBus through the Midwestern route, (see attached map).

February - May 2012: Using evidence of success from our first tour, we actively approach potential partner organizations. Through grant writing and fundraising, we allow for a larger MobileBus tour.

May - August 2012: Next MobileBus tour. As this is a summer tour, the MobileBus would visit year-round schools in under-served communities and also community centers and summer camps for children from disadvantaged backgrounds.

September - December 2012 : Continue to seek funding and major partnerships...

As our program develops over three years, the periods of seeking funding will decrease, and the periods of time on the road will increase.

Partnerships and Accountability

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Please tell us more about how your partnership was formed and how it functions. What specific role does each partner play? What unique resources does each partner bring to the initiative?

We recently made connections with our partners while participating in the 2011 Astronomical Society of the Pacific (ASP) annual conference in Baltimore, MD, and also by meeting with major organizations in Washington, DC. These new partners can provide access to their networks of students and educators, and also provide educational materials and support.

The Afterschool Alliance and the Missouri AfterSchool Network provide networks of children interested in visits from the MobileBus. By visiting these afterschool programs, our MobileBus team can get a sense of what will excite and inspire children the most. These programs will also offer the initial stops that the MobileBus can take on its first tours around the country.

Our NASA, NRAO and ASP connections provide access to cutting-edge technology that will help to inspire children and educators to pursue STEM fields further. This technology is a key element in the UNAWE-US project. We believe that all children should have access to the best technology, and it is often this access that inspires children to sustain their interest in science. Also, these partners can provide networks of scientists and educators who may want to get involved. With their help, our team of MobileBus University students can gain expertise, both in science and in education.

Our connection with Rick Fienberg, American Astronomical Society Press and Education Officer, allows us to connect with a larger network of American educators who can give advise on how to connect students with science. This knowledge and support will be essential for our team to learn how to best communicate astronomy with young kids.

Finally, our international office provides constant support, educational resources and expertise for our UNAWE-US project. Through our international network, we will be able to connect with other UNAWE classrooms internationally using Skype during our travels. Also, through the Universe Awareness website, our project will gain visibility and new potential partners.

In the future, we hope to seek relationships with major philanthropic donors that can financially support our endeavors. These partners would have an interest in STEM fields, STEM education, and access to education in disadvantaged communities.

How are you building in accountability for students' successful STEM learning outcomes? Please provide a summary and examples.

The UNAWE program's ultimate goal is sustainability. By targeting children of ages 4 to 10, we hope to inspire their education in the long-term. If children are excited by learning, they will want to continue to learn in the years to come. And, if entire communities are impacted, this motivation to perpetuate successful education can sustain.

Although the MobileBus cannot stay in one place long enough to form lasting relationships with individual children, we hope to connect with schools and educators and communicate with them even after we’ve left to sustain good teaching practices and provide them with resources and activities.



Please use this space to elaborate on your selection above and/or to add needs that may not be listed.

In order to carry out the pilot program of a MobileBus to travel across the nation, funding is needed for the vehicle operation costs and for basic needs of the MobileBus team. Some funds will be needed to supply Galileoscopes and other outreach materials, such as portable planetariums. Please see our attached preliminary budget for details on our needs for financial support.


Human Resources/Talent, Marketing/Media, Research/Information, Collaboration/Networking, Innovation/Ideas.

Please use this space to elaborate on your selection above and/or to add offers that may not be listed.

UNAWE is a network of national nodes around the world. Much information is available on the international level. Material is already available in multiple languages and continually being developed. Activities are made not only by individual national programs, but also collaboratively between our national partners from South Africa to Indonesia to Ireland. For more information about UNAWE, we encourage you to explore our website: www.unawe.org.

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133 weeks ago Ryan Venti said: i am so enthusiastic about this idea.. great job.. i think you are a wonderful group of individuals set out to change the world.. i also ... about this Competition Entry. - read more >
135 weeks ago Stephanie Finnvik said: Thank you Ms Fernando for your kind words! We look forward to implementing the program and would love to stay in contact. -The UNAWE ... about this Competition Entry. - read more >
136 weeks ago Chandra Fernando said: I am excited to read about Maya's internship and Stephanie's proposal. I am a great fan of Professor George Miley and his work and ... about this Competition Entry. - read more >
141 weeks ago Stephanie Finnvik updated this Competition Entry.
141 weeks ago Stephanie Finnvik updated this Competition Entry.
141 weeks ago Stephanie Finnvik updated this Competition Entry.
141 weeks ago Stephanie Finnvik updated this Competition Entry.
141 weeks ago Stephanie Finnvik said: Thank you so much for your question, We plan for the MobileBus to have a long-term impact on both students and schools in the following ... about this Competition Entry. - read more >
142 weeks ago said: The MobileBus is such a creative way of bringing STEM to students. Are there activities embedded in your program that bring STEM talent ... about this Competition Entry. - read more >
142 weeks ago Stephanie Finnvik updated this Competition Entry.