Scientist Spotlight - about page

Above: Portal to the public brings STEM professionals closer to the community through public programs and face-to-face conversations.

Building a Network

Since its inception in 2007, Portal to the Public has successfully implemented, evaluated and disseminated its guiding framework to Informal Science Education institutions across the nation. A 21st Century Museum Professionals grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) expanded the network to 15 additional sites across the country. Now with a Broader Impact grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF), the program will continue growing in the following ways:

  • Disseminate the Portal to the Public guiding framework to 20 additional ISE sites across the nation.
  • Support local adoption of the framework at each dissemination site, considering contextual factors such as institutional vision, resources, communities, and existing initiatives.
  • Increase the ability of individual museum professionals to confidently design appropriate programs, partner with scientists, facilitate professional development, and execute public programs featuring scientists.
  • Build an online and in-person community of practice, as well as a network to support collaboration.
  • Understand and further develop effective practices for flexible, Framework-based dissemination which emphasize unique institutional and community contexts.



In the Beginning

Portal to the Public was originally funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) from 2007 through 2012. The program was developed as a collaboration between Pacific Science Center, Explora, North Museum of Natural History and Science, and The Institute for Learning Innovation. The intention was to develop a model for ISE sites to build programs that would allow for face-to-face interactions between scientists and public audiences. Instead of a prescriptive model, the guiding framework is a structured set of concepts designed to be flexible to suit the needs of any institution.

In 2009, five institutions were added to the core network including Adventure Science Center, Discovery Center Museum, Discovery Center of Springfield, Explorit Science Center, and Museum of Life and Science. These collaborative partners were strategically chosen to include museums with diverse philosophies, communities, sizes and resources.

No One Right Way

The resulting programs look different at each institution, but all are designed around the same guiding framework, described visually in the graphic below. When building a new program, institutions go through a guided conceptual planning process that begins by identifying desired impacts, as well as institutional strengths and resources. This guides how an institution develops their program components (relationships, professional development, and face-to-face public programs), designing and selecting approaches to meet their desired impacts. The framework is specific but flexible, allowing each institution to select and scale the strategies best suited to their unique informal learning environment.

POP framework - with enlarge

In some cases, an institution may already have established relationships with local scientists or industry professionals, while other institutions will develop a plan to build new relatinoships with local universities or research centers. All institutions create professional development experiences for the scientists they work with, but those experiences range from half-day workshops to a three-month long series of workshops and activity development support. Public programs vary widely between sites, especially since many incorporate scientists and professional development into existing programming. Each institution chooses which public program format(s) will create an engaging event, bringing scientists and visitors together in face-to-face interactions that encourage rich dialogue.

Looking Back

Findings of the research and evaluation studies of the program are captured in final reports. The project also created the Portal to the Public Implementation Manual, a valuable guide on how to implement the program at an institution.


Contact Us

Project Staff

Should you have any questions regarding the Portal to the Public Network, please contact one of the individuals below.

  • This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , Project Senior Advisor
  • This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , Project Director, Pacific Science Center
  • This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , Project Manager, Pacific Science Center
  • This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , Project Specialist, Pacific Science Center


Portal to the Public Faculty act as project advisors and mentors for new sites.

  • Amy Miller, Director of Public Programs, California Academy of Sciences
  • Armelle Casau, Former Visitor Services Director, Explora
  • Dana Vukajlovich, Former Portal to the Public Network Project Manager, Pacific Science Center
  • Dennis Schatz, Senior Advisor, Pacific Science Center;
    Program Director, National Science Foundation
  • Kristin Leigh, Deputy Director, Explora
  • Larry Dunlap-Berg, Senior Educator/Community Outreach, Adventure Science Center
  • Lauren Russell, Director of Grants and Strategic Partnerships,
    Oregon Museum of Science and Industry
  • Paulmichael Maxfield, Gallery Programs Coordinator, Natural History Museum of Utah
  • Sara Kobilka, Formerly Guided Learning Manager, Science Center of Iowa


Project evaluators keep the project on track and focused on the goals and strateiges.

  • Angie Ong, External Evaluator, Principal, Spotlight Impact
  • Jessica Sickler, External Evaluator, Lifelong Learning Group at COSI


Project advisors provide guidance to the expanding Portal to the Public Network, and serve as important links to external networks and organizations.

  • Beck Tench, Director for Innovation and Digital Engagement, North Carolina Museum of Life and Science
  • Catherine Halversen, Director of Communicating Ocean Sciences Informal Education Network, Lawrence Hall of Science
  • Chuck Lennox, Principal, Cascade Interpretive Consulting
  • Guillaume Mauger, Researcher, Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean at the University of Washington
  • Karen Peterson, CEO, EdLab Group; Principal Investigator, National Girls Collaborative Project
  • Robert Garfinkle, Director of Science and Social Change, Science Museum of Minnesota
  • Stephen Jett, Professor and Director of Electron Microscopy Facility, University of New Mexico
  • Tiffany Lohwater, Director of Meetings and Public Engagement, American Association for the Advancement of Science
  • Vrylena Olney, Program Manager of NISE Network, Museum of Science, Boston