Meet the Parent Founders of the Atlanta Science Festival
Meisa Salaita and Jordan Rose co-founded the Atlanta Science Festival, which is taking place March 6 through the 21 throughout metro Atlanta. Salaita answered a few questions about the Festival and its success.
Atlanta Parent: Why did you start the Atlanta Science Festival?
Meisa Salaita: We’d heard of similar festivals happening in Europe and were inspired. Atlanta needed something like this! And given the numbers of attendees we saw in our first year, and since then – we were right! People were hungry for it!
AP: What were you and your co-founder doing before starting the Festival?
MS: I have a Ph.D. in chemistry, but left the research lab to pursue education. I taught for a few years at the high school level. I shifted to outside of classroom learning and started the Festival while working in that field. My co-founder, Jordan Rose, was leading science education programs at Emory University, creating partnerships between university students and faculty and K-12 schools.
AP: What has been the most gratifying part of the Festival?
MS: This is a hard question! I love every part of it! I think, however, hearing from people who tell me about how we’ve made a difference in their kids’ lives is the best feeling.
AP: What are the names and ages of yours – and your co-founder’s children – and what are their favorite exhibits?
MS: My son Jad is 7 and my daughter Dalia is 5. They love the Expo and my son in particular loves the chance to interact with the reptiles he sees there. Jordan’s son Ryan is 9 and he loves talking to the Delta Air Lines technical operations crew about using drones for airplane maintenance and recovering the black boxes from crash sites.
AP: How has the response grown over the years?
MS: The level of enthusiasm has stayed constant since Day 1. People love, love, love it! Our attendance has more than doubled since the first Festival. The response from partners and sponsors has also increased substantially. We are fortunate to work with so many wonderful organizations in Atlanta.
AP: Why do you think it’s been so successful?
MS: I think there is a thirst for science programming in Atlanta. We have so much amazing science happening at our universities and businesses and much of it behind laboratory doors. People are excited to learn about what is happening in their own backyards! Also, parents are so eager to get their kids involved with STEM.
AP: What were the biggest hurdles you faced in starting and running the festival?
MS: Every organization we approached – from businesses to universities – showed so much enthusiasm for the idea, but when it came to figuring out the logistics of building and steering a ship like this, we were novices. We had to learn on the job how to manage the hundreds of partners and programs and the logistics of running a non-profit.
AP: Tell us about your partners and their contributions?
MS: Our partners do incredible work and we feel so fortunate to work with all of them – be they large organizations like Emory, Delta, or Zoo Atlanta – to small non-profits like the Amphibian Foundation. Everyone contributes resources to the Festival, whether that comes in the shape of financial support or amazing program ideas that they execute during the two-week Festival.
AP: How do you envision the Festival going forward?
MS: While the Festival will likely stay similar in size and scope, our parent organization, Science ATL, is growing rapidly. The Festival is our flagship event, but we’ve got all sorts of programs that we run outside that time: our middle/high school leadership program called Chief Science Officers, our partnership with Atlanta-Fulton libraries running our Science Passport program, and our Science Scene calendar that pulls together science events. You can learn more about all this at ScienceATL.org
– Mary Welch