Meisa Salaita

We sat down with Meisa Salaita, who is intrigued by the beauty of science, to get some insight on science in our city. Through her work founding and directing the Atlanta Science Festival, she strives to convince others to fall in love with science as well. A mom of two, Salaita has a Ph.D. in chemistry and has produced radio and TV shows to spread the story of science.

Engineered by Science ATL, the annual Atlanta Science Festival gives locals the opportunity to explore the magic of science. This year, the festival will be held March 10-25 across the metro area. From geocaching to stargazing, understanding the mechanics of flying animals and hydroponic systems, there’s an event for everyone!

What makes Atlanta a great place for exploring STEAM as a kid and as a family?

Atlanta is a science city. There are so many amazing discoveries happening at our universities and local companies. You can also learn at our amazing cultural institutions and organizations like West Atlanta Watershed Alliance, the Amphibian Foundation, Atlanta Audubon Society and more. We love to partner with non-profits like these for the Atlanta Science Festival, because a lot of people don’t realize all the cool organizations in this city that offer amazing learning opportunities.

But Atlanta is not a science city just behind closed doors. Our city in the forest abounds with opportunities to explore STEAM outdoors. There are always questions to ask when you are outside: Why is that tree bark peeling? Why are those ants all walking in a line? Even questions that don’t feel related to nature, like: Why are there so many potholes? Just simply being able to spend time outdoors and look around offers the chance to explore STEAM questions.

How can parents encourage a love of STEAM in their child, especially if they believe they’re not good at those subjects or they’re intimidated by them?

It’s hard as a parent when you feel like you have to have all the answers for your kids. As the adult authority in their lives, you want to be able to give answers to anything they ask. As a parent myself, I get that. Sometimes, it feels less intimidating to avoid questions that might cause you to be stumped, rather than admit you don’t know. But I think that’s the beauty of science. The amazing thing about science is not the body of knowledge we have, but the body of knowledge we don’t have; science is a process to get those answers. Talk to your kids about that process of discovery: how scientists work hard every day to uncover answers to questions they don’t know, how you and your child together can engage in that process. That may end up looking like Googling an answer, but it may also end up looking like designing an experiment together. It’s the process of discovery that parents can lean into with their kids. And discovery is what science is all about.

Why is it important for children to connect to STEAM?

It is important to develop an appreciation and value for the role that science plays in our world and lives. And that’s where that idea of connection comes in. If kids are exposed to STEAM and see how it might connect to their own interests, they start to gain an understanding and appreciation for science and the way it can better our world. Valuing evidence-based thinking is so important for making decisions for ourselves, our families and our planet.

But also, I hate the idea that because of lack of exposure to STEAM, kids might not have an idea of career opportunities available to them. I want every kid to know all the cool careers out there that could one day be theirs! This is part of why we started the Atlanta Science Festival. We want kids to know what engineers do, that girls can be coders, that life as a scientist can be one of outdoor adventure, that a future in science can be for anyone!

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