How one Wyoming science lab uses a Tiguan to put education within reach

When many schools in Casper, Wyo., started to struggle with funding and field trips became limited, many students weren’t able to visit nearby attractions. One of these attractions was a science museum, The Science Zone, a locally owned business for almost 21 years. So, community members decided to come up with an alternative plan. Now, instead of all children coming to the museum for the usual 45-minute lesson and tour, The Science Zone staff is able to bring science education directly to students in a specially equipped Volkswagen1.

Since March 2018, the spacious SUV – dubbed the “Science Mobile” – has traveled to a dozen schools, offering a variety of science workshops, activities and demonstrations. Students can make slime, participate in electricity presentations, learn about plants and chemistry, view reptiles and even make mini explosions with liquid nitrogen – a popular favorite.

“The Tiguan has been essential in the schools we visit,” said Steven Schnell, executive director of The Science Zone. “Once we learned the kids couldn’t come to us, we decided we would take the science to the kids.

The Science Mobile on display at one of the many fairs The Science Zone frequents. Graphic package shown is not available.

Ahead of school visits, teachers can choose a curriculum and a series of lesson topics that are best suited for their classroom. Subject areas range from engineering to animal science to space science. All the topics align with the Wyoming State Science Standards and Next Generation Science Standards. After the lessons, teachers can download supplemental information from The Science Zone website to further extend the lesson program.

Set up in the basement of a furniture store, The Science Zone relies heavily on outreach programs to engage the local community. Schnell and his team have traveled throughout the state of Wyoming, attending as many fairs and exhibits as possible. To date, the team has interacted with over 10,000 people. At the events, the Science Mobile is on display at The Science Zone booths which offer science demonstrations for children preschool aged through high school.

Due to the obscure location of The Science Zone, the Science Mobile has acted as signage and publicity for the business, as many people don’t know its exact location.

“I get a lot of calls from people saying they are in a furniture store parking lot and think they are in the wrong place,” Schnell says. “We don’t have signage outside the building, [so] the Tiguan has been a big part of our marketing efforts and our identity. We’ve been able to generate awareness through the car.”

The Science Zone team is currently made up of 10 staff members who are always looking for new ways to bring the Science Mobile to more students.

And thanks to their Tiguan, “We’ve been able to say yes to any type of opportunity that comes our way,” Schnell says.