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SCI Blog

At the Science Center of Iowa, our goal is to be a quality community resource for informal science learning where children, families, school groups and individuals of all ages come to explore science and technology.

To continue the learning outside our building, we bring you the SCI blog! Our knowledgeable staff, along with special guests and local scientists, will give you a behind-the-scenes look at SCI activities, in-depth information about science events and STEM connections in the Des Moines area.

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  • STEM in DSM: Des Moines Charity Hack pairs local nonprofits with tech professionals

    High-tech speed dating: That’s how the Des Moines Charity Hack begins.

    The annual Des Moines Charity Hack pairs local nonprofits with groups of six to nine tech professionals. In just three days, each team of developers, managers, designers, business analysts and quality control specialists completes a project for little to no cost to the organization.

    But before developers enter a line of code, before designers sketch a single concept, the tech professionals have to select one nonprofit organization’s project idea.

    After briefly getting acquainted with each nonprofit organization and its proposed project, it’s time to choose. “I’ll take this project,” each professional says until all nine nonprofits have a dynamic team with diverse skills and interests.

    Nine nonprofits receive much-needed tech updates

    From boosting SEO firepower to upgrading a website to a responsive design, the Des Moines Charity Hack gives each nonprofit a little technical TLC.

    Children & Families of Iowa (CFI), one of the nine selected organizations, turned to its tech wish list for project inspiration. Given the wide variety of programs and services offered at CFI, the nonprofit proposed a quick, optional website questionnaire that directs users to the appropriate pages based on their responses.

    CFI Communications Supervisor Kelly Amenson said the survey produced at the Charity Hack has already saved the organization time and resources.

    “Visitors to our website leave engaged and informed by using the user-friendly questionnaire,” Amenson said.

    Animal Lifeline of Iowa (ALI), a shelter in Carlisle, was another one of the nine nonprofits selected for the event. Thanks to the Des Moines Charity Hack, the organization traded an overwhelming, outdated animal database for a new, user-friendly system.

    Outreach and Event Coordinator Hannah Banes said the upgraded database has already supported ALI’s mission to find safe, loving homes for animals.

    “It was truly humbling that so many people came to help a few nonprofits,” Banes said. “It was really nice to see all those developers come together and truly put their heart and soul into it for 48 hours. We really had a good time, and we look forward to applying for new projects in the future.”

    Teams complete a variety of projects catered to organization’s needs

    Charity Hack co-founder and co-organizer Kim Wall said the event is dedicated to supporting nonprofits’ technical resources, a key element in sustaining organization growth. 

    “Typically, the money that goes to nonprofits supports their core mission and values,” Wall said. “Developing technology often gets pushed to the side, but it’s often those limited technology resources that create a hindrance for the organization.”

    During this year’s Charity Hack in February, nine teams completed $100,000 in tech services.

    The selected organizations pay little to nothing for their projects. And in addition to technical upgrades and support, nonprofits gain lasting connections with the Des Moines tech community.

    “We’d like to host more participants next year and maintain connections with nonprofit organizations throughout the year,” Wall said. “Our vision is to connect local nonprofits with the Des Moines tech community all year and provide different kinds of support.”

  • SCI Volunteer Spotlight: Get to know Jim Covey

    Paper rockets fill a cardboard box, each one distinct in its design. Some lack a nose cone, the pointed tip that guides a rocket through the air. Some have multiple fins. Some have no fins.

    Whatever its design quirks, each rocket is an invitation for SCI volunteer Jim Covey to say, “Let’s do a science experiment!”

    As Covey demonstrates his time-tested rocket design — one he spent two years perfecting — he encourages participants to question, hypothesize and most importantly, experiment.

    While there’s a “Wow!” factor in building a high-flying rocket, Covey’s goal isn’t to build a dream machine every try.

    “It’s not necessarily the best rocket every time,” Covey said. “It’s about the process of teaching participants along the way.”

    Covey’s career as an SCI volunteer and resident rocket expert started in 2005. He quickly found a home at the rocket table, honing his building technique over the next two years.

    Along the way, Covey has built lasting relationships with participants of all ages, interests and skill levels. Whether he’s engaging university astrophysics students, families or elementary school groups, Covey targets the conversation with the “why” in mind.

    “Which rocket will fly farther?” he’ll ask, inspiring participants to test their inventions and own the experience. And though he’s already honed his own design, Covey returns to When Things Get Moving every Tuesday with his box of rockets and a curious attitude.

    “The joy of the participants as they watch a rocket fly… That’s a reward for me,” Covey said. “Those are the things that keep me coming back.”