Smile Politely

The Beckman Institute open house offers up science for everyone

A birdseye view of a large hallway full of people and tables.
Beckman Institute Via Jenna Kurzweil

The Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at the University of Illinois Open House is well-known in Champaign-Urbana as a way for the community to connect with researchers, students, and science. Lexie Kesler is the outreach and communications specialist for the Beckman Institute. In her work, she helps researchers connect with the public, and she talked to me about the participants and what to expect at the event this year. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

A group of young Black children take turns looking into a microscope.
Beckman Institute Via Jenna Kurzweil

Smile Politely: How long have you been involved with the open house? 

Lexie Kesler: This is my second year being involved in open house in my current role. However, I attended many times as a teacher in the community, and even as a kid myself!

SP: Can you tell me about this event?

Kesler: The Beckman Institute hosted its first open house in 1997. From the start, the event provided a time and space for the larger surrounding community to experience the amazing science happening on campus. Visitors of all ages are welcome to try hands-on activities, see state-of-the-art scientific equipment of the past and present, and talk with researchers from over 40 different departments. Additionally, the event takes place in conjunction with Engineering Open House, which means there’s lots more to do!

A crowded hallway with students standing in front of giant information board.
Beckman Institute Via Jenna Kurzweil

SP: What are you most looking forward to at this year’s open house? 

Kesler: We have so many new exhibits this year! Beckman Institute is known for collaboration, but this year’s open house incorporates an element of friendly competition. During our Friends and Family Preview night on Thursday, we’ll be awarding one exhibit with the title of “Best Interactive.” The winning exhibit will then proudly display this honor throughout the rest of the event. So be sure to ask which exhibit won, and stop by!

SP: What would you tell first time attendees? 

Kesler: I would encourage first time attendees to visit our webpage and read through some of the exhibit descriptions. There’s so much to see and do. This is a great way to plan which exhibits your group is most interested in. If you have middle or high school students, there’s also an escape room that you can sign up for online.

SP: Can you talk a bit about the process to find all of the amazing participants?

Kesler: We’re really fortunate to have a large community of research groups who appreciate and understand the importance of outreach. When I say that preparations for the 2025 open house will start on Monday, I am telling the truth! After our event last spring, feedback from the Beckman community showed that there was interest in hosting open house as an annual event instead of biennially. It’s been amazing to see the number of new exhibits we’ve added this year. About a third of the exhibits this year weren’t there in 2023, so even if you’re an open house regular attender, there will be something new to see or do.

Students standing at a table staring at a man in a blue t-shirt and khaki pants.
Beckman Institute via Jenna Kurzweil

SP: What is your best memory of previous open houses? 

Kesler: As a former teacher, I have to say watching kids get excited about STEAM. That light-bulb moment that happens when they understand a new concept or are amazed by the science they’re seeing, that’s the best.

SP: What do you hope people will take away from this experience? 

Kesler: I hope people are reminded that STEAM is for everyone! This is a wonderful opportunity for our researchers to remember what first inspired them and share that enthusiasm with the next generation.

Beckman Institute Open House
Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology
405 N Mathews Ave
F Apr 5th, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Sa Apr 6th, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

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