STEAM PARK exhibit in collaboration with Toyota opens at Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum

Brand-new STEAM PARK exhibit at Ann Arbor's Hands-On Museum. (Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum)

ANN ARBOR – A brand-new exhibit opened to the public on Wednesday at the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum.

STEAM PARK was created in collaboration with engineers from Toyota to inspire children to engage in science, engineering and the arts all in one place.

The concept was sparked when the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum asked a team of engineers from Toyota Motor North America Research & Development what inspired them to pursue their careers in STEM. Each recalled a moment in their childhood that sparked wonder, curiosity and a drive to pursue a specific professional field.

From a massive multi-interactive 17th-century clock, to airfoil, a window maze ball machine and the world’s first-ever digital Roulette Curve, each of the 23 exhibits encourage children and adults alike to immerse themselves in the world of STEM.

A recurring theme throughout the STEAM PARK is that all mechanical aspects of the exhibits are see-through, exposing the inner workings of each device.

A window maze ball machine in the new STEAM PARK at the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum. (Meredith Bruckner)

“What we’re able to do here is turn things inside out -- share with (visitors) how things work, what they do, what their meaning is to the world, what their meaning is to individuals,” said Mel Drumm, President and CEO of the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum and Leslie Science & Nature Center.

“Hopefully, for our younger people, they will think: ‘That could be a career opportunity for me or my friends to do something to better the world, protect the planet and have a wonderful career.’”

Longtime partners, AAHOM and Toyota’s relationship goes back two decades. Ten years ago, Toyota and AAHOM built the “Engineers on a Roll” preschool exhibit, which has been a huge success for the museum, said Drumm.

Wanting to incorporate more STEM exhibits, work on the STEAM PARK began three years ago. The exhibit was made possible by a $1.5 million grant from Toyota Motor North America R&D and the Toyota USA Foundation. The funds will also cover renovations of the former “Engineers on a Roll” exhibit, now named STEAM PLAY.

Group Vice President of Toyota North America R&D and Director of the Toyota USA Foundation, Jeff Makarewicz, said the timing of the project was fitting.

“It’s no secret that the pandemic has really had an impact on students, teachers and parents alike and we think it’s also really highlighted the need for more STEM education and STEM professionals,” said Makarewicz. “So, we’re very hopeful that the Toyota STEAM PARK will play a role in inspiring and motivating the next generation of innovator or problem-solver.”

President and CEO of AAHOM, Mel Drumm, and Group Vice President of Toyota North America R & D, Jeff Makarewicz, pose for a photo in the museum's new STEAM PARK on Aug. 17, 2021. (Meredith Bruckner)

Drumm said many months of closure with no visitors impacted the spirit of the museum and its staff, but that work on the new exhibit gave them steam.

“In many ways it was a lifeline for us because our museum members were feeling crushed that our museum was shut down,” he said. “We were all engaged in building out this exhibit.”

AAHOM, which serves nearly 400,000 visitors each year, hopes children from all communities will have the opportunity to visit its new exhibits.

To help make this a reality, Makarewicz announced the establishment of the STEAM Fund.

“It’s really important for us to have equity and access for underserved communities to have the opportunity to visit a place like the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum,” he said. “We’re going to be creating something called the STEAM Fund which will work with the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum and some other nonprofits to enable all individuals to come to the Hands-On Museum to experience it and learn.

“To seed this fund, Toyota is going to give $25,000 as an initial grant to start it up and get it on its way, but we’re hoping other companies will join us in this endeavor.”

The STEAM PARK is included in general museum admission. From Aug. 18-22, with support from Toyota, guests will be offered $20 off new memberships.

Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum hours:

  • Sundays: 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
  • Mondays: Closed
  • Tuesdays: 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
  • Wednesdays: 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. (Except Aug. 18: 1-5 p.m.)
  • Thursdays: 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
  • Fridays: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. (Except Aug. 20: Pod Rentals Only)
  • Saturdays: 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

The Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum is located at 220 E. Ann St.

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About the Author:

Meredith has worked for WDIV since August 2017 and was voted one of Washtenaw County's best journalists in 2019 by eCurrent's readers. She covers the community of Ann Arbor and has a Master's degree in International Broadcast Journalism from City University London, UK.