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From Dinos to Doctors: New Washington Pavilion Exhibits Introduce Kids to STEM Fields

Jackie Hendry

The Washington Pavilion in Sioux Falls is updating its Science Center with new exhibits celebrating fossils and stones unique to South Dakota. The interactive area gives kids a chance to dig for dinosaur bones, explore a mine tunnel, and maybe jumpstart a love of science. 

A life-sized T-Rex looks on as a ribbon cutting officially opens the new exhibits. With animatronic dinosaurs screeching in the background, Washington Pavilion President and CEO Darrin Smith explains this is part of a multi-year effort to attract more families to the Science Center.

“Just a few short years ago we had several years of declining attendance. That’s just the truth. We had to recognize that and put an aggressive plan in place to change that.”

But now, Smith says they’re on track to break a 20-year-old attendance record.

The update is also part of a partnership with Avera—one of the sponsors of the Science Center. Dr. Kara Bruning is a pediatrician with Avera McKennan. She says the exhibit encourages children’s development through learning disguised as play.

“Digging for bones or whatever they’re interested in, certainly can help them find an appreciation for STEM activities and want to go into science which will definitely benefit all of us later,” Dr. Bruning says.

And as the healthcare industry faces a workforce shortage, there’s hope dinosaurs can pave the way for future doctors. David Flicek is Regional President and CEO of Avera McKennan. With 5,000 positions available every year, he says the more people in the pipeline, the better.

“So let’s start early and get them into that science, get them inquisitive, and maybe try it in high school, and then maybe college, and then I can hire them, I hope!” says Flicek.

The Dinosaur Discovery and Quarry Dig areas are just the beginning of the updates to the center. Washington Pavilion President Darrin Smith will only hint at what’s to come.

“The overarching theme of phase two is going to have an agriculture theme. It’s the number one industry in South Dakota. Always has been, probably always will be. I think we forget that sometimes, especially in Sioux Falls,” says Smith.

That next phase of updates in the Washington Pavilion Science Center is expected to be complete in about a year.

Regional Health supports Education and Healthcare reporting on SDPB.