Minority ph.D. students need institutional change to make larger impact in STEM fields

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Women and underrepresented minorities in STEM fields are more likely to advance professionally, publish more research and secure postdoctoral and faculty positions if their institutional culture is welcoming and sets clear expectations, according to a study of hundreds of Ph.D. students at four top-tier California research universities.

University of Washington Provost Mark Richards, the study’s senior author, and a team of researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, UCLA, Stanford and the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) sought to understand how gender, race and ethnicity impact graduate students’ success in math, physical sciences, computer sciences and engineering, as measured by publication rates in academic journals.

The findings, published Wednesday in the journal PLOS ONE, suggest that doctoral scholars in STEM fields are more likely to publish if enrolled in well-structured graduate programs that lay out clear, unbiased expectations for assessing students and supporting their careers.

“Our study strongly indicates that the onus should not fall on minority students to make changes to succeed in STEM settings,” said Aaron Fisher, an assistant professor of psychology at UC Berkeley and lead author of the study. “Institutional changes that make students feel welcome and provide clear guidelines and standards for performance are optimal ways to ensure the success of all students.”

To read the Complete Article, continue on to UW News.

Amazon’s VP of Alexa Devices on Working in Voice Technology, Taking Risks, and Alexa’s Hidden Tricks

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Amazom's Miriam Daniel smiling and standing in front of a poster for Amazon Alexa

By Alyse Kalish

Let’s say you want to be a part of building something great in your career—something people can tangibly benefit from, something no one else has thought of, and something you can point to and proudly say, “Hey, I made that.” If that’s the case, look no further for inspiration than Miriam Daniel.

She’s currently the VP of Alexa and Echo Devices at Amazon. That means she and her team are the brains behind the imaginary woman who answers all the random requests you make, from “Alexa, tell me what the weather’s like” to “Alexa, set a reminder to pick up milk” to “Alexa, play ‘Baby Shark.’”

We sat down with Daniel because, quite frankly, her career path is pretty cool—from working as a developer to joining the leadership team at Intel (and staying on for more than 14 years) to transitioning into AI and eventually landing her role at Amazon. Besides joining Amazon at a time when AI and speech technology was just taking off, Daniel has had the pleasure of building a product from the start that can help people—especially those who are disabled—lead more efficient and happier lives.

Here’s how she broke into this creative field, how she balances being a tech leader and a parent, and what advice she has for aspiring innovators.

Tell us a bit about your career path and how you ended up at Amazon.

I spent the first few years of my career working as a developer in various service industries, and then moved on to work at Intel for more than 14 years. I started there as an engineering leader before transitioning to product and business roles, eventually becoming the Director of Innovation Strategy and Product Management.

Then five years ago, I received a call from Amazon. After going through a rigorous interview process and consulting with a couple of my mentors, I decided to make the move. Today, I lead a talented, multidisciplinary team that spends a lot of time thinking about customers—what they want out of voice-driven devices and specifically how Alexa can make their lives easier and more convenient.

What made you want to enter this field?

I started dabbling in speech and AI while running the innovation group at Intel. The power of voice as an intuitive and natural means of human interaction with technology fascinated me. When presented with the opportunity to lead the Echo product line at Amazon, I jumped at it, knowing that this could be a transformative leap in using voice as the ultimate simplifier, cutting through many layers of friction to access information and services in the cloud. I was also excited to be a part of an early-stage innovative product with the ability to shape it from the start. I was ready for a big challenge.

What gets you excited about your job?

I’m excited by the fact that I get to innovate every day. Sometimes I feel like a kid in a toy factory—I dive right into putting the puzzle pieces together to solve hard problems that in the end simplify lives.

Building an entirely new way of interacting with products through voice and visuals was an incredibly difficult problem to solve. When we started, this was a completely new means of interacting with machines, and to see how far we’ve come (of course, there’s still so much more to do) motivates me every day.

What’s the biggest challenge in your role? The biggest reward?

The challenge is that building an Echo device is about so much more than just creating a piece of hardware—it’s about designing an experience, and it’s an experience that’s getting smarter every day. There’s no playbook here or precedent to go off of—we’re exploring and innovating as we go. There’s no such thing as “done.”

The biggest reward is when a customer tells me that they love the products we’re building and how much voice technology has changed their lives for the better. We hear anecdotes from parents, grandparents, teachers, distant family members, and customers with disabilities all the time, and their stories are truly heart-warming.

What’s one thing people don’t know Alexa can do?

Alexa is always getting smarter and is now starting to do things for customers that once were considered science fiction. One example is a feature called “Hunches.” As you interact with your smart home, Alexa learns more about your day-to-day routine and can sense when connected smart devices—such as lights, locks, switches, and plugs—are not in the state that you prefer.

For example, if your living room light is on when you say “Alexa, good night,” Alexa will respond with “Good night. By the way, your living room light is on. Do you want me to turn it off?”

Continue on to The Muse to read the complete article.

Wendy Okolo Is The First Black Woman To Earn A Doctorate In Aerospace Engineering

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Dr. Wendy Okolo is a Nigerian-born National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) aerospace engineer and the first Black woman to earn a doctorate in the field.

According to her profile on the organization’s website, Okolo works as a special emphasis programs manager at Ames Research Center and is a research engineer in the Discovery and Systems Health Technology (DaSH) Area. Her role includes researching control systems applications, systems health monitoring and creating solutions for issues related to the designing of aircraft and spacecraft.

She earned her B.S. and Ph.D. at the University of Texas at Arlington in 2010 and 2015. Okolo completed her dissertation research with a focus on aircraft fuel-saving methods. Her research was funded by several organizations including the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR), American Institute for Aeronautics & Astronautics (AIAA) and Texas Space Grant Consortium (TSGC).

Per the Philadelphia Tribune, Okolo is the first Black woman to earn a doctorate in aerospace engineering at just 26 years old. Along with accomplishing the prestigious honor, she was the winner of the Black Engineer of the Year Awards (BEYA) Global Competitiveness Conference award for being the most promising engineer in the United States government.

For the complete article, continue on to Blavity.

LeBron James Opened a School That Was Considered an Experiment. It’s Showing Promise

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The students paraded through hugs and high-fives from staff, who danced as Sister Sledge’s “We Are Family” blared through the hallways. They were showered with compliments as they walked through a buffet of breakfast foods.

The scene might be expected on a special occasion at any other public school. At LeBron James’s I Promise School, it was just Monday.

Every day, they are celebrated for walking through the door. This time last year, the students at the school — Mr. James’s biggest foray into educational philanthropy — were identified as the worst performers in the Akron public schools and branded with behavioral problems. Some as young as 8 were considered at risk of not graduating.

The academic results are early, and at 240, the sample size of students is small, but the inaugural classes of third and fourth graders at I Promise posted extraordinary results in their first set of district assessments. Ninety percent met or exceeded individual growth goals in reading and math, outpacing their peers across the district.

“These kids are doing an unbelievable job, better than we all expected,” Mr. James said in a telephone interview hours before a game in Los Angeles for the Lakers. “When we first started, people knew I was opening a school for kids. Now people are going to really understand the lack of education they had before they came to our school. People are going to finally understand what goes on behind our doors.”

For the complete article, continue on to New York Times.

Nipsey Hussle’s Work In The Black Community Went Deeper Than You Think

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Nipsey Hu$$le

Before his death, the rapper was involved in projects focused on revitalizing his South LA neighborhood and supporting STEM among black and brown youths.

When Los Angeles–based rapper Nipsey Hussle was shot and killed on March 31 at the age of 33, his death plunged people in his LA community, as well as others all over the world, into resounding grief.

It wasn’t only that he was young and beloved or that he was a father of two who was in a relationship with actress Lauren London. Hussle (whose given name was Ermias Asghedom) was lauded through his life not just for his music but also for his service to the black community.

In the days after his death, there has been much talk about much he did for the black community in South LA, but most people didn’t realize how far-reaching his activism and entrepreneurship were:

He was an advocate for STEM among black and brown kids

Hussle was an investor in Vector90, a technology space founded by Gross. The center is home to a community program called Too Big to Fail, which serves as a link between young people in the inner city and Silicon Valley. The aim: to train underrepresented and disenfranchised black and brown youths in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields. Hussle and Gross reportedly had plans to expand the program across the country.

He was in the beginning stages of addressing gun violence with the LAPD

On March 31, LA Police Commissioner Steve Soboroff revealed that Hussle had a scheduled meeting with the LAPD the day after his death to discuss gun violence in the city. Hussle, a former gang member, spoke openly about his experiences with gang culture and his desire to focus on “giving solutions and inspiration” to young black men like him.

He was revitalizing the community with new real estate developments

In a bid to bring black-owned businesses and jobs to his South LA neighborhood, Hussle reportedly spent several million dollars on a strip mall property on Crenshaw Boulevard and Slauson Avenue with several stores, including his “smart store” Marathon Clothing.

He had bigger plans in the world of real estate: In February he told Forbes that his goal was to work with black community leaders in other U.S. cities to create similar business and real estate hubs designed to benefit rather than push out the black community.The plan was part of an initiative called Our Opportunity, co-founded by Hussle and led by his business partner Dave Gross.

Continue on to Huffington Post to read the complete article.

Katie Bouman: the 29-year-old whose work led to first black hole photo

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Katie Bouman sitting at her computer with a smile on her face and hands up to her mouth in excitement

This week, the world laid eyes on an image that previously it was thought was unseeable.

The first visualisation of a black hole looks set to revolutionise our understanding of one of the great mysteries of the universe.

And the woman whose crucial algorithm helped make it possible is just 29 years old.

Katie Bouman was a PhD student in computer science and artificial intelligence at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) when, three years ago, she led the creation of an algorithm that would eventually lead to an image of a supermassive black hole at the heart of the Messier 87 galaxy, some 55m light years from Earth, being captured for the first time.

Bouman was among a team of 200 researchers who contributed to the breakthrough, but on Wednesday, a picture of her triumphantly beaming as the image of the black hole materialised on her computer screen went viral, with many determined that Bouman’s indispensable role was not written out of history – as so often has been the case for female scientists and researchers.

The data used to piece together the image was captured by the Event Horizon telescope (EHT), a network of eight radio telescopes spanning locations from Antarctica to Spain and Chile. Bouman’s role, when she joined the team working on the project six years ago as a 23-year-old junior researcher, was to help build an algorithm which could construct the masses of astronomical data collected by the telescope into a single coherent image.

Though her background was in computer science and electrical engineering, not astrophysics, Picture of a Black HoleBouman and her team worked for three years building the imaging code. Once the algorithm had been built, Bouman worked with dozens of EHT researchers for a further two years developing and testing how the imaging of the black hole could be designed. But it wasn’t until June last year, when all the telescope data finally arrived, that Bouman and a small team of fellow researchers sat down in a small room at Harvard and put their algorithm properly to the test.

With just the press of a button, a fuzzy orange ring appeared on Bouman’s computer screen, the world’s first image of a supermassive black hole, and astronomical history was made. In a post on social media, Bouman emphasised the collaborative efforts that had made the imaging of the black hole possible.

“No one algorithm or person made this image, it required the amazing talent of a team of scientists from around the globe and years of hard work to develop the instrument, data processing, imaging methods, and analysis techniques that were necessary to pull off this seemingly impossible feat,” said Bouman. While their discovery was made in June, it was only presented to the world by all 200 researchers on Wednesday.

Continue on to The Guardian to read the complete article.

WonderWorks Branson Providing Local Schools with In-Service STEM Educational Program

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STEM teacher showing two grade school children a nail and balloon experiment

WonderWorks, the indoor amusement park for the mind, is scheduled to open in Branson, Missouri in October 2019. They are teaming up with schools in Branson and Hollister County, to offer in-service educational opportunities.

These programs will begin the week of April 15, 2019. This is just one of many STEM activities that WonderWorks offers and focuses on using scientific methods to engage students in learning about both the principles of pressure and fingerprints.

“Since WonderWorks is under construction, we are happy to bring these great programs to the classrooms” says Janine Vaccarello, chief operating officer at WonderWorks. “These hands-on programs provide them with fun STEM lessons that will engage students and expand their understanding of the topics.”

The interactive lessons that will be taken to the local schools include:

The Principles of Pressure: 

This program will be in-service at local elementary schools. It uses the scientific method to understand how pressure works and specifically how you can lay on a full size bed of nails and not get punctured. This is a two-part demo that includes understanding how much pressure it takes a nail to puncture something. The kids will work with the teacher to develop a hypothesis, conduct an experiment using a balloon on a nail, and then repeat the experiment using a block of wood. They will use math to determine the weight that can be on the nail before the balloon pops.

Fingerprints: 

This program will be in-service at local middle schools. Using scientific method and reasoning, the interactive learning program includes having students look at their fingertips through the magnifying lens and examine the patterns on their skin. They will learn how unique fingerprints are formed, they will make a set of their own printed fingerprints, and will compare their unique pattern with common types of fingerprints.

Both sessions will give students a hands-on learning opportunity that should boast their science interests. The programs offer opportunities for interaction, using scientific methods, creating hypothesis, and evaluating the outcome.

“We are excited that WonderWorks is entering the Branson market and bringing educational programs not only within their attraction but to the schools directly,” says Brian Wilson, superintendent at Hollister Schools. “They are committed to STEM programs and are helping teachers by creating an interactive learning environment.”

WonderWorks Branson will be the company’s 6th location. WonderWorks new home was the previous location of Baldknobbers Theater located at 2835 W 76 Country Blvd. The new location will feature the attraction’s iconic exterior – a grandiose house flipped upside-down. The unique façade is part of WonderWorks’ background story. According to legend, it was once a top-secret laboratory that was lifted and flipped on its roof by an experiment gone awry. From its exterior to its interior, visitors of all ages will enjoy a family friendly, out of this world experience, which will make for some amazing memories.

The interactive indoor amusement park offers STEM-focused activities for all ages. There are over 100 hands-on activities that are focused on the areas of science, technology, engineering, and math. Some of the exhibits will include a bubble room, Professor Wonder’s adventure, interactive sandbox, illusion art gallery, and xtreme 360 bikes. For more information on WonderWorks, visit the site at: wonderworksonline.com/branson-coming-soon/.

About WonderWorks

WonderWorks, the upside-down adventure, is a science focused, indoor amusement park for the mind, that holds something unique and interesting for visitors of all ages. There are four floors of non-stop “edu-tainment,” with over 100 hands-on and interactive exhibits that serve a STEM educational purpose to challenge the mind and spark the imagination. WonderWorks has locations in Orlando, Pigeon Forge, Myrtle Beach, Panama City Beach, and Syracuse. For more information visit: wonderworksonline.com.

Reclaiming spaces: Camp ELSO inspires children of color to explore the outdoors, science careers

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I recall the high school science teacher who doubted my capacity to succeed in advanced biology, the pre-med advisers who pointed my friend Dr. Kellianne Richardson and me away from their program and discouraged us from considering a career in medicine – biased advice given under the guise of truth and tough love.

I remember only three classes with professors of color in my four years at college, only one of whom was a woman. We needed to see her, to hold faith that as women of color, we were good enough, we were smart enough to be there. We were simply enough, and we had so much to contribute to medicine, eager to learn, to improve and to struggle alongside our mostly White peers at our private liberal arts college.

These are the experiences that led Kellianne and me to see the need for more spaces set aside for future Black scientists, for multi-hued Brown future environmentalists.

The story of Camp ELSO (Experience Life Science Outdoors) started with our vision. We want Black and Brown children to access more and better experiences than we did, experiences that help them see their potential in science, that prepare them for the potentially steep learning curve that comes with declaring a science major. We want Black and Brown kids to feel comfortable in a lab room, navigating a science library, and advocating for themselves with faculty and advisers. We hope to inspire their academic pursuits by laying the foundation with curiosity and critical thinking.

For the complete article, continue on to Metro News.

6 ways college grads can find their first job faster

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Young student holding books and carrying a backpack, smiling to camera

Millennials and Gen Zers receive plenty of advice on how to ace a job interview. But before you can wow an interviewer, you have to actually land an interview.

Applying for jobs may feel like it’s mostly a waiting game, but there’s more to do than just submitting applications online, and taking those extra steps will get you better job search results. CNBC Make It spoke to Amanda Augustine, career expert for TopResume, who offers new grads these tips:

1. Prioritize your connections
Identify who in your already-established network currently works or previously worked in the field you are most interested in. Augustine also suggests keeping any highly-social friends in mind. “These natural connectors from your personal network can often introduce you to relevant people outside your social circle that could be valuable during your search,” says Augustine.

2. Don’t underestimate your alma mater

Alumnifire, an alumni networking platform, found that 90 percent of hiring managers would prefer to hire a fellow alumnus if possible. In order to find alums who work in your target field, attend alumni events in your area and use LinkedIn to sift through search results. If you find an alum connected to a particular company or industry you’re interested in, approach them with confidence. Briefly mentioning that you went to the same college is a great way to spark a conversation.

3. Join organizations
In college, social groups and clubs are often built into campus life, but to continue to make new friends and expand your network after graduation, Augustine suggests using websites such as Directory of Associations, VolunteerMatch and Meetup to find people with common interests. “The bigger your network, the easier it will become to find and connect with others who can help you achieve your job-search goals,” she says.

4. Invest in your professional development
Begin by taking advantage of informational interviews. These differ from traditional job interviews in that the goal is to gain insight into your desired field or a specific company, allowing you to take steps to become a more marketable candidate. You may also want to work on developing a new skill to better your chances of being hired for a position. Search for industry conferences or start a free or low-cost online course through platforms such as Courseera, edX, Skillshare or Lynda.

5. Consider taking side gigs
Whether it’s helping out at a non-profit or picking up some extra freelance work, there are plenty of experiences that might not be full-time but could be great resume-boosters. In addition, they can lead to new connections that can open doors to job opportunities. When looking for freelance listings, check out websites like UpWork, Freelancer, Guru and College Recruiter.

6. Take another look at your resume
“Think of your resume as a marketing document whose content has been carefully curated based on your job goals,” says Augustine, “rather than a record of your work history and education.” This will help get through the applicant tracking systems that some employers use. These systems sort through resumes and highlight top candidates by searching for keywords related to the position being applied for.

Continue on to CNBC News to read the complete article.

Alcatraz East Crime Museum to Hold 2nd Annual Graffiti Art Contest

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Artists busy preparing for the Alcatraz graffiti contest

Drive through any city in America and you are bound to see some graffiti. Some people love it, while others hate it. These images, letters and paintings found on buildings, bridges and other surfaces can often signal decay and bring property values down.

This has prompted many cities to create designated graffiti art spaces, and many businesses have commissioned artists to create murals to deter graffiti on their walls. Putting graffiti art into the spotlight, Alcatraz East Crime Museum will be holding its 2nd annual Graffiti Art Contest on Saturday, June 1, 2019. All graffiti artists are invited to compete for cash prizes and the chance to have their work on exhibit in the museum.

“We are happy to encourage people to think outside the box and work with those who love this form of public art,” explains Rachael Penman, director of artifacts and exhibits at Alcatraz East Crime Museum. “This contest gives artists a chance to showcase their talent and a rare chance to have their art featured in a museum.”

The artists who are selected to compete in the contest will be staged in the parking lot behind the Alcatraz East Crime Museum. The event is open to the public. There will be three winners, who will be awarded $750, $350, and $200 respectively. Each of the three winners will also have their graffiti art put on exhibit inside the museum.

Contestants must pre-qualify by entering online and must be at least 18 years old. The deadline to enter for consideration for the contest is May 8, 2019. Artists can review the full guidelines for the contest at: alcatrazeast.com/graffiti-contest/.

The judges’ panel includes local representatives of law enforcement and the arts, including Pigeon Forge Chief of Police Richard Catlett.

In 2018, Alcatraz East Crime Museum held its first annual graffiti contest, with contestants from Picture of colorful cartoonish graffiti on wall with a bulldog looking onboth the local area and surrounding states. The grand prize went to Steve Hall of Maryville, Tennessee.

“Everyone competing was very kind, and it was inspiring to see all different artists with different talents, backgrounds, mediums, and ideas come together and celebrate their art,” says Emily Overbey, an artist who competed in last year’s competition.

The Alcatraz East Crime Museum is located at the entrance to The Island, at 2757 Parkway in Pigeon Forge. They are located near the Margaritaville Hotel and Paula Deen’s Family Kitchen. The museum is always adding to its collection, and has a star-studded panel of experts who make up the Advisory Board, including those in law enforcement, collectors, a medical examiner, crime scene investigators, and others. The board includes Jim Willett, a retired prison warden, Anthony Rivera, a combat veteran and Navy SEAL chief, and Judge Belvin Perry, Jr., who is best known for the Casey Anthony trial. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit: alcatrazeast.com.

About Alcatraz East

Alcatraz East is the most arresting crime museum in the United States. Guests of all ages can encounter a unique journey into the history of American crime, crime-solving, and our justice system. Through interactive exhibits and original artifacts, Alcatraz East is an entertaining and educational experience for all ages – so much fun it’s a crime! This family attraction is located at the entrance of The Island, located at 2757 Parkway, Pigeon Forge, TN. General admission tickets are $14.95 for children and $24.95 for adults. Group ticket sales are available. The museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., with the last ticket sold 60 minutes before closing. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit: alcatrazeast.com.

WonderWorks Orlando Celebrates WonderKids with Astronaut Meet and Greet and Ceremony

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WonderWorks Astronaut Dr. Don Thomas Ryan and Amanda Smith seated at desks talking

WonderWorks in Orlando is on an out of this world mission to inspire kids to be interested in space exploration. Teachers who took part in the WonderKids program nominated students to meet an astronaut will get the opportunity to do so on April 25-26, 2019.

WonderWorks has teamed up with Dr. Don Thomas, an astronaut who has orbited the Earth nearly 700 times, to visit Orlando school students. The WonderKids students will also be honored at a special ceremony on April 27, 2019, at 1:00 p.m. and 3:00 p.m. Members of the media are invited to attend the schools the astronaut visits, the ceremony and the meet and greet.

“We are excited to be able to have someone as special as Dr. Thomas team up with us to meet Orlando area students,” states Brian Wayne, General Manager for WonderWorks Orlando. “His insight and experiences will be fascinating to the children and will hopefully further inspire a love of science.”

The dates for the program are as follows:
·      Astronaut Dr. Don Thomas will visit local schools on April 25-26, 2019.
·      The WonderKids official ceremony will be held April 27, 2019, at 1:00 p.m. and 3:00 p.m.
·      A public meet and greet will be held on April 27, 2019, from 10:00 a.m. to noon.

“The WonderKids program is one of a kind and one that is special for kids who love to explore science,” said Dr. Don Thomas, “It’s an honor to participate in programs that encourage young minds to desire science and I look forward to teaming up with WonderWorks.”

WonderKids is a program that is offered by WonderWorks that focuses on student achievement through a variety of categories, including academic excellence, service to the community, and future scientist. Its mission is to make science fun and interesting. The program is open to students across Central Florida. Only a limited number of students are accepted into the program. The deadline for nominations was March 25, 2019. Those interested in learning more about the program can visit the website: wonderworksonline.com/orlando/wonderkids/.

WonderWorks in Orlando is an adventure that tourists and locals both enjoy. The indoor amusement park is open 365 days per year from 9:00 a.m. until midnight. WonderWorks features a glow-in-the-dark ropes course, laser tag, 4D XD motion theater, magic comedy dinner show, and the Wonder Zones, which include interactive exhibits on natural disasters, space discovery, light and sound zone, imagination lab, far out art gallery, and a physical challenge zone.

About WonderWorks
WonderWorks the upside-down adventure is a science-focused indoor amusement park for the mind that holds something unique and interesting for visitors of all ages. Guests enter through an upside-down lobby with the ceiling at their feet and the ground above their head and must pass through an inversion tunnel to be turned right side up. There are three floors of nonstop “edu-tainment,” with over 100 hands-on and interactive exhibits that serve a STEM educational purpose to challenge the mind and spark the imagination. WonderWorks Orlando is also home to The Outta Control Magic Comedy Dinner Show. WonderWorks has locations in Orlando, Pigeon Forge, Myrtle Beach, Panama City Beach, and Syracuse. For more information, visit the site at: wonderworksonline.com/orlando/.