SHU to assume management of Discovery Museum

Sacred Heart University announced on November 17, 2020, that after a series of talks initiated by leaders of the Discovery Museum in Bridgeport, CT, it will assume management of the museum. At the agreement signing were, from left, Discovery Museum representatives Robert A. Panza and Terry O’Connor along with SHU’s Michael Kinney, President John J. Petillo and James Barquinero. Photo by Tracy Deer-Mirek/contributed

FAIRFIELD, CT – Sacred Heart University announced today that, after a series of talks initiated by leaders of the Discovery Museum, it will assume management of the museum at 4450 Park Avenue in Bridgeport. The museum is down the street from the University’s Fairfield campus. The agreement is effective January 1, 2021, and will continue through the existing land lease that has 67 years to go.

The University will completely modernize and enhance the exhibits to offer state-of-the-art and interactive and educational exhibits and programs in science and technology. The planetarium has been completely updated during this past year—a priority for the museum. It offers a realistic simulation of the starry sky. The images completely envelop viewers’ senses for an immersive theater experience.

The museum has been known throughout its 62-year history for providing hands-on STEM learning experiences. These experiences—designed to encourage questions and problem-solving from young learners—will be enhanced by the creativity and expertise of SHU faculty and students.

“With the University’s focus on becoming a regional leader in STEM and computer science education, and the museum’s great track record for exciting and fun STEM learning opportunities, along with our strong shared values, this coming together will benefit both institutions and the community at large,” said Michael Alfano, dean of Sacred Heart’s Isabelle Farrington College of Education.

Affiliation with a museum puts Sacred Heart University in the company of other universities that have exciting and dynamic museums that they have integrated with their academic missions to benefit both the university and the surrounding community.

The museum is currently going through a $1.8M upgrade funded by the state. Improvements are being made to the planetarium, exhibits, classrooms and more.

Discovery prides itself on showcasing local artists in gallery space and on encouraging creativity and individual expression through STEM activities, and none of that will change under SHU’s management. The University plans to host various STEM-area (STEAM) student events such as science-based competitions and similar programs, summer internships for SHU undergrads and area high school students and special programs for area school children. For example, it will present opportunities for new activities for students in SHU’s Upward Bound program and the Horizons at SHU program—both during the summer and on weekends. This may include shows in the Henry B. duPont III Planetarium, simulated space missions in the Challenger Center and presentations animated on Science on a Sphere.

The University also plans to use the museum as a hub for professional development opportunities for the region’s STEM and computer science education communities with opportunities for internships for students in education, marketing, media, management, communications, graphic design and more. It will also give faculty an opportunity to develop exhibits for SHU classes and the public.

By leveraging the two organizations and growing the museum’s offerings in science, the arts, media and technology, the University foresees opportunities to increase school district involvement that could align naturally to future collaborative initiatives. These could include producing web-based resources for STEM/STEAM teachers and leveraging museum content with other University assets such as WSHU, the performing arts program, the Community Theatre in Fairfield and its many partners in the community.

The museum will speak to the University’s core mission, providing a space for academic exploration and experiential learning, especially in the areas of education and science. Students will also be involved in other areas such as hospitality and management.

“This project is another example of how a University gives back to the community where it resides,” said SHU President John J. Petillo. “We plan to continue to offer new and exciting programs and displays for families while also offering new opportunities for our students to learn and teach. With ever-changing programs and exhibits, we hope to make it a venue that people will visit again and again.”

“The Discovery Museum and Planetarium staff and trustees are proud to join with Sacred Heart University in this momentous collaboration. Sacred Heart University shares our continuing commitment and mission to providing a strong STEM education experience to our community. Working together we’ll realize a new and vibrant future for all who study and visit with us,” said Robert A. Panza, chairman of the Discovery Museum and Planetarium.

“We are excited about the options for new and creative opportunities for students in our teacher preparation and leadership programs and for College of Arts & Sciences students in STEAM,” Alfano said. “This will give both students and faculty a chance to show their creativity and, especially, to focus on much-needed STEM programs.”

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