"Pairing the lecture with a similar film topic can promote deeper learning in the content area presented."
When the Census 2000 data was released, Wendy Grant, the Fleet Science Center’s Director of Marketing and Communications, noted the projected rise in the senior population. Knowing that a significant portion of seniors live on a fixed income, Grant felt that it was important to make the museum financially accessible to seniors on a regular basis. “But we wanted to provide more than just discounted admission, “says Grant. “We wanted to offer programming targeted to that age group.”
The Fleet created two programs targeted at the 65+ crowd: Senior Mondays and the Sharp Minds lecture program, which have now been running for more than a decade.
On the first Monday of the month (excluding holidays), seniors can enjoy the Fleet’s museum galleries and a giant screen film at a discounted rate of $8—this is known as Senior Mondays. The Sharp Minds lecture series is a monthly program offered in conjunction with Senior Mondays. The lecture is included in admission to the science center on Senior Mondays.
The Sharp Minds lecture involves a presenter, usually a local scientist, who discusses his or her area of expertise. The presentation lasts an hour, with 45 minutes of lecture and 15 minutes of questions from the audience. A recent Sharp Minds lecture on the immune system and cancer was paired with a screening of Journey Into Amazing Caves, which shows cavers exploring unusual caves in a quest to find cures for diseases. An upcoming Sharp Minds lecture focuses on ocean conservation. It will be followed by a screening of Journey to the South Pacific, which highlights the importance of living in balance with the ocean we depend upon.
“Pairing the lecture with a similar film topic can promote deeper learning in the content area presented,” notes Valerie MacPhee, the Fleet’s Education Manager of Public Programs. For example, if the Sharp Minds lecture is on galaxies, the presenter will discuss the topic and use scientific terminology specific to that field of study. If an astronomy film follows the lecture, some of the vocabulary or concepts may be repeated.
MacPhee says, “When multiple modes of information overlap, the audience’s ability to retain the information is greater, and deeper understanding can be achieved.”
Senior Mondays and Sharp Minds involve multiple departments at the Fleet. The Visitor Services Department works to open the science center and café 30 minutes early for this event each month. This allows ample time for visitors to purchase tickets, buy coffee from the on-site café, chat, and get seated in the theater before the lecture starts. The Fleet’s Craveology café and North Star Science Store offer discounts on food, beverages, and merchandise to seniors on Senior Mondays. The Education Department arranges the Sharp Minds lectures and pairs them with the noon film. Theater staff set up the audio-visuals for the lecture.
The Fleet sees more than 100,000 school kids each year—but the museum does not book school groups on Senior Mondays. “Senior Mondays really are reserved for our valued older visitors,” notes Grant.
Grant shared that the program was simple to market. “In addition to using our usual internal marketing channels, we created a letter explaining the program and a flyer that listed the dates, lecture topics and films for the initial three months of the program,“ she says. “We pulled together a list of local senior centers and mailed them the flyer and letter. We also issued a press release about Senior Mondays and Sharp Minds, which got picked up by senior-focused publications.”
Over the years, changes have been made to Senior Mondays and Sharp Minds. The Fleet has made price increases to Senior Mondays as regular admission to the science center has increased. Still, the Senior Monday price of $8 represents more than a 50% discount off the regular senior admission price of $17.95. As the audience grew, the lecture location changed to accommodate the crowd. But the biggest change to the Sharp Minds location involved cheese and crackers.
The lecture series was sponsored for a few years, and the sponsor underwrote snacks. Seniors loved the snacks! When the sponsorship ended, the Fleet was unable to absorb the cost of the food.
“We were nervous about that change,” says Grant. “We thought the seniors might stop attending the Sharp Minds lectures if food wasn’t included.”
Luckily, the attendees accepted the situation. Grant explains, “The lecture was truly the draw, not the food.”
When you have a dedicated returning group of visitors each month, they can be very sensitive to changes. MacPhee shares, “Change is inevitable in every institution, and it’s important to be conscientious of how changes will affect a devoted audience. We’ve found that addressing changes clearly, directly to the audience, helps to make those transitions as smooth as possible.”
Mondays are typically a slow day, but Senior Mondays and the Sharp Minds lectures draw a consistent audience. On average, attendance on the first Monday of the month is over 600, and more than 120 visitors attend the Sharp Minds lectures monthly. Local senior centers bring their residents to the event, and San Diego seniors attend with friends. “We see many familiar faces each month coming to attend the lecture, regardless of the presentation topic,” says MacPhee.
MacPhee hears feedback about the lectures and films directly from attendees. “The public is very honest!” she says. “It’s great to hear how much they enjoyed certain lecturers. Long-time attendees will get excited when there are returning presenters.” She also notes that visitors will follow lecturers out of the theater to continue asking them questions, even after the formal Q&A session has ended.
When the Fleet opens a film, the Sharp Minds lecture that month pairs with the new film, which offers the Marketing Department an additional angle for promotion.
Grant says, “It’s fantastic to see that Senior Mondays and Sharp Minds have such a dedicated following. I think these programs can continue for at least another ten years!”
Information about the Fleet’s senior programs can be found at: www.fleetscience.org/events/senior-mondays
For more information about this program, please contact:
Wendy M. Grant
Fleet Science Center, San Diego, CA
Photos by Jonathan Nagtalon and provided by The Fleet.