It all started with a rough cut screening of the film Dream Big, which sparked the idea to not
just show the film but to have a “year of the engineer” with all forms of
programming centering around engineering. Discovery
Place’s Year of the Engineer (YOE) initiative, which spanned the 2017-2018
school year, was launched to celebrate the ingenuity and creativity of
engineers and to inspire youth to consider engineering and other STEM careers
to become the problem solvers of the future.

Through Year
of the Engineer,
winner of the GSCA 2018 Achievement Award for Best Educational Program, Discovery Place was committed to partnering with 250 STEM
leaders to provide 2,500 experiences (hands-on programs, interactive
exhibitions, special events and community outreach) to expose 250
,000 guests to
the wonders of STEM.

The Program

Year of the
Engineer launched on August 24, 2017, with the grand opening of the film Dream
Big: Engineering Our World
and a major permanent new exhibit and lab
experience—Think It Up & Thinker Space—encompassing an entire level (5,
000 square feet) of Discovery Place. Over the course of Year of the Engineer, Discovery
Place added fresh content and new inspiring experiences that engaged guests of
all ages and backgrounds.

Being able to
present a whole package of events centered around one theme was powerful to the
funding community. Discovery Place partnered with over 20 corporations,
businesses, and professional groups to support the yearlong effort, during which
the organizations provided financial support, creative intellectual capital,
and their employees to create our yearlong event.

The YOE activities included:


  • Opening
    of new permanent 5,000 sq foot Exhibition Think It Up and new Maker Lab Thinker
    Space to open and launch with the movie opening of Dream Big.

  • 5,000-square-foot
    traveling exhibition da Vinci's
    Inventions from Florence Italy
  • Daily
    museum activities in 3 labs

  • School

  • Public
    main stage shows

  • Cart

  • Weekly
    design challenges in Think It Up

  • Monthly
    lab units

  • 1st
    Saturday of each month “Engineer in Residence” workshops

  • 2nd
    Saturday of the month “Engineer Take Over Days” where local companies and their
    engineers provided industry-specific experiences while showcasing the work
    being done in North Carolina
  • 3rd
    Saturday of the month “Think It up Design Challenge”  where families collaborated on large-scale,
    unique design challenges.

  • Community
    pop-up engineering and maker programs in underserved communities.

Signature Events

  • Charlotte
    Mini Maker Fair

  • North
    Carolina Science Festival

  • National
    Engineering Week

  • Inaugural
    Tinkerfest Event Day

  • HackathonCLT

  • Science
    & Society Lecture Series

  • Girls’
    Day Out Events

  • Night
    at the Museum for Scouts

  • Monthly
    Engineering Challenges for Educators

  • Women in STEM event

Measurement of Outcome

Place surpassed its goals:

  • Goal
    of 250 engineers, actual 426

  • Goal
    of 2500 experiences, actual 2,816

  • Goal
    of 250, 000 visitors, actual 268,000 visitors

YOE was a
very successful endeavor that was sustained through the year, and several
programs that were developed for the initiative will be kept and used in yearly
programming moving forward.
institution’s ability to have a singular message and align the bulk of the
activities around the initiative was powerful and sent a large and clear
message to the community. This initiative also allowed Discovery Place to
engage with a number of companies and professional organizations they had never
partnered with before.

It was also a
great cross-departmental team experience. This initiative had a steering
committee and a work group comprised of the following departments:

  • Human
  • Volunteer
  • Education
  • Teacher
    Professional Development
  • Floor
  • Labs,
    School Programing
  • Early
  • Community
  • Exhibits
  • Marketing
  • Sales
  • Development
  • Operations


Place learned a number of valuable insights throughout the course of the
program that they will consider when planning a similar initiative:

  1. Be out at least a year in advance or
    even possibly 1.5 years, depending on planning and budgeting season for the
    actual program.

  2. Working
    with over 20 companies and organizations meant great collaboration, but they underestimated
    the time it would take to handle all of the event logistics each week with all
    the partners .
  3. Look a couple of years out for the
    synergy of films in progress, exhibitions, and major community needs around
    which to build an initiative.


Download a summary of the Discovery Place Year of the Engineer program.

For more information about the program, contact Joanie Philipp, Discovery Place Chief Operating Officer, at