The Nerdery - Overnight Website Challenge

Chicago 2012, November 17-18

Illinois Science Council

The Illinois Science Council (ISC) is an independent, volunteer-driven 501c3 organization that educates, engages and entertains the adult public about science and technology in our everyday lives. We are inspired and motivated by this Carl Sagan quote: "We live in a society that is exquisitely dependent on science and technology, in which hardly anyone knows anything about science and technology."

ISC offers a wide variety of programs designed to bring STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) subjects to the “layperson.” We strive to create engaging programs in casual settings where scientists discuss work that is interesting, important and worthy of support, thereby allowing adults to cultivate their innate curiosity about topics in science and technology. Some examples include: the “Chemistry for Grown-ups” series featuring hands-on chemistry programs about chocolate, beer, whiskey, coffee, cosmetics and honey; the “Your Brain on...” series featuring talks about the brain and happiness, memory, addiction, creativity, and the neuroscience of love and sex; film screenings of science documentaries with panel discussions; and, science author talks. Programs address all areas of science – from astronomy to zoology and everything in between, and are offered free or at low cost.

We showcase the scientists and research of the Chicago-area institutions and companies that make Chicago the nation's true "City of Science." In addition to our own programs, we promote science outreach programs of other area institutions helping raise public awareness of the extraordinary amount of science research done in this region. It’s about making science and technology a more common part of general social discourse, making all of us – students, educators, parents, elected officials, professionals in all fields – better citizens, consumers, voters, and generally more well-rounded people!

What new functionality we are looking for

We are significantly limited in expanding our community, providing helpful resources to them and promoting our programs, because we cannot currently make changes to our site quickly and easily. There’s a wide array of functions and features that would be terrific add-ons to ISC’s site (and we’re open to all suggestions), but the fantasy wish list here is focused down to those that would have the greatest impact immediately for our work.

The clear top priority for our site’s functionality is a user interface that allows our non-technical staff and board members to update the site on a regular basis. Our second priority is an event calendar feature. Since our work is so heavily event-based, it’s an embarrassing failure on our part to not have an attractive, user-friendly calendar listing ISC events and relevant programs of other organizations. As a struggling start-up, we would benefit tremendously from improvements to the donor solicitation and volunteer recruitment elements of the site too. Finally, better linkages to our growing social media efforts, along with design and content maximized for SEO would be appreciated but are not as critical.

How the new functionality will help

ISC has developed an impressive track record to date and has great potential for tremendous growth as an organization. However, we’re severely hampered at this stage by our website’s limitations, and the inability of our non-technical staff and volunteers to make even the most basic updates. If we could make simple changes to our site, there are two immediate examples of pages with information we want to offer our audience(s) -- one for lay people who are interested in getting involved in citizen science projects, and one for scientists interested in doing outreach. We have the information, but need the pages and the ability to update them continually as we find new helpful information. These two elements would be of tremendous value to us in (1) recruiting volunteers, because we can show them other ways of being engaged with science beyond attending programs; and (2) recruiting scientists who want to do outreach but don’t know how or where to start.

Including a calendar of events feature on the website, along with the two pages mentioned, will help us immediately ramp up our development efforts. We can broaden our fundraising strategy to pursue more corporate and foundation sources of support, in addition to individual donors, because we can demonstrate the range of our programming and the value we provide to both our audience and to scientists apart from live programs. The additional features, such as volunteer recruitment and social media interface, will produce greater synergies for our outreach and expand our ability to offer more and better programming. Any and all of these site improvements will definitively increase our daily productivity many times over.

How our organization will use the technology

Who will use the technology

16 Messages from Supporters

2012-10-22 16:14:12 UTC

The Illinois Science Council (ISC) is doing a great job in connecting the dots for non-scientists about the way science impacts our daily lives. The programs are fun, engaging and fill a need in the community that connects to the curiosity in each of us. ISC does this with limited resources, thanks largely to the limitless dedication of its founder. ISC's programs and events are making a difference! Enhancing their web capacity would be an important next step in having ISC fulfill its mission. Good luck!

2012-10-21 22:00:51 UTC
William Harms, Chicago Science Writers

The Illinois Science Council has raised awareness about the role of science in society in the Chicago area and also provides wonderful leadership for the community of people, both scientists and non-scientists who are interested in supporting science. The Illinois Science Council helps people understand the role science plays in supporting the growth of the region, but also stays true to an appreciation of the role scientists play as discovers of new insights that improve our understanding the natural world around us. Chicago is a vibrant, exciting place to be a scientist and a wonderful place for people who are interested in science to follow the developments of this research community. Without the Illinois Science Council, the vibrant connection would not exist. The Council's web place is a perfect place to post news and list events of interest that bring people together around the topics of scientific discovery.

2012-10-22 02:18:05 UTC
Eleanor Taylor

The Illinois Science Council is a vital organization for the region. Providing programs for adults in a fun and engaging way is so important to understanding the world around us. A new website for the Illinois Science Council would be critical to helping raise the visibility of the organization and its programs as well as other related events. The Illinois Science Council is dedicated to raising awareness and promoting scientific literacy to help promote economic competitiveness and distinguish the competitive advantage science brings to the Chicago area.

A new website would provide a solid foundation for volunteers to reach more participants in an easy and efficient way. IT would also help the Illinois Science Council become more effective and have a greater impact in the community at large.

Based on the Illinois Science Council's mission and vision it seems like it would be a perfect compliment for the Nerdery! We need your help. Chicago will be better for it.

Thank you.

2012-10-22 03:03:53 UTC

Whether touring Argonne labs, discussing "Your Brain on Cubs", or discovering the truth about forensic science, the Illinois Science Council has exposed me to science in a way that is interesting, educational and just fun. This group is creating a new, exciting model for how we, the public, can connect with Chicago’s world-class science community. I have been surprised how personally beneficial my involvement with ISC has been.

Good luck, ISC. I hope you win so more people can experience the great work you do!

2012-10-22 04:27:18 UTC
Eileen McKeough

I admire the Illinois Science Council's success in offering many wonderful, interesting, creative programs which promote adult science education. As an all-volunteer organization it has been successful in engaging energetic, passionate participants to share and expand its vision and programming. Through creative programs, such as the "Your Brain on..." series, and unique opportunities, such as the widely attended lake front meteor shower viewing this summer, ISC has built a following and engaged Chicagoans in the joys of expanding their scientific knowledge.
Enabling ISC to further refine its website would strengthen its ability to share its mission and would enable the Chicago community to more readily know about and participate in ISC sponsored events.

2012-10-22 14:13:25 UTC
Audrey Fischer


Illinois Science Council does a great job of finding fun, free or inexpensive ways to introduce the general public to science in creative ways. ISC has always shown a welcoming atmosphere to other non-for-profits by being helpful and willing to network, offer advise and assistance -- all in the name of promoting science outreach to the general public. This is especially welcomed in this day & age of science illiteracy... and an economy when it is getting harder and harder to find volunteers. So, THANKS volunteers of THE NERDERY! WE APPRECIATE YOU AND YOUR EFFORTS!!

Audrey Fischer
Chicago Astronomical Society, director
One Star at a Time/ Global StarPark Network, founder/Co-chair

2012-10-22 14:43:10 UTC
Barbara Power

The Illinois Science Council is a unique organization, making science accessible -- and fun -- for adults while taking advantage of the many resources Chicago has to offer. Unlike the arts, which offer a variety of engagement opportunities for music, theater, photography, art, and writing, science seems to have stepsister status. That situation is changing with the ISC on the scene. A grant from your organization would help the ISC better spread the word about its activities and the rich science programming available in Chicago while continuing its inspiring work.

2012-10-22 16:28:07 UTC
Steven Franconeri, Associate Professor of Psychology, Northwestern University

If you are reading this site, you are probably also frightened by the level of misinformation and irrational thinking in the public understanding of science, e.g. in discussions of climate change. A major reason for this is that once most people finish school and enter adulthood, their exposure to science comes primarily from CNN or Fox.

Illinois Science Council strives to fix that, by keeping adults in contact with science and scientists. They do a stellar job of outputting great content in an engaging way. Take a look at their site, and you'll see top scientists (seriously, they get some big names) presenting on topics like nanotech, biodiversity, evolution, and brain science. I have attended many of their events, and the crowd always leaves with a buzz of enthusiasm for learning about the world around them.

Please help ISC promote science more broadly and efficiently. They have an incredible leadership staff but desperately need a site overhaul. Don't be fooled by the professional-looking front page - the underlying engine needs a major upgrade

2012-10-22 16:59:49 UTC
Scott E. Miller, The Innovation Machine

ISC rocks! Having attended a multitude of non-profit events and also a volunteer organizer for a few, I can say that ISC provides incredible value. The events are interesting, inexpensive, enlightening, and addictive! Their mission is spot on.

With a very limited budget, ISC has been able to pack whatever venue they choose with curious minded, information seeking junkies. At one of the sold out events I attended, people were ready to offer more than face value for an event ticket. This is proof of the tremendous value ISC events provide. A robust site would help get the message out so others can discover this small, spectacular non-profit.

Just please don't tell StubHub...I don't want to see any scalpers outside the next event. ;-)

2012-10-22 18:18:07 UTC
Anne Merritt, ISC Donor and Fan

Illinois Science Council (ISC) fills a critical void by making scientific and technological research and discussion accessible and interesting to the community at large. A new website would enable ISC to take their mission of increasing awareness, appreciation and understanding of science and technology to a broader audience. This is critical for ISC to continue to offer and expand the quality and diversity of programming available. With world-class partners and sponsors, including research and educational institutions and experts, ISC is perfectly positioned as an essential liaison between the the science community and the public. ISC was started as a true grass-roots effort and with passioniate leadership, volunteers and vital partnerships, it has grown to be an indispensable leader in its field. It's exciting to imagine the possibilities that lie ahead for ISC and its beneficiaries (as outlined in the "What we wish our website could do" section) should they win The Nerdery Overnight Website Challenge.

2012-10-23 04:12:09 UTC
Dr. John T. Carlsen - Licensed Clinical Psychologist, Director of The Professional Development Institute

Until I became a fan and supporter of the Illinois Science Council, I had always considered science, techology, engineering, and math (STEM) too complex and intimidating to understand. So, as an adult, I had primarily left them in the hands of "experts". Until, that is, I attended my first ISC workshops on the chemistry of cosmetics and the chemistry of chocolate. Suddenly, I began to appreciate the role of science in my everyday life and discovered a whole new world. The expert presenters used very innovative methods to break through the wall of intimidation and show me that their complex principles had practical applications I could understand - and that I could have fun learning about them. I believe that a website upgrade by The Nerdery could help ISC to bring this kind of breakthrough to a very broad segment of our society - making it easier for adults hear about and register for events, volunteer their time, and provide the financial support needed to grow this important outreach effort. As these subject areas play ever stronger and more pervasive roles in our society, it is imperative that creative organizations like ISC have technologically-sophisticated and effective strategies for engaging adult learners. We all know that having fun makes learning much easier and far more likely to sink in and stay with us. I hope that The Nerdery volunteers will join with the ISC to ensure that they have the technological resources to achieve engage adult learners and provide them with more direct access to the goldmine of science and technological resources across Chicago and the State of Illinois.

2012-10-23 20:13:44 UTC
Eva Montgomery, M.S. Chemistry, MBA, Illinois Science Council Board Member

Parents have a strong influence over which classes and careers their children choose. If parents value science, so will their kids. ISC, is THE only organization I know of that promotes science in fun but very informative way to adults. This is important because until ISC, the only outlets for science events were either geared towards children or geared towards professionals, such as the American Chemical Society. ISC has changed that. The programs we develop are educational and engaging but a science degree is not required to understand the content. This means ANYBODY who is interested can go to the event and leave with some level of knowledge about the subject. We believe the enthusiasm our participants go home with spills over to their friends and family resulting in THEIR appreciation for science and a stronger scientific culture.

2012-10-23 22:06:08 UTC

Until I attended my first ISC program, I was totally intimidated by all things scientific. Now I am almost a nerd. Not quite, but I certainly try to attend many ISC programs, which are always engaging and informative. The ISC e-newsletter is helpful but a website calendar would be so much more timely and useful. We can no longer have the majority of our population sciencephobic. Volunteers of The Nerdery ISC needs you. Please help!

2012-10-23 22:22:25 UTC

ISC does an amazing job of reinvigorating interest in the sciences for the adults in the Chicagoland area. In a city that focuses so heavily on visual, musical, and performing arts, it was so refreshing to learn that an organization like ISC existed. As a working adult (outside of science-related fields), I used to believe the only way to foster my interest in science was through Discovery Channel specials and an occasional museum visit. After attending my first ISC program, I was hooked. The programs are fun, engaging, affordable (or free!) and interactive in ways I thought were not available outside of a classroom. I have been able to meet many people who share a love of science, and like me, look for ways to bolster their enthusiasm for it. ISC has such a universal appeal, and I hope that The Nerdery can recognize what an invaluable addition to the community that this organization is. I think that a partnership The Nerdery would be just what ISC needs to deliver the message to so many Chicagoans and continue providing such a great educational service to the area. ISC IS THE BEST!

2012-10-23 22:39:43 UTC

The isc is awesome. That's all that needs to be said.

2012-10-24 17:00:49 UTC
Brian W.

Aside from the social aspect of the ISC where I've had the opportunity to meet very interesting people, the ISC is a great tool to keep the public engaged in science. It seems that our society has lost its fascination with the fields of mathematics and science. Both of these fields are so important in our future, that revitalizing the belief that they are important is a worthy goal to be achieved. I support the work that the ISC is doing and hope that the Nerdery will help support it in its future endeavors.

Our Mission

The Illinois Science Council is dedicated to increasing awareness, appreciation and understanding of science and technology for all adults as well as children. Our vision is for citizens to feel as comfortable sharing their views, questions and understanding of science-based subjects as they do about arts and culture, and for Chicago to become widely acknowledged as the nation’s leading city of science.