Kids Explore STEAM Careers with HMNS Outreach

Inspiring a child takes effort, time, passion and heart. It’s why we do what we do.

At the Houston Museum of Natural Science, discoveries are made daily. The sounds of learning fill our hallways every day, from the gasp of wonder from a kid stepping onto the Morian Overlook for the first time or the squeal of delight as a butterfly in the Cockrell Butterfly Center rests on a child’s shoulder. Those sounds are all the evidence we need to know we are upholding HMNS’ mission, its commitment to education.

For the kids that may not be able to get to the museum, there is HMNS Outreach. Our variety of programs brings HMNS straight to the community, visiting hundreds of schools and organizations each year and reaching more than 100,000 children in 2015 alone. The ultimate goal is to instill in these kids a love of learning that will carry them to new heights in their careers and throughout their lives.

Here are some of the many STEAM careers that HMNS Outreach can inspire a child to reach for.


The TOTAL Wildlife On Wheels offers an extraordinary look at animals of all kinds. Students get an up close and personal encounter with wildlife ranging from snakes and frogs to birds and mammals.

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Students in Turner High School’s Vet Tech program observe the wing of a Ringneck Dove, which travels as part of the TOTAL Wildlife On Wheels Vertebrates program.

Forensic Scientist

A presentation of Cleanup Crew from the Bugs On Wheels program will cover the process of decomposition and the return of vital elements to the Earth. These principles of decomposition are crucial to forensic scientists, who use arthropods and fungi to study crime scenes and gather more information.


Entomologist Erin Mills shows off a Giant African Millipede during a presentation of the Bugs On Wheels program Cleanup Crew.


Body Works is our newest set of programs in the Science Start family, and these presentations focus on the anatomy and capabilities of the human body. From the brain to the heart to the skeleton, each of these presentations will provide students with a comprehensive overview of what we can do with what we’ve got.



A Chevron Earth Science On Wheels program like Know Your Rocks is immensely useful for future careers in Geology. A students’ knowledge of the rock cycle and the differences between different types of rocks and fuels can be vital in fields such as the energy industry.


A student discusses the properties of two different specimens with his classmates during a presentation of Know Your Rocks.


A visit from the HMNS Discovery Dome includes more than 40 different shows about a range of topics, including a classic planetarium show, The Starry Night. One of today’s kids could discover a new planet, a galaxy, or even a black hole, and the Dome provides a great foundation for an interest in astronomy.

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Students at Reagan High School file into the Discovery Dome for a screening of Cosmic Collisions, a show narrated by Robert Redford about different outer space encounters between celestial objects.


An interest in foreign cultures can take you all over the world or even back in time. Anthropologists study the history of humanity, and Docents To Go programs such as Native Americans or Ancient Egypt provide students with an introduction to different communities and societies.


Volunteer Bob Joyce shows an arrowhead and arrow used for hunting by Native Americans.


Try a ConocoPhillips Science On Stage program like Cool Chemistry, which discusses different chemical reactions as well as the properties of polymers and liquid nitrogen. It’s a great glimpse into what chemistry is all about!


Educator Carolyn Leap discusses the properties of a polymer during a presentation of Cool Chemistry.


Students at Johnston Middle School have had the opportunity to sketch animals from the museum’s TOTAL Wildlife On Wheels and Bugs On Wheels programs over the years, and they’ve produced some spectacular pieces, like the crocodile skull below.


These are just a few of the many STEAM careers that are natural extensions of the concepts discussed in HMNS Outreach. We are proud to play an important role in the lives of students all over the Houston area and beyond, and we are honored to have the opportunity to inspire the next generation.


A student draws Peanut, a Costa Rican Curly Hair Tarantula, as Peanut cooperatively sits still.

To book HMNS Outreach, email, call us at the number listed on our site, or fill out this form online. We look forward to working with you!

Strong STEM Branches from GEMS: Girls Exploring Math and Science

The Houston Museum of Natural Science, along with the Girls Scouts of San Jacinto Council, cordially invite you to attend the Girls Exploring Math and Science event, Feb. 20 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. GEMS is a free event for members and is included with the purchase of a ticket to the museum’s permanent exhibit halls for non-members. It is open to girls and boys of all ages.GEMS4

Currently, women earn more college and graduate degrees than men, but a gender gap still persists in the fields of science and in higher-level math intensive fields such as engineering. The U.S. Census Bureau statistics place the percentage of women working in fields related to STEM at 7 percent in 1970 and at 23 percent in 1990. There has been little growth since, with an estimate of 26 percent, according to 2011 statistics.

There is plenty of evidence that demonstrates that many girls in elementary school show interest in STEM subjects and may even hold desires for future STEM-related careers. However, there is equal evidence that by fifth grade, interest appears to wane and continues to do so through high school in the general female population. While girls are not alone in this trend as it can be seen in other student demographics, it is troubling.


Keeping girls interested in science and math long-term is a broad-spectrum problem with no easy solution. However, there are a number of curative steps that can be implemented to recoup interest in STEM subjects. Increasing the visibility of female role models in math and science is one important step. This helps girls envision themselves in such fields. HMNS and the GEMS program capitalizes on this idea by incorporating young and enthusiastic female role models with whom girls can interact.

In addition, during GEMS, the museum is packed with hands-on science and math opportunities, community booths, and other science professionals. Children and adults can take their time to fully explore the opportunities and careers available in the fields of science and math.


Girls need opportunities and encouragement in a wide range of STEM-related activities not only at school, but also through extracurricular activities such as GEMS. Helping girls to see these fields as exciting, relevant, and viable will take hard work on the part of teachers, parents, community members, and volunteers. I encourage you to take a small step in providing this encouragement to a girl in your life by bringing her to experience GEMS.

Girls Exploring Math and Science 2015


Last Saturday, we celebrated our 10th year of hosting Girls Exploring Math and Science (GEMS) at HMNS! Despite the questionable weather, we had a spectacular turnout! From underwater robots to photobooths, we had it all.


The GEMS event includes two sections – community booths and student booths. Our community booths are hosted by local STEM organizations. They present STEM activities or demonstrations to young students and they talk about how they got their STEM careers. This year, the Subsea Tiebeck Foundation brought an exhibit called SEATIGER. It’s a giant tank containing an underwater ROV (Remotely Operated Vehicle) for students to learn about how STEM is involved with the offshore and subsea industries. GEMS also included fault line activities, polymer demonstrations, and astronaut dexterity challenges from some of our other community booths!


In addition, GEMS hosts student booths. As a student booth, students present a project relating to science, technology, engineering or math to peers as well as adults. Every year we award the top three projects with prize money for their school, club or Girl Scout troop. This year we had some exceptional projects! Third place went to Girl Scout Troop 17492 for their project, The Human Battery. Like true scientists, these fourth grade girls had to reconstruct their experiment after their first attempt failed. Luckily, they reconstructed their experiment, and found an alternative way to power a battery using lemons instead! The second place team was another group of Girl Scouts, Troop 126005. Their project, POP! The Power of Programming, examined the intricacies of computer programming and each of the girls designed their own small program too! First place went to Jersey Voltage, the Jersey Village High School Robotics team. The team built a robot that could throw a ball, and they demonstrated their robots talent by playing catch with some GEMS participants! They plan to use their winnings to take their robot to a robotics competition in Texas or Louisiana!


We hope that everyone that joined us at GEMS 2015 had a great time! If you took some photos in our smilebooth, you can see them here!

Join us at GEMS next year on Saturday, February 20, 2016!!

STEM & GEMS: CB&I’s Katie Balko engineers her future

Editor’s Note: As part of our annual GEMS (Girls Exploring Math and Science) program, we conduct interviews with women who have pursued careers in science, technology, engineering, or math. This week, we’re featuring Katie Balko, Process Engineer at CB&I.HMNS: How old were you when you first became interested in science, technology, engineering, or math?
Balko: Growing up, I switched what I wanted to be when I grew up almost every year. I wanted to be a teacher, then I read a book on dolphins and wanted to be a marine biologist. I liked to draw and decided I was going to be like my favorite author and write and illustrate my own books.

Math had always come easy for me. And after reading another book in high school, I decided I was going to be a physical therapist. All that changed when I took a chemistry class. I loved it. Even though I was already accepted to college for physical therapy, I decided to take a chance and on the last day of admissions, I applied to another college for chemical engineering and got in. I took my love of chemistry with the fact that I was good at math and found the right degree for me in engineering.

HMNS: Was there a specific person or event that inspired you when you were younger?
Balko: My chemistry teacher my senior year of high school really helped me realize that I liked chemistry. She worked with me on what would be tested in college and prepared me for what the classes would be like. It was hard, I studied every night, but it paid off in the long run.

HMNS: What was your favorite class when you were in school?
Balko: My favorite class (and lab) was Organic Chemistry. It is most people’s least favorite and I understand why. It’s tough. It was tough for me, too, but I also saw it as a puzzle with a specific set of rules. When I thought in terms of a puzzle, it made it easier. The lab was also cool because you were making things you see and hear about every day — like separating out caffeine.

HMNS: What is your current job? How does this relate to science, technology, engineering, or math?
Balko: Right now, I am process (chemical) engineer at CB&I, an engineering and construction company. I work for their gas processing group. I design plants that take all the “bad things” out of gas so it can be used cleanly.

I have also been switching over into a sales role over the past year. I think it’s important to keep growing in your career and I find this part of the business interesting. I also want to keep building on my degree as an engineer to do bigger and better things.

HMNS: What’s the best part of your job?
Balko: I joined on as a rotational engineer, so I got to experience a lot of different jobs in the company from chemical engineering to marketing. Through the different roles, I was able to network with a lot of people. I think the best part is having the opportunity to take a background in engineering and apply it to different roles.

HMNS: What do you like to do in your spare time?
Balko: Last year, I traveled a lot — both for work and for fun! This year looks to be about the same and I love it. I’m not a big movie or TV person but I love to read and to draw. I also like to stay active. I’ve been doing yoga consistently for five years, and last year I started doing CrossFit.

HMNS: What advice would you give to girls interested in pursuing a STEM career? 
Balko: It’s worth it if it interests you. It will be hard, but the rewards are great. Use whatever resources you have. In college, I had a very good study group that helped push me through projects and exams. I utilized all of my teachers’ and TAs’ office hours and even had a tutor who helped get me through a hard math course.

Ask questions and don’t stop learning. Most people want to see you succeed but they won’t know you don’t understand something unless you ask them.

Volunteer. Volunteer to be the project lead in college. It might be scary and hard but you’ll figure it out and learn a lot in the process. Lead your team to help everyone succeed.         

HMNS: Why do you think it’s important for girls to have access to an event like GEMS?
Balko: There are more men than women in STEM careers. Events like GEMS get girls exposed to successful women in math and science, which helps to bring awareness to their potential and knowledge about those careers.

More about Katie Balko:
Katie Balko grew up in a small town about an hour outside of Pittsburgh. She has two younger sisters and a younger brother, and was a Girl Scout for nine years. In high school, she was on the swim, soccer and lacrosse teams. She went to Penn State University where she earned a degree in Chemical Engineering. After graduating, Balko decided to move out of state and found herself in Texas. She has now lived in Houston for six years.

HMC SWE Rosie tattoo

Click this image to go to the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) website.