The Noyce Foundation (Palo Alto, CA) created the Bright Lights initiative to recognize U.S. science centers, children's museums, and natural history museums that have done an outstanding job of systemic engagement with their local communities. Of particular interest were outreach efforts that included science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM). Ninety-four museums submitted applications. After three intensive rounds of judging by fifteen expert judges, only seven museums were selected as truly exceptional for the depth, breadth, and impact of their community outreach work. The goal of the Bright Lights Award was to discover and shine a light on those willing to embrace their communities in new and profound ways.
The Noyce Foundation explained their selection of Explora as a winner as follows, "Explora reached out to every community-based organization they could find to explore what they could achieve together as partners. The result is the discovery of atypical science center partners, and a significant increase in families and underserved populations finding a home and sense of belonging in the science center." Explora's Community Partner Membership Program disseminates no-cost family memberships to Explora through partner nonprofits, social service organizations, and Title I schools. Currently, over 10,500 families from more than 50 organizations Community Partner Memberships.
Besides the Community Partner Membership Program, Explora's recent community engagement initiatives have included community listening sessions with several groups around the city and new projects co-developed with partners. For example, Explora, Partnership for Community Action, and Sandia National Labs have collaborated on a new engineering club, facilitated in Spanish, for immigrant families in Albuquerque's South Valley. Explora and the NM Autism Society are working together to develop support materials that families with children on the autism spectrum can use when they visit Explora. These are examples of why Explora is viewed nationally as a Bright Light, working systemically with community partners to address serious community conditions.
Other Bright Lights Award recipients are: Hands On Children's Museum in Olympia, WA; Science Museum of Minnesota in St. Paul, MN; Monterey Bay Aquarium in Monterey, CA; Museum of Science and Industry in Tampa, FL; The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, PA; and the Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose, CA.