Milken Center reaches all 50 states

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Staff at the Lowell Milken Center are helping to educate teachers and students, not just locally, but across the United States.

After two years in operation, the nonprofit educational center, which is designed to help teachers and students develop historic diversity projects that deal with relevant social issues and teach respect and understanding of all people, has reached classrooms in all 50 states.

This outreach is generally in the form of working with educators and students or parents on history projects concerning unsung heroes. Staff at the center have also worked on projects in 12 countries. Staff do not charge any fees for their assistance with projects.

Norm Conard, the director of the center, said reaching all 50 states was not originally one of the staff's goals when the center began two years ago, but it is "part of our mission."

"I didn't envision that we would be this widespread in what we do," he said. "It's a testimony of perseverance and the efforts of our staff."

Award-winning staff at the center work with teachers through the Internet and also with students in the local community. Staff help teachers and students develop projects in a project-based learning atmosphere, Conard said.

"We're very proud of our staff and what's going on," he said. "It's exciting for so many teachers to contact us."

The center, which is funded by the Milken Family Foundation in California, is the only one of its kind in the U.S., Conard added.

"We're causing learning to occur in classrooms around the country and the world," he said.

Megan Felt, the program director at the center, said she is pleased that the center's mission has had such a widespread impact in such a short time.

"I think it was a dream we hoped we would accomplish, but maybe not within two years," she said.

Projects that Felt and Maria Bahr, an education specialist at the center, have helped coordinate have been recognized on a national basis. Conard has been recognized for his work with history projects the past two decades.

"We're developing stories of unsung heroes, stories that have yet to be told," Felt said.

When the center first opened, staff were working on about four or five projects. There are currently dozens of domestic and international projects in development at the center that keep staff occupied on a daily basis, Conard said.

"Everyday we hear from someone on a project," he said.

Subjects of current projects at the center include Andrew Higgins, the man who designed amphibious LCVP boats during World War II, and American teacher and folklorist John Lomax, who worked to preserve American folk songs. Conard said the center will collaborate next year on events and activities with the Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum in Abilene.

Staff at the center offer different types of services for projects, from fine tuning to critiques, and sometimes help by going through the entire project from start to finish, Felt said.

"It's been really rewarding for me to see students grow and develop their skills that will continue with them for the rest of their lives," she said.

The first state to work with the center was Kansas, which included students from Bourbon County. The most recent state to be reached by the center is South Dakota. Staff have also worked on projects with students and teachers in other countries, including Canada, Ireland, Australia, Italy, Japan, Poland, Germany, Lithuania, the United Kingdom, France, Spain and Colombia.

The center has an exhibit area that is free for viewing by the public.

For more information on the center's activities, call the center at (620) 223-9991, or visit the center's Web site at