Igniting Curiosity: HipHop MD combines a passion for science and performance

Maynard Okereke was one of those kids who was always outside exploring nature.

“We had a really cool pond near our house. I used to be exploring this with some of my neighborhood buddies. We used to catch frogs and snakes and all kinds of different things, and I just loved being outdoors and being invested in ecosystems and environments.”

At the same time, Maynard loved to perform. He has been performing as an entertainer since elementary school and had a passion for being in front of the camera and entertaining. “I’ve always been that person that whenever there was a talent show, whenever there was an opportunity to be on stage, that was me performing there.”

Maynard combined his two passions to create Hip Hop Science Platform.

“I had my artistic side, having fun, performing and making creative content. And then I had my science side, which was learning and just being immersed in nature and all the STEM fields, and hip-hop science was this combination of the two. It was me, this crazy, weird scientist who was interested in all sorts of things: fashion, dancing, entertainment. And that was great for me because it was finally a way for me to be able to express my true, authentic self and really immerse myself in all these different areas that I loved to do.”

Maynard now works as a science communicator through Hip Hop Science, with the goal of encouraging greater participation of minorities and youth in STEM fields by using music, entertainment and comedy to teach.

It presents science in an understandable way that youngsters can understand, that adults can relate to, and that shows how it applies to our everyday lives so that we don’t see science as a distant field.

“To be able to bridge that gap between fun and science is a really unique way to be able to educate because we all consume different entertainment on a regular basis, whether it’s our favorite musicians, music stations we listen to, music videos we watch, movies we go to and watch, different things happen in pop culture, different trends, fashion, dance. Our youth are really connected to them, especially now with social media and TikTok videos and funny videos and comedy and all these different things.”

The whole week Wisconsin Science Festival – running from 10 to 16 October – is a fantastic opportunity to unleash your curiosity and discover how science relates to our everyday lives.

The festival celebrates science in Wisconsin communities with lots of free activities for young, old and everyone in between. All are welcome to stop by and explore dozens of offerings, including hands-on activities, talks with scientists and authors, films, performances, nature hikes, virtual programs, take-home science kits, and more.

Maynard works to spark curiosity and excitement and encourages more participation in STEM because, “We need all of our voices. We need all of us to be represented to bring new ideas and challenge new ways of thinking and help guide us into the future. You must have diverse participation if you want to grow and develop and thrive as a civilization.

“And think about the STEM fields,” says Maynard. “These are all areas that dominate the core areas that help us survive, help us thrive and help us grow. Our youth can be participants in changing and reshaping our future with the opportunities available to them in STEM.”

Each year, the Wisconsin Science Festival highlights a specific aspect of STEM and the world around us. This year, to mark the International Year of Glass, we’re focusing on glass and the many ways it influences science, art and technology.

Glass can help us see new perspectives, improve our communication, and further explore our world and beyond. Whether we’re looking at something too small or far away to see with our human eyes, or using technology (like a smartphone or the computer monitor you’re reading this on), chances are glass is involved.

One of the Wisconsin Science Festival events focused on glass is Kiss my cup, held from 6:30pm to 10pm on Tuesday, October 11, at the High Noon Saloon. Maynard will moderate the fast-paced Big Ideas for Busy People, featuring five-minute flash talks on various aspects of glass from some of UW-Madison’s greatest minds. The big ideas will be followed by talks from a few of our favorite nerds at Nerd Nite. In addition, the evening includes hands-on activities, audience Q&As, fluorescent cocktails, awards and more.

“It’s going to be a really fun event because sparking curiosity is something I love to do and I think it’s important for us to do that as adults and find ways to learn new things and be able to connect with others who scientific fields are also interested,” says Maynard.

Maynard will also speak to youth during tours of the Discovery Building. He will share his story and how he got into science and science communication. “I’ll probably talk a little bit about my sea trip, my zero-gravity flight that I’ve been on, and some other fun science expeditions, hopefully to get them excited and curious and intrigued about some of the opportunities available to them in the STEM fields .”

The advice Maynard has for today’s youth is something everyone is invited to do at the Wisconsin Science Festival and beyond: “Stay curious.”

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