Steven Rokusek loves science, something that is evident in every demonstration and every performance as South Dakota’s beloved “Science Steve.” As a teacher, Rokusek enhanced his science classes with “hands-on labs and lively lectures” that included many demonstrations, because he believed these were more beneficial to students than traditional lectures. After many years in the classroom, Rokusek took his passion to South Dakota Public Broadcasting (SDPB). As a SDPB education specialist, he develops resource materials, provides in-service training at schools and, of course, creates high-energy demonstrations.
His “alter ego” came into existence more than 10 years ago, as the Sanford Underground Research Facility (Sanford Lab) prepared to host its first Neutrino Day. SDPB, one of the main drivers behind that first event, had a PBS NOVA grant and was looking for activities for families to do during the event.
“I told my supervisor at the time that I could provide a few interactive science demonstrations,” Rokusek said. “That was the unofficial start of the ‘Science Steve’ performances.”
Rokusek performs at science festivals and other events across the state and has been a mainstay at every Neutrino Day since its inception. His humorous demonstrations bring to life the laws of physics, chemistry, anatomy and more, inspiring future scientists and delighting audiences of all ages.
Video by Nick Hubbard
“I love seeing and hearing the reaction of the audience when they experience a scientific phenomenon for the first time,” Rokusek said. “Science truly is amazing, and I am fortunate to have the opportunity to share my love of science with South Dakotans.”
Rokusek has had many memorable moments as Science Steve. But one stands out above the rest.
“I recently had the privilege of performing science demonstrations for an inspirational young fan who is courageously battling cancer,” Rokusek said, adding the hashtag #fightDerekfight.
His passion for and commitment to science education have earned him many accolades. And this year, Sanford Lab is adding one more to the list: the 2019 CORES Award (Communication OutReach Experiences in Science). Sanford Lab announced the award to coincide with the announcement of the Nobel Prize in Physics.*
“The Sanford Lab is a premier institute known worldwide for its advancement of science,” Rokusek said after learning he was receiving the award. “I am very excited and also humbled that the Sanford Lab has selected me to receive this award.”
The CORES Award is given annually to an individual, group, business or organization that supports Communication and OutReach Experiences in Science within the region. The recipient is selected by a committee that takes into consideration ongoing support of science education—whether through sponsorships or service—a passion for science education and a visible commitment to science outreach in the region.
“Steve fully embodies the qualities we are seeking,” said Constance Walter, Sanford Lab communications director. “His passion for science is infectious, and his commitment to education is commendable. We are very proud to give this award to such a deserving person.”
While the Nobel Prizes will be given at a ceremony in Sweden on Dec. 10, Sanford Lab will give the CORES award at a ceremony during its Nobel Day, which will be held Friday, Dec. 13, at the Sanford Lab Homestake Visitor Center. In 2018, the inaugural year for the CORES Award, Crow Peak Brewing Company, which has sponsored Deep Talks since its inception in 2015, was the recipient.
Rokusek, a native of Tyndall, South Dakota, graduated from Dakota State University with a degree in biology and computer education. He has taught physics, physical science, anatomy, biology, and earth science. Awards include the Golden Apple Award for Teachers, multiple Who's Who Among Teachers Awards, and the Archdiocese of Omaha Teacher of the Year Award. He also received a Regional Emmy Nomination, and is the recipient of the 2019 South Dakota Science Teachers Association Friend of Science Award for his service to the advancement of science education in South Dakota. Steven was honored as the 2019 Dakota State University Distinguished Alumnus.
“We couldn’t be more proud of Steven and the hard work and effort he puts into educational outreach,” said Fritz Miller, director of marketing at SDPB. “He is the definition of passion when it comes to science literacy and understanding.”
*This year’s Nobel Prize in Physics was given for “contributions to our understanding of the evolution of the universe and Earth's place in the cosmos" with one half to James Peebles "for theoretical discoveries in physical cosmology,” the other half jointly to Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz “for the discovery of an exoplanet orbiting a solar-type star.”