By Steve Orbanek
Marketing Communications Specialist, Penn State Behrend
Vee Butler was in search of a draw. She needed to find a speaker capable of filling the house.
“I just saw (Bill Nye’s) name and I thought, ‘What do ’90s kids like more than bonding with other ’90s kids about ’90s things?’ It seemed perfect,” said Butler, a junior arts administration major and executive director of the Lion Entertainment Board at Penn State Erie, The Behrend College.
A jam-packed, standing-room only crowd of almost 2,000 squeezed into Junker Center at Penn State Behrend Wednesday evening to watch Nye as part of the college’s Speaker Series. Nye hoped to inspire students to change the world, but it’s clear he’s already done his fair share of inspiring.
It’s been 15 years since a new episode of the PBS television show “Bill Nye the Science Guy” has been produced, but the effects of the show are still evident today.
Sophomore chemistry major Joshua Wilkins said Nye’s show actually inspired him to pursue a science degree. He was more than a little excited when he heard that Nye would be visiting Behrend.
“Ever since I found out he was coming, it’s been in the back of my mind,” Wilkins said. “It’s been a highlight of my year.”
Wilkins said “Bill Nye the Science Guy” is one of his most cherished memories from the sixth grade. He recalled struggling to get through science class, but things always became bearable once the teacher popped a “Bill Nye the Science Guy” tape in the VCR.
“He made science funny. We could all feel his enthusiasm, and he was always the guy we wanted to see because he took us away from the traditional classroom setting,” Wilkins said.
Junior project and supply chain management major Chad Muscarella agreed.
“From his television show to the experiments to the ride at Walt Disney World, I remember it all,” Muscarella said. “He was always making education fun.”
In its five-plus year run on PBS, “Bill Nye the Science Guy” won 18 Emmy Awards and continues to be used in classrooms for educational purposes. An attraction at Walt Disney World’s Future World at Epcot, Universe of Energy, is based on the program. Nye also has written five books under “The Science Guy” moniker.
Zany phrases, wacky experiments and quirky music were par for the course on “Bill Nye the Science Guy,” which is one reason Nye believes it continues to be successful.
“This is an extraordinary claim, and I do not have extraordinary proof of this, but there’s a lot of entertainment there,” Nye said. “The show was information-packed and fun to watch.”
However, even Nye is at a loss for words when he hears of how the show has inspired lives.
“I say all the time that I don’t think I get it,” Nye said. “People come to me and say, ‘You’re the reason I became an engineer. You’re the reason I’m a scientist,’ and I’m like, ‘What?’ It amazes me.”