Marge Bardeen, Fermilab education and outreach pioneer, retires

Marge Bardeen

Few individuals in the history of Fermilab have done more to build its education and outreach programs than Marge Bardeen, who has worked on K-12 education services at the lab since 1982. After decades of building the Fermilab Office of Education and Public Outreach as the esteemed STEM education engine that it is today — highly regarded by school teachers throughout Chicagoland, Illinois and beyond — Bardeen is retiring. Her last day is Feb. 1.

Bardeen was the president of the Glenbard School Board when former Fermilab director Leon Lederman and Stanka Jovanovic, a research chemist at Argonne National Laboratory, asked her to join them in establishing a nonprofit organization to support programs for K-12 teachers. In 1982, the 501(c)3 organization, which was later named Fermilab Friends for Science Education, was born. Bardeen, Jovanovic and Lederman began writing proposals to fund a summer institute for high school science teachers. The four-week program ran for the first time in 1983.

Between 1983 and 1989, Fermilab Friends for Science Education raised $1.7 million toward educational programs. In 1989 Lederman created the Fermilab Education Office. Bardeen joined the newly established department — and the laboratory as a permanent employee — as program manager.

As program manager, Bardeen organized the lab’s program needs assessments. She worked with both educators and physicists to design and conduct the programs, of which there were 30 during her tenure. She also helped write grants for funding, working as principal investigator on National Science Foundation grants to a group of 10 DOE laboratories, and she conducted annual surveys of DOE K-12 programs at participating facilities.

One highly visible and concrete result of her work was the establishment of the Lederman Science Center, which would be a home base for the lab’s education programs.

“We worked with the architects to design a building that met ideas contributed in a community needs assessment and Bob Wilson’s vision,” Bardeen said, referring to Fermilab’s founding director.

In 1996, Bardeen took over from Jovanovic as Education Office manager, taking the lead in the laboratory’s public education and outreach efforts. She assumed the reins of responsibility in making lab resources available to engage teachers, students and families in STEM explorations.

“Marge was always focused on students and how we get students engaged in particle physics,” said Spencer Pasero, current manager of the Fermilab Office of Education and Public Outreach. “She understands that the way to get students involved is to engage teachers, and she always asked teachers what they needed and how we could help them with their work.”

She also helped develop and run the popular public-tour program, which brings thousands of visitors to the lab every year.

In 2015, Bardeen handed over the manager position to Pasero, but she didn’t stop advocating for science education.

She continues as co-principal investigator for the national QuarkNet collaboration, an NSF-funded partnership between Fermilab and the University of Notre Dame that helps bring real research experience to the high school science classroom. As co-PI — a position she will hold until September — she oversees the coordination of staff teachers and IT staff to ensure that the program runs smoothly and meets the requirements of the NSF and DOE funders, manages DOE funds, writes grants and reports, and works with outside evaluators to assess the program’s impact and improve its activities. She is also one of the faces of QuarkNet, representing the collaboration at conferences and meetings.

Bardeen continues to lead on the global STEM stage as well, specifically as the U.S. representative to the International Particle Physics Outreach Group, a network that aims to bring the excitement of particle physics to the public through informal education and outreach programs.

“She’s really been a tireless advocate for the lab’s involvement in education, connecting students to our work, the work of Fermilab,” Pasero said. “And she’s been just as strong an advocate outside the lab.”

Bardeen says her years at Fermilab were as enjoyable as they were surprising.

“I can’t describe what a joy it has been to work at Fermilab. When Leon and Stanka asked me to help start a K-12 education program, I had no idea where it would take me,” Bardeen said. “I have been all around the world making new friends and colleagues, sharing Fermilab ideas and resources, learning from others.”

Bardeen credits those friends and colleagues, as well as the students and teachers she worked with as an education advocate, with the rich experience of creating and implementing programs that would have a lasting impact on the local and global STEM communities.

“I have fond memories of the directors who have given us so much support and encouragement, going back to Leon [Lederman], of my supervisors Chuck Marofske, Bruce Chrisman, and Kay Van Vreede, and of all the staff who care about sharing their passion for Fermilab science and technology with people, particularly young people and teachers, outside the lab,” Bardeen said. “Although I had opportunities to work in other places, I never once — well, except for 10 months at the SSC! — considered working anywhere else.”

Bardeen plans to “take a deep breath and relax” during retirement. She looks forward to spending more quality time in the garden, and she’ll continue to reach out in the community and, importantly, catch up on all the books she received for Christmas — from last year and this year!

Bardeen and her husband Bill hope to travel this year in Africa — from South Africa to Victoria Falls — with their trusty travel companions Cindy and Carl Albright, a Fermilab visiting scientist. Bardeen has hopes of visiting the Antarctic as well.

“My suitcase is packed and ready to go,” Bardeen said. “Then, I’ll take another breath, and we’ll see what comes my way.”

Everyone is invited to celebrate Bardeen’s decades of service to Fermilab on Wednesday, Jan. 31, from 3-5:30 p.m. in Lederman Science Center. Come by and wish her well.