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Miami Science Museum: Preparing the next generation, inspiring innovation

By Gillian Thomas

Gillian ThomasA recent Brookings Institute study showed that Miami ranked 81st out of 100 large metro areas in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) careers.  With the growing importance of these sectors in mind, key local organizations have taken note of the need for a multi-faceted approach to improving this statistic. There are a wide range of efforts taking place by organizations across different sectors, including Miami-Dade County Public Schools, local universities, start-up incubators and accelerators, and private sector initiatives such as Manny Medina’s eMerge Americas conference. The Miami Science Museum is proud to be a part of this network, working to make technology understandable, accessible and enjoyable for the entire community. All of these endeavors, combined with Miami’s innate sense of entrepreneurialism and the growth of the arts (Art Basel, etc.), have fueled a sense of excitement that Miami could one day be the "silicon beach" of the United States and Latin America.

In order for Miami to be successful at developing strong science and technology sectors, we have to work to prepare youth for the jobs of the future.  According to the US Department of Labor, 65% of today’s grade school kids will work at a job that has not been invented yet. It may seem hard to imagine, but those of us who grew up without cell phones and the internet would have never imagined having these technologies as adults, much less working in these fields. Being successful in today’s world and even more so in the future involves creativity, innovation, and knowledge beyond a specific career track. Math, science and technology develop critical thinking skills applicable at all levels. These fields also help develop entrepreneurial skills that are an asset at any level, big or small.

IMG_1540The Miami Science Museum inspires creativity through immersive experiences and mentorship opportunities for children, teens and adults. The Museum’s Upward Bound program (pictured here and below) is preparing low-income, first-generation college bound students for postsecondary study in science, math, and technology related fields.  The program has been an ongoing success, with high school graduation rate for participants for 2007-2011 at 98% as compared to an average of 57% at the target schools-- with 67% of graduates selecting a STEM major. The Best Buy Teen Tech Center, recently opened at the museum, exposes the community's teens to technology while providing them quality interaction with skilled professionals. This summer, in partnership with the University of Miami, the Museum will host the GROOVE program for middle school girls focused on nutrition and physical activity, to counteract the development of unhealthy habits and inspire a new generation of health professionals.  We’re also helping connect the public with real scientific tools and capitalizing on our strong partnerships to expand our reach.  Within the next couple of weeks, we’re partnering with the Smithsonian to co-lead an online conference session on astrophotography, available to all via the internet.

The new Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science at Museum Park will build upon the foundation built thus far by the Museum. A central part of the new facility will be The Innovation Center, a dynamic place that will include 10,000 square feet of exhibits, program space, and showcase galleries to foster creativity, encourage entrepreneurialism, and bring the innovation community together. Among programming offered will be exhibitions to encourage people to explore their creative mindset, makers’ spaces to develop their innovative skills, and presentations of new products and processes.

As a key provider of out-of-school education for all ages, the Miami Science Museum, with its partners, has a crucial role to help create a vibrant and sustainable economy, firmly fixed locally, but with a global focus. Although there is still work to be done towards this goal, the future is bright for Miami. Science’s significant role at Museum Park, in the heart of the city’s burgeoning cultural sector, demonstrates where Miami is heading – a growing international creative city of the future, built on a foundation of arts and science learning.

Gillian Thomas is President and CEO of the Miami Science Museum, which will open its doors as the new Patricia and Philip Frost Museum of Science at Museum Park in 2015.

 Students dissect squid as part of the Upward Bound program at the Miami Science Museum.