In just a few years, the Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) has gone from being millions of dollars in debt to being financially sustainable, operating in the black.
The turnaround of the North Tampa organization has come under the new leadership of Julian McKenzie, who was promoted as museum CEO in 2017, after serving less than a year as its CFO.
The museum leader led a restructuring effort that saw the organization downsize its East Fowler Avenue campus from 300,000 square feet to about 55,000 square feet, while trimming just about 10% of overall exhibit space.
“The big issue for MOSI was it was trying to be too much for too many people,” McKenzie said, during a recent North Tampa Bay Chamber of Commerce breakfast meeting.
Museum leadership had to reconfigure its “core competencies and core values,” the CEO added, during the session, at Pasco-Hernando State College’s Porter Campus in Wesley Chapel.
That has meant a shift toward a greater focus on community outreach — a mission of spreading more science education in schools and other youth organizations like the Boys & Girls Club, and Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, McKenzie said.
It’s entailed a renovated learning center on campus to host homeschooled children and summer camps, as well as a mobile science lab that features interactive STEAM workshops and assemblies. Another new program, in partnership with the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, allows youth get to build a robot with the help of a police office, “so that it kind of demystifies the role of law enforcement,” McKenzie said.
“For me, outreach is essential,” the speaker said. “There is no reason why a kid in Dade City cannot benefit from the same level of science education as a kid from Temple Terrace.”
MOSI reopened in November 2017 following a three-month renovation.
Since then, the venue has hosted about 70,000 children through school field trips, and has reached another 55,000 through its mobile outreach program, McKenzie said.
Roughly 50% of children lose interest in science by eighth grade, he said.
He believes MOSI’s outreach efforts can change that.
The museum executive detailed how one of his colleagues is a first-generation immigrant whose parents don’t speak English, but a MOSI youth summer camp sparked interest in volunteering at the museum and then going on to college.
There are “dozens of other examples” of people who caught the science bug on a MOSI field trip or visit and are now leading engineers at institutions like Georgia Tech “and some other fancy universities,” McKenzie said.
He also told those gathered at the chamber breakfast that there’s a correlation among cities with “very, very strong science centers that are very involved in the local community” to high-paying jobs and high average median salaries in those particular communities.
McKenzie also shared a story about a Temple Terrace-based school where science pass rates were just 14%. After MOSI implemented outreach programs at the school, those rates rose to 48%, he said.
“I don’t want to fault the teachers, but it’s the foundation that is missing, and what we at MOSI are good at doing is building a strong foundation in science education for those kids.”
He continued, “We have the expertise in-house, and so what we’re pushing is the expertise that we have accumulated and track record that we’ve had in doing so. The results we have at that one school are systematic of what MOSI can have.”
McKenzie outlined MOSI’s next “ambitious plan” is to host education outreach days to all schools in the following area counties — DeSoto, Hardee, Hillsborough, Hernando, Pasco and Pinellas. Put another way, he believes MOSI “can reach 221,000 kids and really make a difference.”
The museum also has launched an outreach program to serve at-risk youth at various juvenile detention centers in the area.
“If we can light that spark and do something that they change their way of life — or they have something to focus on — then I think we have really achieved our objective,” McKenzie said.
“It kind of dawned on me, that was an area of the community that we’re not touching,” he said. “But, they are the kids that, in my opinion, are the most in need.”
Meanwhile, McKenzie said museum leadership has worked to boost visitor experience with more hands-on, functional exhibits on polymers, DNA, rockets, robots and astronomy, as well as establishing an art factory with a resident artist.
And, the museum isn’t just for kids.
The venue has introduced “Science After Dark” allowing adults to tour the facility with light appetizers, and beer and wine samplings. The next event is scheduled for April 6 at 6 p.m.
The museum also plays host to STEM networking, corporate teambuilding and events geared toward seniors. “We’re trying to have that balance,” McKenzie said of serving various community segments.
As for other plans, McKenzie pitched the possibility of changing the name to “Museum of Science and Innovation,” and developing an exhibit to showcase the region’s most innovative technology companies. “It’s part of our strategic review we’re going through,” he said of the name change proposal.
McKenzie, too, addressed rumors of MOSI getting moved to downtown Tampa, so Hillsborough County can redevelop the present site: “As you all know, anything to do with government takes decades, so I’m not too worried about it. We’re doing well, we’re thriving where we’re at, and that’s where I want us to stay, moving forward and impacting kids as we’re there.”
He also said this: “Before I joined (MOSI), I thought, ‘What the heck am I getting myself into?,’ and I look at it today, and I’m very happy to say it has completely turned around and the institution is very, very strong right now.”
Published March 11, 2020