"We’re in the inspiration business, we spark curiosity and inspire wonder."
- JoAnn Newman CEO and President of the Orlando Science Center
There aren't many museums around the world where visitors are actively encouraged to mess with the displays, figure out how they work, break them and put them back together again. But it's a mantra that the Orlando Science Center live by. JoAnn Newman CEO and President of the Orlando Science Center talks to us about how to create an interactive and immersive experience whilst learning and, of course, having fun.
TTG: Tell us about your day to day role at Orlando Science Center.
JN: Two things that are really important for my role in leading the Science Center are to create a great culture and hire a strong team. We want a culture of inclusivity, where employees love working here, and where they know their input is valued and their voices are heard. It starts with us internally and helps us to be a welcoming and inclusive institution for our entire community. In addition, I work to establish meaningful partnerships that help us be a stronger resource for the community.
TTG: How important is it for OSC to attract and educate the younger audience whilst keeping them inspired? How is OSC achieving this?
JN: Reaching children is at the heart of almost everything we do. It’s so important for our young people to see that science is fun and exciting, and that they have the potential to be STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) professionals someday if they choose to follow that career path.
We believe you can’t start early enough with our children so we offer early childhood workshops where children and their caregivers can learn together, and then there’s our KidsTown exhibit, which is a huge, state-of-the-art space filled with skill-based activities for museum visitors to enjoy.
TTG: What do you see as the mission of OSC going forward and what do you believe you’ve achieved to date since becoming President & CEO?
JN: We’re in the inspiration business, we spark curiosity and inspire wonder. We provide opportunities for people to engage with STEM learning in fun and interactive ways. This is the first step in taking away the fear of science and giving people confidence. In the 9 years I’ve been in this position at OSC, I’ve seen a lot of positive growth and change. We’ve roughly doubled everything – attendance, revenue, and staff. People often ask how we’ve done that, and I believe it starts with a devotion to the quality of the experience.
"International tourists in particular often tell us that they don’t have any place like OSC at home."
- JoAnn Newman
TTG: How has OSC sought to engage with tourists over the years?
JN: What’s great about OSC is that all of our exhibits and experiences are hands-on. No matter where they’re from, visitors learn better through engaging, tactile experiences, and they find these throughout our entire museum – and they have more fun this way! International tourists in particular often tell us that they don’t have any place like OSC at home. They’re not always familiar with the concept of a museum where they are encouraged to touch the exhibits.
TTG: Are there any experiences or stations within OSC that people automatically gravitate towards, what are these and why?
JN: Families with young children tend to spend a lot of time enjoying KidsTown because all of the experiences in that space are designed specifically for children aged seven and under. Whether they’re playing out the journey of Florida oranges from tree to table; building physical strength and monitoring their heart rate in our state-of-the-art climbing area; or diving deep into fun table-top experiments in the studio, children can spend hours in KidsTown and never run out of things to discover.
Older children, teens and adults usually love Kinetic Zone because of the energy and motion they find in action there. Some of the popular activities in Kinetic Zone are building a contraption to travel along a zip line and designing a roller coaster model out of pipes. We also have simulators in Kinetic Zone so guests can see what it’s like to drive a race car or fly a plane.
TTG: What can people expect from the events that you offer?
JN: Events at Orlando Science Center are exciting, colourful and definitely unique. We always try to relate our events to science, even if our guests wouldn’t expect it at first. One example is an event called Science of Wine, which is a food and wine event to benefit the Science Center. Guests love sampling 150 different wines and food from more than 30 restaurants around Orlando.
Our biggest event of the year is Otronicon, which is a four-day interactive tech event open to the public and visitors of all ages. Many of our exhibitors are leaders in technological industries, like Disney, NASA, Lockheed Martin and Microsoft, and they let everyone try out their latest products first-hand. A couple of examples of new experiences at Otronicon this year were a virtual reality ride on a new roller coaster at Walt Disney World that hasn’t even been built yet, and an opportunity for visitors to practice flying drones in a special drone challenge.
"Flight Lab uses virtual reality headsets to immerse you in a real flying scenario."
- JoAnn Newman
TTG: What’s your favourite exhibit at Orlando Science Center?
JN: We opened a new experience earlier this year that I really love called Flight Lab. Flight Lab uses virtual reality headsets to immerse you in a real flying scenario. It requires teamwork and problem solving to complete your mission. Flight Lab appeals to older audiences, like teens and adults, with something that is fun and challenging.
TTG: Are there any upcoming events or experiences in 2018 that you are particularly looking forward to?
JN: We’re always looking for ways to improve the experience for our visitors so we have a lot of exciting things coming up this year. Construction is already underway for The Hive, our new makerspace, which will be opening this spring. Members of the public can visit The Hive to learn how to use tools like 3D printers, laser cutters, sewing machines and lots more.
Summer is our busiest season at OSC so we always want to provide a lot of engaging content during that time. Our summer traveling exhibit is Hall of Heroes, which focuses on superheroes, gadgets and gizmos and lets guests explore their own superpowers. We’ll also have extended hours on select nights this summer so that guests can stay late at the museum and stargaze in our observatory.
TTG: Orlando alone has such a huge variety of family attractions, what makes Orlando Science Center stand out from the other attractions available?
JN: A day at Orlando Science Center is unique because you will learn as you play! We have something for visitors of all ages to enjoy, whether you’re here with the family, on a date, or even as a solo traveller.
But, most importantly, we’re a non-profit organisation on a mission. Our goal on a daily basis is to provide educational experiences that will inspire our guests to pursue their interests in STEM, to open doors to scientific inquiry that they’ve never thought about before. As we reach more individuals through this mission, we aim for the long-term impact of strengthening our community and improving our world. The skills in critical thinking, problem solving, teamwork and creativity that we encourage through hands-on engagement with our exhibits are essential for success not just in STEM careers, but in all walks of life.
TTG: What advice would give someone who is visiting Orlando for the very first time, what would you tell him or her to see/do/eat?
JN: You can’t go to Orlando without visiting our world-class attractions, but take some time to enjoy the “other” side of Orlando and explore our arts & culture scene. I’d recommend going to see an indie movie at the Enzian, or check out the galleries at Orlando Museum of Art or Mennello Museum of American Art. If you like theatre and music, catch a show at The Orlando Repertory Theatre or the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts. For nature lovers, visit Leu Gardens not too far from OSC to see what’s in bloom, or walk around Lake Eola Park in downtown Orlando to see swans, ducks, and outdoor art.
Of course, you can’t forget the food in Orlando. We have an up and coming foodie scene. Some of my favourite casual places to eat are right near the Science Center in the Mills 50 neighbourhood, like Pig Floyd’s Urban Barbakoa, Santiago’s Bodega or Shin Jung Korean Restaurant. When I want to relax with a cup of coffee, I head to Bikes, Beans & Bordeaux in nearby Audubon Park, or I can walk to Downtown Credo from the Science Center.