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Highlights: The Difference that 126 Days Can Make

Troy A. Thrash
At last week’s quarterly meeting of the Da Vinci Science Center’s Board of Trustees, interim Executive Director and CEO MaryAnn Woods Przekurat gave a short speech titled “If You Miss a Day, You Miss a Lot.” She was referring to the many of the exciting things that can happen at our Center in a matter of hours.

Multiply that idea by 126, and impact on the Center has been rather overwhelming.

The number 126 is pertinent because Monday was the 126th and final day that Bodies Revealed, the world’s most popular museum exhibition, appeared at the Da Vinci Science Center.

As one would expect, the world around the Center experienced many big events and changes since Bodies Revealed opened on Oct. 6, 2012. On that opening day, a growing number of people thought that Mitt Romney would now be the President of the United States, Nemo was a cartoon fish, the idea of a Pope resigning conjured comparisons with bad movies, the most famous Sandy in the world was perhaps Hall of Fame baseball pitcher Sandy Koufax, and most Americans had never heard of a place called Newtown and had a couple more shreds of its already tattered innocence.

The much smaller world of the Da Vinci Science Center also saw its share of dramatic changes in these 126 days. Some were hoped for, some exceeded expectations, and some were complete surprises.

For instance, it is likely that few, if any, current staff members knew on Oct. 6, 2012, what an Air Zoo was, or that one existed for some reason near Kalamazoo, Mich. They certainly did not know that this Air Zoo would bring dramatic and fairly rapid change when Da Vinci Science Center CEO Troy A. Thrash transitioned in Jan. 2013 to become Air Zoo’s President and CEO. MaryAnn Przekurat certainly could not have guessed on Oct. 6, 2012, that she would be standing at the helm when Bodies Revealed closed. What is no surprise, though, is that she has done a tremendous job in keeping the momentum going under somewhat surreal conditions.

Something else that seemed surreal on Oct. 6, 2012, was the idea of the Da Vinci Science Center welcoming more than 1,000 paid visitors in a single day. It had been nearly seven years since the record of 931 was set in Dec. 2005, and most of the few staff members who were around at that time were in very different roles. The first surprise was that this year’s Ice Cream Wars contest – a somewhat hastily-arranged attempt at holiday filler content made five years ago – was the event that combined with Bodies Revealed to put the Center over the 1,000 mark for the first time on Jan. 5, 2013. The next surprise was that day’s mark of 1,013 paid visitors was topped several times before Bodies Revealed closed.

Necessity became the catalyst for development as the exhibition’s popularity forced the Center to try out new techniques for providing an optimal visitor experience, including ticket purchasing capabilities on the web and on smart phones. The staff experimented and discovered ways to welcome large crowds as expediently and conveniently as possible.

Awareness of the Da Vinci Science Center has skyrocketed since Oct. 6, 2012. Not only were more people becoming aware of what the Center does, more adults, teens, and seniors learned that it is more than a fun place to visit with young children. The corporate world also took notice of the Center’s success and strength went to strength. For the first time, companies were contacting the Center to inquire how they can support it.

The Center also lost two of its most passionate supporters during this 126-day period – former Air Products CEO Dexter Baker and one of the Center’s Founding Trustees, Linny Fowler. As a matter of fact, Dexter Baker’s final appearance at the Da Vinci Science Center was the VIP reception held the night before Bodies Revealed opened to the public. While Dexter and Linny are no longer here in body, their impacts continue to manifest every day, and the Center is confident they passed on with pride in what was happening.

What is perhaps most important is what the Center’s team members have learned about themselves during in these 126 days. They have learned how they can connect better with fans, members, and friends, and have taken some of their advice in planning the “next big thing.” Team members learned that they can pull off high-profile projects with success, building confidence as the Center approaches the second-half of its Year of the Human Body – presented by St. Luke’s University Health Network – and plans that “next big thing.”

Team members have learned to stand tall with grace and confidence in the face of challenges large and small, and how much they can depend on each other while doing so. They learned to turn the metaphorical page quickly and how to keep moving forward. The secret, by the way, is to keep moving one way or another until one finds himself or herself going forward. On an individual basis, many learned to be comfortable in newer roles. Many team members also discovered or unveiled strengths – including leadership qualities, calm, versatility, and perseverance.

The world of the Da Vinci Science Center will proceed, as will the world around it. The sky will remain blue, the sun will continue to shine, and singer Taylor Swift and some guy will never (ever, ever) get back together. The Center will introduce its next CEO in the near future, its St. Luke’s Mini-Medical School program is at full capacity, its school field trip calendar for the spring is bursting, and its summer exhibition, GROSSOLOGY: The (Impolite) Science of the Human Body promises to be a major hit.

Going forward, the Center intends to honor the words of its now-former CEO, Troy Thrash. In his farewell address to staff members and volunteers, Thrash referred to his habit of referring to the Da Vinci Science Center as “the little science center that could.” He followed by saying that, in his last months with the Center, it had become the “little” science center that is acting like a major metropolitan science center while staying true to what made it special in the first place.

While it was not perfect, this 126-day experience is one that Da Vinci Science Center team members would not have missed for the world.

Dennis Zehner, 484.664.1002, Ext. 112


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