The “American century,” as the 20th century has been called by some, didn’t happen by accident. Our country not only was a world leader in every sense of the word, but we offered opportunities to achieve—and science education was a big part of that. Research and development, and, now more than ever, technology, are profoundly important.

But in a recent Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), which focuses on real-life applications of math and science knowledge, US teens scored significantly lower than teens from other nations in both math (ranked 33 out of 75 countries) and science (ranked 22 out of 75).

The Miami Science Museum looks to change that, and also put some smiles on kids’ faces. Beyond a simple visit, it creates hands-on learning moments and develops programs that correspond to the needs of a diverse Miami. We all know education fuels the economic engine. This rings particularly true here, where a shortage of skilled technical workers threatens to undermine all the growth we’ve seen in recent decades.

Miami certainly doesn’t lack ideas or creativity. In fact, I’ve been most impressed by Miami’s sense of entrepreneurship and power to rebuild. But access to a consistent, thorough, and high-quality science and technology education is lacking, particularly for women and minorities.

But kids are like sponges. The Miami Science Museum taps into kids’ innate desire to explore and hopes to unleash their curiosity. Its programs range from virtual worlds to participating in shark tagging to reforesting the wetlands. Mentoring, too, is a key component, and the museum has received the Presidential Award for its achievements. Furthermore, everyone on staff here feels a real sense of the impact the museum makes as we get to know these students and their individual paths to career success. For those children, the museum is a second home, offering support, advice, security, and role models.

A particular area of emphasis has been promoting college entry among at-risk students. For example, participants in our Upward Bound program from 2007 to 2011 had a 98 percent high school graduation rate, compared to an average of 54 percent at the target schools. Postsecondary enrollment immediately after high school was 91 percent, compared to 40 percent for target school students, and 64 percent of our Upward Bound graduates selected a science, technology, engineering, or medical major. What’s really nice is that many of our Upward Bound alumni return as volunteers and even as employees.

Though the existing property has worked wonders for Miami kids, our planned new home, the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science—a 250,000-square-foot, $275 million waterfront project— will open its doors at Museum Park in 2015. The building will be spectacular, providing richer opportunities for exploration, from the rooftop with an urban garden and exercise trail to the Energy playground and the fully immersive digital planetarium. The top attraction, though, may be the Gulfstream tank, which will be home to hammerhead sharks, tuna, and sea turtles.

One of my favorite areas will be the Living Core, an area at the heart of the museum, which will take visitors on a journey (through living environments) from Florida’s hardwood hammocks to the mangrove fringes to coral reefs—kids might see crocodiles, alligators, and stingrays. Then there’s the Energy dance floor, where kids get to select the type of music they like and dance to it, generating electricity, which lights up the floor, cranks up the volume, and illuminates a tower of lights. Everyone can see the collaborative impact of how much energy they generate each day, as well as track their own individual energy use. There will also be young scientists on hand at the People and Science gallery to explain their research, whether it’s exploring the origins of the universe or the mysteries of the brain. We’re looking to spark curiosity and create memories.

Of course, none of this can be achieved without support from the community, which has been demonstrated by major gifts from key leaders, notably the $35 million commitment from Patricia and Phillip Frost and the $7 million support from Board of Trustees Cochairs Trish and Dan Bell. The Knight Foundation has also provided a one-two matching $10 million gift, which will no doubt inspire future donors to enable us to reach our full fundraising goal.

As we prepare for this year’s Galaxy Gala fundraising event, we can’t help but get excited about what the new building will look like and how it will provoke wonder. It has inspired us to continue to develop and expand our programs, ensuring our ability to bring cutting-edge science and technology to our community in order to enhance lives and open doors. It’s really part of the American dream. And who knows—maybe the next great discovery will come from the mind of a Miami child.

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