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September 3, 2018 FOCUS: Tourism

At 10 years, CT Science Center’s STEM focus top priority

Matt Fleury

Q&A talks with Matt Fleury, president and CEO of the Connecticut Science Center, which is marking its 10th anniversary.

Q. The Connecticut Science Center is celebrating its 10-year anniversary. How has the Science Center evolved over the last decade and what's been its impact on downtown Hartford?

A. Going into our 10th year, our mission to engage people of all ages in science is unchanged, but we are focused now more than ever on connecting young people to the growing opportunities in science and technology careers in Connecticut.

Research shows that there's never a better moment to attract a person to science than before the age of 14, and industry in our state is creating thousands of great opportunities for science and tech talent for the next several decades. So this is a crucial moment for the Science Center — and for our state at large — to illuminate these opportunities and put people on a path to realize them in the very near future.

Q. The Science Center will be hosting the Association of Science-Technology Centers' (ASTC) annual conference in September. Why is this significant?

A. ASTC is the leading membership association of science centers in the U.S., and also serves science centers from around the world. The Connecticut Science Center has been part of ASTC since before we opened our doors, and we have participated in the association's annual conference in other cities across the country.

We've always wanted to bring those 2,000 science educators to Connecticut to see our science center and our community. We're especially excited to do this in 2018 because our vision for a science and innovation-oriented neighborhood in Hartford is coming to fruition. We have national and international flights to a convenient airport, a wonderful city, first-rate convention and hotel facilities and a great science center. It's a perfect venue for lots of conferences, including this one.

Q. The Science Center recently unveiled its new engineering lab exhibition. What is it and why was it created?

A. We're deploying a series of new projects to showcase science, technology and innovation professions and to support the introduction of new science standards that are rolling out in schools. We launched the new Butterfly Encounter last year to strengthen our life-science offerings. The new Engineering Lab does the same thing in the technology area, covering electrical, aerospace and mechanical and software engineering. It's supported by Stanley Black & Decker, which has become a real leader in building an innovation scene in Hartford and the state.

We're also running great bioscience programs in our Genomics Lab. Next, we're working on new exhibitions about earth, followed by DNA and genomics.

Q. The Science Center earlier this year announced a new lineup of adult programming. What did that entail and why was it created?

A. This is another area where we want to help build a community where innovators and entrepreneurs can be engaged and connect in Hartford. Our longstanding Liquid Lounge franchise continues to be a popular adult event. This year we have added Science Straight Up, which is a somewhat more science-, technology- and issues-oriented adult event at the Science Center.

The Science Center and others, from the MetroHartford Alliance to Upward Hartford to the Wadsworth Atheneum, are all working in various ways to generate this kind of atmosphere here. The more the better. At the Science Center we're also experimenting with College Nights to help build a sense of community for the growing college student population downtown.

Q. What are the biggest challenges the Science Center faces? What about the biggest opportunities?

We're honest about the challenges but we're engaged ambitiously in the opportunities. Broadly, everything from insurtech downtown to the Pratt & Whitney Engineering Center and UTC Research Center across the river, from the UConn campus to the Stanley Black & Decker Manufactory is starting to add up to critical mass. We're seeing exciting investment — public and private — by existing companies and institutions and new ones, such as InfoSys. The apartments, the amenities like the Yard Goats and Hartford Athletic soccer team are all part of the puzzle. We are seeing progress in the right places and commitment from the right players.

The risk is that somehow it all gets undermined by public policy choices that forget talent attraction and workforce readiness and diminish our cities. Another risk is that, even if everything goes well, we refuse to recognize our own potential and success. This is an extraordinary place to be with enviable assets. The Science Center's risks are the region's risks. Naturally, we all operate within the context of our economic and cultural environment and that can make it easier or harder.

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