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From left: Rob Blevins, Liz Godwin, Jackie Douglas and Tyler Moles
Rebecca Green | SBJ
From left: Rob Blevins, Liz Godwin, Jackie Douglas and Tyler Moles

2023 Economic Impact Awards 21-35 Years in Business Top Honors: Discovery Center of Springfield Inc.

Science to the World

Posted online

The pandemic was a catalyst for growth at Discovery Center of Springfield Inc.

From Executive Director Rob Blevins’ perspective, the staff innovated out of necessity when they added an early childhood center and private school at the downtown science center. “The team was willing – literally took a vote on that. Everybody was in,” Blevins says of continuing to physically report to the building and work directly with youth, identified as an immediate community need.

The move was a solution to the temporary closures of schools and day cares that created problems for working parents – particularly those in the demanding health care professions. The science center changed almost overnight – at one point hiring 25 people within 24 hours, mostly from the education team at Wonders of Wildlife National Museum & Aquarium that was laid off during the pandemic.

Three years later, the school earned accreditation from the Missouri Nonpublic School Accrediting Association and won $1 million from the Center for Education Reform and Forbes for its responsive educational programs.

“I speak to science centers and children’s museums around the world now about how formal learning does belong in a science center or children’s museum. It’s a fascinating trend,” Blevins says, noting some of his roughly monthly talks have been with NASA about adding early childhood programming and The Field Museum in Chicago about offering private schooling.

There was a day when revenue from Discovery Center admissions represented the bulk of income – it’s now 30%-40% – and covered its operating expenses. That’s a good model, says Blevins, but now revenue is diversified and that’s become the new financial path for Discovery Center.

While the historical pillars of bringing in new exhibits, building memberships and securing donors are still important, he says ancillary programming is self-sufficient.

That includes the distance learning program that predates the pandemic but has expanded as a result. The Discovery Center ships materials to libraries and rural schools, and its staff conduct lessons on camera, in some cases, with students thousands of miles away. Blevins says the Australian government contracts with Discovery Center to teach in its science centers, and other customers are in Canada and Costa Rica.

Much like the science theory of adaptation, the Discovery Center team adjusted to its new environment – now combining informal learning with curriculum-led educational programming. Blevins says it’s impacted all areas of the business.

“We don’t define ourselves as just a building anymore,” he says. “We’re a worldwide science center located in downtown Springfield.”

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