Standing in the shadow of a 26-foot-tall Argentinosaurus, Joe Adams, M.B.A. ’02, president of the Discovery Science Center in Santa Ana, looks with satisfaction at the swarm of kids exploring the center’s newest exhibit – Dino Quest.
Dino Quest, a hands-on exhibit that’s nothing like the behind-the-ropes skeletal displays at natural history museums, is Adams’ latest brainchild for the center. The exhibit features a dinosaur model that kids can walk around in and examine its prehistoric body parts, as well as online games created by UCI’s Game Culture and Technology Lab.
“As we dreamed up the dinosaurs, we wanted an online presence, and the university was looking to expand its community outreach,” Adams says.
He’s also working with UCI on bringing the EcoRaft Project to the center. The interactive project teaches people about restoration ecology by allowing them to use mobile tablet PCs to move species between virtual islands set up on stationary monitors.
Since Adams took over daily operations four years ago, the nonprofit center has enjoyed ferocious growth. Annual attendance has jumped from 180,000 to 270,000, and the budget has doubled from $3 million to $6 million. He’s also expanded outreach programs to local schools – fulfilling the center’s mission to “encourage more kids to become future scientists.” He’s added many new exhibits that align with the state science standards for grade-school children.
Adams has always been a science buff; he got his bachelor’s in nuclear engineering from the University of Notre Dame.
“I always figured I’d build something, but I thought it would be more like power plants.” Instead he went to work for the Walt Disney Company and began building attractions for Disney’s theme parks. After getting his M.B.A., he joined the center because it allowed him creative use of his science and business skills.
“There’s a great need for M.B.A.s to look at nonprofit organizations with a business mind,” he says. “I’ve put the marketing and other skills I learned at UCI into action, and because of it, the Discovery Center has seen a neat turnaround.”