Colleen Walker, CEO of the Perot Museum is many things, but like many of us, she is a mom first. She brings her background in science to her job at the museum, but she also brings her hopes and dreams for her children. It is this type of passion that has made the Perot Museum of Nature and Science one of the fastest growing science museums in the country and the go-to place for families to visit in Dallas.
Two years ago the buzz in Dallas was the long awaited grand opening of the Perot Museum of Nature and Science. For the two years prior to the grand opening, a soaring cube-shaped building with innovative architecture was slowly constructed. As the building took its intriguing shape, it teased passersby with the promise that something even more unique would be located inside. A 180,000, five story museum dedicated to entertaining visitors while boosting understanding and awareness in the fields of math and science was opened in 2012.
I was among the lucky who were able to beta test the museum, and the excitement for me was intense. I even cut an epic trip short by a few days to have an opportunity to see what was waiting inside the anticipated Perot Museum. On the day of our tour, the museum was strangely silent, as if we had slipped in unaware. Glowing exhibits representing multi-disciplinary pursuits in math and science were tucked into every corner silently waiting to be brought to life by the exploration of the visitors to come. Our group tiptoed through the museum, approaching each room with the careful silence you would offer to a sleeping newborn. As we walked, I tried to imagine the different exuberance that would greet each exhibit when the public was welcomed and children of all ages came to learn and enjoy the space.
Coming full circle, I was invited to a parenting seminar at the museum, fittingly on the 2nd birthday of the museum. In the two years that the museum had been in operation, over 2 million visitors have walked through the halls, and over half of those have been children. On this visit, there were no more whispered conversations. The museum was in full swing with children and school groups excitedly digging into the hands-on learning opportunities. Alive with the energy of exploration, I was just as excited to see the museum as it was intended to be used as I was on that first visit when it was new and unused.
The heartbeat of the museum is certainly strong, and it has become not only a needed fixture in the arts district of Dallas, but a trusted location for parents. Parents who waited eagerly for this new science and math complex in their neighborhood are now reaping the benefits through traveling exhibits, 3-D movies from National Geographic, and intentional programming to keep families engaged in the museum.
During my second visit to the museum, I learned that there was much more than meets the eye for the Perot. Yes, everyone has come to expect that they will have up to date exhibits and learning opportunities at the Perot. That is both obvious and available every time a family steps through the doors, but while the exhibits and programs are at the heart of the museum, the lifeline that keeps the heart beating is happening behind the scenes.
In so many ways, the Perot Museum is just ‘doing it right’ when it comes to connecting with the community, promoting learning in STEM, and providing quality for families. Speaking with Walker at the first ever Parent Blogger conference at the Perot is a good glimpse into what’s happening outside the obvious. As Walker shares with a room full of parents and children, her parenting prowess is obvious. At one point in the meeting, she breaks into a rousing rendition of Let it Go to the delight of the children in the room. She is just as much a proud parent when she talks about the Perot, sharing the things about the facility that make her proud.
In spring 2013, the Perot Museum achieved Green Globes® highest possible ranking for FEATURES: sustainable building design, which is a rare feat since only 12 out of 759 Green Globes certified buildings in the US have achieved the maximum four Globes. In 2014, the Museum achieved two more prestigious environmental designations – a LEED Gold rating from the U.S. Green Building Council and certification from the Sustainable Sites Initiative, which emphasizes landscape and site design. Very few buildings in the U.S. have aimed to attain two certifications, much less three. The building incorporates sustainable design initiatives including day lighting, LED lighting, and low emission materials.
One of the practical examples of this green technology is in the collection of all rainwater that amounts to 5 ½ million gallons a year. This water is used for flushing toilets in the museum, an unglamorous but necessary use for a facility that welcomes 2 million visitors.
The Perot Museum is also home to a number of Nobel Laureate awards. Walker freely admits that children aren’t likely to spend too much time looking at the awards, even though they are solid gold, but the museum hopes that the presence of those awards will be inspirational to children.
With kids getting wiggly throughout our meeting, Walker immediately begins to give advice on where they can burn off some energy. The Moody Family Children’s Museum, a remarkable facility with plenty of room to run and activities to engage little minds, is a natural choice. Parents will be thrilled to know that the facility receives a four hour, extensive cleaning by a specialized team each and every night. Walker assures the room of young parents that every single surface is cleaned and disinfected, right down to the last piece of plastic fruit. “We do this,” she says with a knowing nod, “because we are mothers, too.” It’s this understanding of parents and families that is infused throughout the museum that makes it perfect place to play and learn.