On Thursday, November 8, the Garden Club of Johnson City hosted an informational meeting introducing Dr. Bonita Baskin and the Hill Country Science Mill. Dr. Baskin has purchased the old feed mill building and has plans to renovate the building and open a state of the art hands-on Science Museum. The main purpose of the museum will be to promote careers in science to students in middle school and high school through engaging interactive exhibits, summer programs, and the use of science mentors. The Hill Country Science Mill will become a place of wonder and discovery, with each exhibit tied to a certain science career, plus serve as a resource for educators to help them engage students as they learn about science and technology. By making science both fun and relevant to the kids’ lives, they may become more eager to choose a career in the sciences.
Currently, details are few as the planning process is in the beginning stages. However, Dr. Baskin believes that if we can encourage kids and get them excited about the sciences, they may deem a career in science a viable option. She is concerned about the lack of interest kids have in science at both the middle and high school levels as well as at the collegiate level. She believes that a literate population is essential to the success of our country’s economy and critical to understanding the serious issues that are facing it. By introducing kids early on as to how science actually affects their lives, by creating an environment of wonder and discovery where curiosity leads to problem solving, students may become fascinated and begin to consider science as a career.
An interesting but sobering statistic Dr. Baskin mentioned was that the United States’ share of the world’s scientists and engineers has dropped from 40% in 1975 to just 15% in 2010. We have the most powerful computing systems in the world, but we lack the highly trained personnel to run them, fix them, or just to use them. Dr. Baskin believes that the Hill Country Science Mill, by utilizing clusters of exhibits focused on the excitement of careers in science, engineering and technology, will ignite the ambition of the next generation, propelling them into these fields.
Johnson City was chosen as the place to build the Science Mill because of the geography of the surrounding Hill Country and the population. The population is both rural and urban. Seven counties lie within a 30-mile radius of Johnson City, with approximately 408,806 people residing in those counties. Of that number, 1,040,850 are under the age of 18. If you expand the radius to 60 miles, the population increases to 4 million, with 1 million of those under the age of 18. Since Johnson City is situated almost equidistant between Austin and San Antonio, the Science Mill will be in the perfect position to attract school field trips from both metropolitan areas as well as from the districts surrounding those cities.
The Hill Country Science Mill also has the potential to become a destination attraction for tourists as well. Even though its primary focus is on middle and high school-aged kids, it will have exhibits and areas that are family friendly. Further, she intends for the Science Mill to serve as a resource for the entire Hill Country and thinks that it is important that all the counties understand that the Science Mill is a community resource.
Dr. Baskin chose the old feed mill building because it is an iconic structure with a history dating back to the 1880s. She does not intend to demolish the feed mill and build a new structure; she intends on utilizing the parts of the structure that are sound and adding, perhaps, one new building to serve as the gateway into the Science Mill. The silos will remain, as will the old building that housed the Italian restaurant, the “Fried Green Tomatoes” building, and the building located on the corner of Lady Bird Lane and Main. The design is still in the planning stages, but Dr. Baskin wanted to reassure Johnson City that one of their historic buildings is not going to be destroyed.
The process of design, demolition, rebuilding and constructing the exhibits is a long process. Dr. Baskin is looking at an opening date sometime during 2014. Fortunately, though, during this year’s Lights Spectacular, the Science Store will be open to visitors. Science-based toys and other gift items will be available for sale. Also, a “cloud wall” will be hanging inside, with lists for the types of volunteers needed to get the Mill open and running, and a 3D model of what the Mill may look like will be on display. Please stop by and peruse the store as well as scan the cloud wall for any job you may be able to do.
Further, The Science Mill is in need of students to work during the Lights Spectacular event. For several weekends during Lights Spectacular, November 23rd through December 23rd, the kids will work in a retail/customer service-type position. These are temporary paid positions. Students must be able to work at least four evenings; however, the nights do not need to be consecutive. For more information, contact Jasmin Arpin at (512) 508-4684 or via email at .