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Jun 19, 2014

The Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center's Governing Board approved a revitalization plan Monday, June 16, 2014, with major emphasis on informal STEM education initiatives.

The master plan includes significant changes to the mission, programming, exhibits and building layout of the world-renowned space museum. The plan calls for completion in phases over five years, with an estimated total cost of $15 million. It also represents the first major capital improvements since 1997.

"Our community-based Revitalization Task Force (RTF) has dedicated countless hours over the past 10 months to developing a plan to make this facility even more inspirational to today's and future generations," said Jade Piros de Carvalho, Cosmosphere Governing Board Chair. "We are extremely excited about this plan, and know that the educational programming enhancements will broaden our ability to change lives, both locally and across the globe."


The Cosmosphere is moving forward with the following mission: "Inspiring innovation through science education and honoring the history of space exploration."

The museum previously operated with a mission of "Honoring the past and inspiring the future of space exploration." Today's mission represents a new era in the Cosmosphere's history and reflects an increased focus on obtaining national and international visibility - especially for camp programs - creating curriculum-based informal science education experiences for school groups, and a need to rebrand and refocus one the country's largest museums dedicated to space history into a Center of international significance.

"The Cosmosphere can play an even more important role in encouraging students to pursue STEM studies and push the boundaries of their imagination," said Dr. Steven A. Hawley, former NASA astronaut and Astronaut Advisor to the Cosmosphere. "This is a unique resource for the state of Kansas and the region, providing a one-of-a-kind learning laboratory for students and life-long learners."  Hawley, a native Kansan, is a five-time shuttle astronaut, professor of Physics and Astronomy and Chair of Engineering Physics at the University of Kansas.

Dr. Ed Berger, retiring President of Hutchinson Community College, has accepted an engagement with the Cosmosphere as Chair of Revitalization Initiatives. A most respected executive in the Hutchinson community with 45 years of experience as a community college instructor and administrator, Dr. Berger possesses not only the experience, but the passion and drive to lead the charge for the Cosmosphere's future.

As Chair of Revitalization Initiatives, Dr. Berger will work together with Cosmosphere management to develop strategic, executable plans for each phase of the master plan, and collaborate with Cosmosphere leadership on the development of future informal education initiatives.

"To be part of the revitalization of an organization that is an international center for learning as well as a source of pride for Reno County and Kansas is truly exciting," said Berger. "I look forward to communicating the mission and vision of the Cosmosphere and its role in STEM. The applied learning in science education, using lessons from space and space travel, is a unique opportunity and needs to be communicated not only regionally but nationally."

Under Dr. Berger's charge, Hutchinson Community College (HCC) enjoyed substantial growth and improvement. Noted projects include the creation of a state-of-the-art campus library, the Shears Technology Center, Richard Smith Science Center, the expansion of the Jack and Dick Parker student union, and the complete renovation of Gowan's Stadium. Through his leadership, HCC became not only one of the best community colleges in Kansas, but in the Midwest.

Dr. Ed Berger earned his Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts degrees from Wichita State University before obtaining his Doctorate of Education from Kansas State University, focusing on adult and occupational education. He is a recipient of the Phi Theta Kappa Distinguished College President Award for the Kansas region, as well as a recipient of the Shirley B. Gordon Award of Distinction for Community College Presidents.

"These changes are powerful representations of our commitment to reinventing the Cosmosphere," said Richard Hollowell, Cosmosphere Chief Executive Officer. "We will remain a world-class museum telling the story of the Space Race in a way unlike anywhere else on Earth. Our primary focus is - and has always been - inspiration. Our new mission and direction reflect our pledge to be a forward-looking, education-driven, relevant and current institution whose message and programming has an international reach while providing even higher value on a local and state-wide basis."


The revitalization effort started after the 50th anniversary celebration in 2012, as Cosmosphere leadership recognized that key changes had to take place. The Governing Board named the RTF, comprised of local leaders and Cosmosphere management, to analyze options for growth and programming. The RTF engaged expert museum planners and architects Verner Johnson Inc. (VJI) of Boston, Mass., in partnership with cultural economics firm Leisure Business Associates of Richmond, Va., to assist in developing the revitalization plan. Both firms bring decades of museum planning expertise to the process.

A report conducted by the University of Kansas' (KU) Jayhawk Consulting team was presented at a meeting of the Cosmosphere's Governing Board Monday, May 19, 2014. The team evaluated the Cosmosphere's economic impact on the state of Kansas as a cultural and educational institution. The research was conducted to assist the RTF in evaluating the final report from VJI and assessing the value of revitalization before making a presentation to the Cosmosphere's Governing and Foundation Boards.

The KU team reports that every $1 invested in the organization will yield almost $2 in return to the state of Kansas. This figure is based on a formula that is widely accepted and used by a variety of research agencies, including the State of Kansas.

Additionally, the report attributes the institution with bringing $103 million in tourism dollars annually to the state of Kansas, with major impacts in the following areas:

○ $103M in direct and indirect economic contributions

○ $13.1M in federal tax yield

○ $14.1M in state and local tax yield

The impact is attributed not only to money spent at the Cosmosphere, but to everything visitors do in the state of Kansas while on a trip to the space museum - visitors who hail primarily from the state of Kansas, but also travel from all across the country and even internationally to visit the Cosmosphere. These things include attending other museums or attractions, lodging in hotels, food and beverage services, automotive repair and maintenance, business support services, and other retail outlets visited during the trip. Also included in the economic impact is employment related directly to revenue the Cosmosphere brings to the state. The report estimated that, because of the aforementioned transactions by visitors coming to the Cosmosphere, the facility directly and indirectly supports the employment of 2,200 people. These employees, in turn, have a collective purchasing power of $70 million.


A phased approach for revitalization has been established to insure a successful, impactful, efficient reinvention process. Visitors can look forward to several exciting changes in the years ahead.

Creation and Implementation of New STEM Initiatives

VJI research indicated that science museums traditionally provide educational programs directed at inspiring and engaging young participants, building interest in science in order to motivate them to seek further education. At present, more than 15,000 students take field trips to the Cosmosphere annually, and the STEM-based camp program has more than 17,000 graduates to date.

While Cosmosphere education programs have included a STEM component, Cosmosphere leadership felt that STEM initiatives needed to be strengthened and new STEM related programs created. The Cosmosphere has the ability, against the backdrop of a world-class collection of artifacts and space science exhibits, to collaborate with educators, administrators and field experts in the development of content-rich STEM programs. The approved revitalization plan for education, focused first on STEM concepts and secondarily on tactics that make the learning process captivating, provides an excellent resource for the state of Kansas and the region, and benefits visiting students from around the world.

According to the U.S. Department of Commerce report STEM: Good Jobs Now and for the Future (2011): "Over the past 10 years, growth in STEM jobs was three times as fast as growth in non-STEM jobs...[STEM] workers play a key role in the sustained growth and stability of the U.S. economy, and are a critical component to helping the U.S. win the future."

The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that 60% of the new jobs in the twenty-first century will require the kinds of STEM skills that are possessed by only 20% of the current workforce. The Federal STEM Education 5-Year Strategic Plan states, "For many Americans, both students and adults, opportunities for STEM learning occur through effective engagement across classroom and out-of-school settings...ranging from pre-school programs to museums to national parks...all of which provide potential venues for advancing science literacy."

The 2012 Bayer Facts of Science Education Surveys report that 63% of female and minority Chemists/Chemical Engineers and 76% of Ph.D. Scientists were largely influenced by visits to science museums when it came to nurturing and sustaining their interest in science.

Interactive, Immersive Exhibits

Brad Nederhoff, VJI's Managing Principal, states, "Revitalization of the Cosmosphere's physical facilities is critical to opening new opportunities for improving and expanding public programs and exhibits. Our overall approach for physical improvements focused on adding and improving the most needed components within the existing building enclosure. This is a highly cost-effective approach that will significantly enhance the Cosmosphere's long-term financial sustainability."

Current, relevant, constantly changing displays will educate visitors about what is happening right now in the world of space exploration. The creation of dedicated areas within the Cosmosphere's building that offer updated, relevant, interactive experiences for visitors - specifically young children (8 years and younger) - will make return visits fresh and rewarding. Older explorers will have the opportunity to get up close and personal with a variety of innovative technology subjects, connecting hands-on experiences with real-life applications in promising career fields.

Revitalization of existing galleries in the Hall of Space Museum is also addressed in the overall concept, and the Cosmosphere will update the look and content of these galleries to include immersive areas, combining historic artifacts with multimedia techniques, and refreshing the overall museum experience for visitors. Updates in technology and programming in Dr. Goddard's Lab and the Justice Planetarium will insure that the total visitor experience at the Cosmosphere is truly unlike anywhere else on Earth.


The master plan was presented to the Governing and Foundation Boards by the Cosmosphere Revitalization Task Force June 4, 2014, where RTF Chair Allen Fee stated, "We're very pleased with VJI. Throughout this process, they have been focused on what the Cosmosphere needs to be a relevant, important, international organization well into the future. We are thankful to the Foundation Board for investing in VJI, and believe it was money well spent."

Cosmosphere leadership would like to extend sincere gratitude to the Revitalization Task Force who worked closely with VJI throughout the research and planning process, to help insure that the final plan would be the best course for the Cosmosphere's future: Jason Ball, Chief Executive Officer Hutchinson/Reno County Chamber of Commerce; Jade Piros de Carvalho*, Vice Mayor of Hutchinson, City Council, Marketing Director for The Hutchinson News, and President of LogicMaze; Milt Dougherty, Head of School for Wichita Independent School; Allen Fee, Chief Executive Officer of Fee Insurance Group; Kent Longenecker, retired Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of DCI; Jeannette Richardson, Vice Chairman of Prairie Bank of Kansas; Tom Sellers, Executive Vice President of Luminous Neon Art & Sign Systems; Rick Staab*, President/Chief Executive Officer of Disability Supports of the Great Plains; Sean Weaver*, Executive Vice President of Allen, Gibbs & Houlik LC; Verner Johnson Inc. and Leisure Business Advisors; the University of Kansas' Jayhawk Consulting team; Cosmosphere Members, staff and volunteers; the Governing and Foundation Boards; the community of Hutchinson and the state of Kansas for support, guidance, and feedback provided throughout this process.

*Member of the Cosmosphere Governing Board.