Martin Fisher

Martin Fisher celebrates Science Central

Martin Fisher, photography by Neal Bruns

Martin Fisher, photography by Neal Bruns

When Science Central was dedicated on Nov. 5, 1995, the Internet was in its infancy, smart phones were years in the future, and a “face book” was something cops showed crime victims to identify offenders. The 20 years since Science Central opened its doors in the old City Light & Power plant have seen dizzying technological changes. And in celebrating two decades of making science and technology fun for kids (and adults – admit it!), Science Central Executive Director Martin Fisher is illuminating the center’s iconic rainbow smokestacks and throwing a party for the community. Find out his secret ambition as we
play 20 Questions with Martin Fisher.

1. You’ve become the “face” of Science Central, appearing on billboards across town. What’s it like seeing  your face so large?
It’s an honor. It’s exciting. I view it as an opportunity to promote my passion and what I love, which is Science Central.

2. How has Science Central benefited from your leadership?
I was raised in a community that had a science center (COSI, in Columbus, Ohio), and I spent a lot of time there learning the field. I don’t really know anything else, which would be bad if there’s a zombie invasion but would be good for someone trying to move a science center to the next level. It’s been a very good match. It really does take an entire team.

3. How has science education changed in 20 years?
There is far more research on the academic level on how people learn (through) grade levels, brain structures (and) learning modalities. We’re getting better at how people learn and how to teach better.

4. How’s Science Central’s building  holding up?
They knew how to build buildings  back then. My biggest complaint about the building is ironic: this is a power plant, and it is not power efficient. My electricity bills are monstrous.

5. What do you wish people knew  about Science Central?
We’re always trying to meet the  needs of teachers and the Scouts and the families. If they come up with an idea, we listen to it. State-certified teachers get in for free. And we have a pretty liberal membership. Two adults and any six kids for a family membership. We don’t care who those six kids are! Our membership will get you into hundreds of other science centers for free.

6. How does Science Central fit into Fort Wayne’s growth?
We’re a part of what Fort Wayne is planning. We’re in the “vision” section for north river development of the Regional Cities proposal.

7. What do you think of those riverfront plans?
I think it’s awesome! They see Science Central as the anchor. They do need to look at the property, because (in the plans) our parking lot is gone. I don’t have enough parking as it is for all the visitors and special events. Don’t get rid of my parking to put in wicked-cool nature trails and science exhibits if there’s not another parking solution.

8. Have you ever ridden the high-rail bike or do you have a fear of heights?
Yes, I have ridden the high-wire bike, and, no, I don’t have a fear of heights. I understand the science, and I know that it is safe.

9. What’s your favorite exhibit here?
I’m not sure I have a favorite one. I don’t! It’s a whole bunch. I like the robot arms, the swap shop, the echo tube, the optical illusions and Science on a Sphere.

10. Do you go out there and play?
Maybe. I can neither confirm nor  deny that.

11. How does Science Central contribute to economic development?
I provide jobs to about 70-plus people. I am doing training for teachers to be able to teach the next generation of scientists and engineers and nurses and technicians. And I am impacting that next generation of kids to go into those jobs and make those inventions. We’re impacting the adults who have a better understanding of science so they are more knowledgeable about voting in the next election. And my out-of-town visitors put a minimum of $1 million into the local economy.

12. Where do you come up with the crazy fundraising ideas, like October’s Finding Patient Zero?
We have an incredibly creative staff and board. But it could be a visitor who gives us a tidbit, and we go, wow, that’s good!

13. Do you thrive on that sort of collaboration?
Oh yes! I think partnerships are the name of the game. It really is. We view it as part of our reason for existence.

14. What did you not expect to deal with in coming here?
The finances. The board was very open with me about the finances (when he was hired). Living with it the first year was rough. Looking forward now: We are debt-free.

15. What do you dream about?
I have an amazing building, and I only use half of it. I dream about doubling our square footage, doubling our exhibits, doubling our programs, doubling our impact. That’s the biggest dream.

16. What were you like as a kid?
I liked science! I did! I was inquisitive. I had a supportive family. My father is a geologist. My dad would come back from being out in the field, and he’d have watercress or a lizard, and we’d go rock collecting or camping every summer. When we visited cities, they would bring me to the science museums.

17. Who was your favorite teacher?
I would say it was probably my supportive parents, Henry and Goldie. And it was my supervisors when I started working as a punk-ass, pimply-faced ninth-grader when I started working at the local science center. They taught me a lot.

18. What are you getting Science Central for its 20th birthday?
First, I’m going to give to the community as a thank you free admission on Nov. 5 from 4-6 p.m. for an open house. Then for Science Central, thanks to the sponsorship of Fort Wayne Metals and (other) sponsorships, we’re going to put lights on our smokestacks, and that’s the first night we’re going to turn them on.

19. What question should everyone ask?
Why? Or, associated with that, how does it work? That’s what drives scientists: I wonder why?

20. What is your secret ambition?
Besides immortality and world peace, tempered by world domination? [Laughs.] The unrealistic ambitions are easier to answer: To be a professor of evolutionary biology at Harvard and to be the frontman for the Rolling Stones.

First appeared in the November 2015 issue of Fort Wayne Magazine.

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