Thrash says he wants to partner with schools and local companies to show kids the careers they can have in science and how to get them.
Thrash replaced Bob Ellis as CEO when he retired in January. Ellis worked there for 35 years and was the first CEO the museum ever had. Though Thrash says he’s not planning any big building projects, he has a pretty big goal—helping to decrease unemployment in Southwest Michigan.
“You know, you could hear about 8 percent, 9 percent unemployment, people looking for jobs. And that’s certainly a very difficult number to take. But at the same time, you can go to a local manufacturing company or you can go to a local healthcare system and see that they have job openings. And they would hire people right now, but they can’t find the talent. They can’t find the people with the right technical skill sets. So, on the one hand, we have jobs that can’t be filled and, on the other hand, we have people that can’t find jobs. So it’s not a people issue, it’s not a human resources issue. It’s a skill set issue.
Thrash says kids need to start thinking about getting into advanced classes at an early age. He realized this after giving a lecture to a group of high school students at his previous job at the DaVinci Science Center in Pennsylvania.
“This young lady came up to me and she said ‘Oh man, that’s sounds really great. I would love to be a NASA engineer. What do I have to do to do that?’ And my first question…first question out of my mouth was ‘So, tell me what you’re studying right now.’ And she said ‘Well, I’m a senior and I’m in algebra right now.’ And it just, it broke my heart," says Thrash. "Because, you know, I wasn’t going to stand there and say ‘Well, listen it’s too late.’”
Thrash says the student is still going into a science field, but no longer plans to try for NASA. He says kids today are not well informed on what careers are out there and how they can achieve those careers. Thrash says that's why the Air Zoo needs to focus on 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders.
“That’s where kids, number one: understand, for the first time, whether they can do math and science," he says. "And also, because of that, they will either fall in love or fall out of love with math and science—in the third grade.”
Thrash says he also wants to put more hands-on exhibits in the Air Zoo to make up for what kids aren't being taught in school.
“Adults and kids, of course, will be able to come in and they will be able to do…whether it’s physics, chemistry, astronomy, geology, whatever that is—they will be doing real science with their hands," he says. And that’s how it’s going to be that more tactile learning that many of these kids don’t get in the classroom."
Will new CEO Troy Thrash help kids to fall in love with science? We’ll have to wait a few years to find out. The Air Zoo in Portage is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays and from noon to 5 p.m. on weekends. On Saturdays, the main campus opens early at 9 a.m.