Originally created 05/28/03

Post began museum



The National Science Center, headquartered at Fort Discovery, is designed to improve the technical literacy of young people in math and sciences while encouraging pupils to gain interest in math- and science-related careers. The center's mission is met through interactive activities based at Fort Discovery and through educational opportunities offered nationwide by mobile discovery centers housed inside tractor-trailers.

From a mess hall in the middle of Fort Gordon to a 128,000-square-foot building fronting the Savannah River, the National Science Center's Fort Discovery has come a long way in the past decade.

Its prospering programs and unique relationship with the Army is expected to continue growing, but the next decade holds some uncertainty for the interactive math and science museum as city, state and federal officials await word on the future of Fort Gordon itself.

Though the two entities don't often tout their ties, they are inextricably linked through a partnership that provides 21 Army civil servants to the museum for staffing each year, representing millions of dollars in in-kind services.

"The Army has not done this with any other community in the country," said Joe Edwards, the chairman and chief executive officer of the National Science Center Inc., headquartered at Fort Discovery. "We are an educational laboratory from which the entire country benefits."

He said he is less worried about the impact of Fort Gordon's possible closure and is encouraged that Fort Discovery will save the post.

"It is an example, unlike any other in the nation, of how committed this community is to Fort Gordon," Mr. Edwards said.

In 1989, the Preview Discovery Center opened in a converted mess hall at Fort Gordon. The 7,000-square-foot space was open to the public the first Saturday of each month only, and it offered only a fraction of what is in the facility today.

The museum is open seven days a week and houses more than 250 hands-on scientific exhibits, which were visited by 250,000 people last year. It also contains computer and science labs that provide math and science lessons for teachers and pupils.

Additionally, two mobile discovery centers - housed in tractor-trailers - visited 55,000 pupils last year, delivering math and science programs to classrooms throughout the country. Ten years earlier, only nine states were using the program's services.

"As you can see, it's growing," Mr. Edwards said.

But more important, he said, are the services Fort Discovery provides for pupils within the Central Savannah River Area.

"We take very seriously our responsibility to do our best to improve the quality of teaching math and science throughout the country," Mr. Edwards said. "But nobody gets a bigger benefit than the CSRA."

Fort Discovery got its start from a push to make Fort Gordon the home of the Signal Corps, a communications electronics branch of the Army.

One way to do that, officials believed, was to improve the post's museum. It was out of that effort that the National Science Center was created, made up of highly trained educators and business people.

Nearly two decades later, the outreach programs that were developed as part of the foundation continue to boom.

"The CSRA has engaged in this partnership and invested heavily in it, just as the Army has," Mr. Edwards said. "It is something completely unique that gives ammunition to our congressional representatives to say, 'You know what? We are committed to this idea, and it is an example unlike any other in the nation of how committed this community is to Fort Gordon."'

Reach Heidi Coryell Williams at (706) 823-3215 or heidi.williams@augustachronicle.com.