Brooke Hicks
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“Oh, we were number nerds.”

Brooke and Tim Hicks — both certified public accountants — are quick to sell their younger selves out as lovers of the sciences. Now, as the two prepare to co-chair the Museum of Discovery’s fifth annual Spark! event, they find themselves in good company.

The areas of science, technology, engineering, art and math, jointly known as STEAM, have become both the backbone and the ambition of the museum over its 90-year history.

Beginning as the Museum of Natural History and Antiquities in 1927, the original location on Main Street was opened by Arkansas author Bernie Babcock, who gave it to City Hall — as a Christmas gift, no less — two years later. The museum moved again to the Tower Building in MacArthur Park in 1942, and then again to its current location in the River Market in 1998 with its current title.

Since then, the Museum of Discovery has gained national attention through its programs, exhibits, events and former Director of Visitor Experience Kevin Delaney’s appearances on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.”

In 2013, American Mensa named the Museum of Discovery the sixth best science museum in the country, with the intelligence organization ranking it above locations like the California Science Center in Los Angeles and the Center of Science and Industry in Columbus, Ohio.

Brooke Hicks first got involved with the museum in 2012 by serving on the board’s finance committee. Having spent many an afternoon at the museum with their three kids, she and Tim serve as advocates to help the nonprofit accomplish its mission of fostering a love for STEAM “in a dynamic, interactive environment.”

“We think it’s important to give back to the community, and we like to focus that on areas we’re involved in, where we find value and want to participate with our kids,” Tim says, adding that Brooke has even tried lying on the museum’s bed of nails, much to the delight of their teenage son.

With their kids ranging in age from 3 to 15, the couple knows how uncommon it is to find an activity that is not only interesting to preschoolers and teenagers alike, but is also a positive force for their future.

“The thing about the museum that’s so special is that it provides an opportunity to really engage in STEAM concepts in a way that is unintimidating,” Brooke says. “It really teaches a love of learning while focusing on how fun these subjects can be.”

Brooke Hicks often brings her kids to the Museum of Discovery, but she’s not afraid to roll up her sleeves and explore.

Coupled with its rotation of crowd-drawing exhibits, a major way the museum has made itself a cornerstone of the science community is through outreach programs like summer camps, weekly Wiggle Worms activities for young children, involvement in the Discovery Network across the country, the Science After Dark series for grownups and events for the whole family like Tinkerfest.

One of the museum’s most noteworthy learning opportunities is its Girls in STEM workshop. Now in its third year, this free program invites girls ages 11-15 to explore STEM careers with female STEM professionals through a week of hands-on activities. This summer the museum extended the Girls in STEM offerings and expanded to include workshops in Pine Bluff and Jonesboro as a response to high demand.

2017 Spark! Stars
• Raye Montague, retired U.S. Naval engineer
• Gina Radke, Galley Support Innovations
Greg Kearns, president of Arkansas Children’s Research Institute
LaShannon Spencer, CEO of Community Health Centers of Arkansas
Annice Steadman, former biology teacher
Kent Burnett, retired Dillard’s IT professional
Bishawn Morris, pediatrician

Working side-by-side with female role models, girls can learn about everything from coding and forensics to the chemistry of cosmetics and even how to suture pig feet. The goal is to get girls interested in science-related careers in hopes of bettering the female representation in those fields.

“STEAM, and especially technology, is important in all areas and industries,” Tim says, “but if you look at these fields, they’re disproportionate towards men. For any organization to be successful, you need diversification of ideas, viewpoints. It’s important to encourage that.”

And while the world is starting to see more of a push toward STEAM education, the Museum of Discovery has been making strides in the area. In doing so, it now also stands as a prominent tourism opportunity for downtown and a unique jewel in Little Rock’s crown.

“Ultimately, it benefits our state to cultivate this spirit of learning in our children,” Brooke says. “These people will grow up and give back to our state, represent our state, create jobs and businesses in our state. The museum, even though some people look at it simply as a play space, is really doing important work of which we don’t even know what the ripple effects will be.”

At this year’s Spark! event, the museum will celebrate the headway it’s made in igniting those passions in kids all over the state, along with honoring Arkansans who have dedicated their professional lives to careers in STEAM. The list of honorees, known as Spark! Stars, includes former biology teacher Annice Steadman, president of Arkansas Children’s Research Institute Greg Kearns and retired U.S. Naval engineer Raye Montague, an African-American female who is considered a “hidden figure” as the first person to design a U.S. Navy ship with a computer.

And while celebrating progress is great, Brooke and Tim know the hard work never stops. By design, the Museum of Discovery will forever chase the dangling carrot of innovation, yet that’s exactly what STEAM lovers love.

“All of the changes in our society that are causing the need for a museum like this — that change in pace and never being satisfied with the status quo and that drive to create — that’s the same drive behind the museum to remain relevant in an ever-changing, ever-evolving, technology-based world,” Brooke says.

The two then turn wistful as they consider just how much the world has changed, even in the span of their own careers, and their gazes turn distant as they imagine what it will look like for their children and the future generations of curious kids who walk through the Museum of Discovery doors.

“They’re lucky,” laughs Tim, returning to the moment. “We’ve come a long way from the floppy disk days.”

The fifth annual Spark! fundraiser is set for 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 7.
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