Sam Dean is the the executive director of the Scott Family Amazeum. He began leading the children’s museum in November 2012; it opened July 15. The museum anticipated about 180,000 people would visit the museum in the first year, but attendance surpassed that in the first six months. Dean said the museum has nearly 7,000 member households.
The Amazeum is at 1009 Museum Way in Bentonville and is open from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday and 1-5 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $9.50 for adults and children 2 years and older.
• Date and place of birth: Nov. 3, 1973, Toledo, Ohio
• Pet: 9-year-old Willow, a black Labrador retriever
• First job: newspaper carrier in middle school
• Education: bachelor’s degrees in biology and geology from Bowling Green State University and a master’s degree in educational psychology from the University of Toledo
• Favorite toy: Slinky
• Dream vacation: an island vacation to Hawaii, New Zealand or Japan
• Best advice: I have two ears and one mouth and I should use them in that proportion
• Current reads: “Bone Labyrinth” by James Rollins and “Small Giants: Companies that Choose to be Great Instead of Big” by Bo Burlingham
• What’s always in my refrigerator: many kinds of cheese
• Must-have drink: wimpy coffee with cream and sugar substitute
• If I had an extra hour each day, I’d: spend it on exercise and self care
• Worst habit: hitting the snooze button
• Pet peeve: the moment when you sell yourself short
• Biggest risk: bought a Harley-Davidson
• Favorite artist: Arthur Ganson, a kinetic sculptor
Q: How did you get into the museum business?
A: Very circuitously. One of the great secrets of the children’s museums and science center world is almost everybody falls into it on the way to somewhere else.
I was a science guy growing up, but I also loved working with kids. From the age of 16 on I was working at summer camps, youth leadership groups, doing things in college working with kids. I left college and did research. What I found about myself and science is that I loved the outcomes of science, I loved the process of science, I loved the fact science is about learning more about the world, but I didn’t love research.
I was convinced by many folks that I was good with people and was good with science, so I should go into medicine. I went back home to Toledo and back to school to take one last course I needed to get into medical school and started working at a new science center. I was accepted into medical school, but I fell in love with the museum and deferred medical school. I tried to defer a second time, but they said no, so I went. I found myself keeping a host of things in the margins of my notes about things I could use for demonstrations and what props I would need if I were at the museum. After six months of doing that, it hit me that I should go back. I left medical school despite being at the top of my group. My boss said I should stay in school, but he took me back.
Q. What advice would you give an 18-year-old Sam Dean?
A. There is probably a novel there. The biggest thing I would say is … follow your heart … and do it with passion and persistence. I think about the career decisions I’ve made and I’ve been fortunate so many great opportunities have opened up. I find that moments of greatest growth are also the ones that have been the most terrifying. Don’t be scared to take big steps if that is where your heart is telling you to go.
Q. What is the biggest obstacle you have faced and how did you overcome it?
A. I think there are moments in life where you flow where the flow is taking you, where conventional wisdom is taking you somewhere. Conventional wisdom may say to take a job because it is secure or stay close to your home city because you know lots of people. For me the biggest challenge was fighting some inertia of where I grew up, which is a fantastic area. Fighting that inertia and breaking out on a different path is hard. It takes a lot of energy and a lot of intent to move in a different direction, but that’s where the best stuff happens.
Q. How does Northwest Arkansas differ from other places you’ve lived?
A. I moved here from San Francisco and one of the things I love about this area is there is this great sense of hope, a great sense of future, a great sense the region is on this interesting ride and people are positive about it. People work together here in a way I haven’t seen in larger cities. I love that corporations here work with attractions, institutions like the Amazeum, in ways that don’t necessarily work in larger cities. I think that is part of the “special sauce” that enables us to do things we wouldn’t be able to do if we were in a city double our size.
Q. What are your career aspirations?
A. I love the work I’m doing and what we have happening here. In terms of a career, this is fantastic. My career aspiration is more about having an impact on the community. We can help encourage kids and parents embrace moments of exploring the world using science and art. To me that is a big success.
Q. How does a children’s museum differ from a traditional museum?
A. A number of museums are about collections. A children’s museum may have a collection, but we don’t. We are not about artifacts of Northwest Arkansas. We’re a place for ideas, for learning and talking about the trajectory of learning from a very young age into adulthood. We think about our place as being about curiosity and creativity. In an art or history museum you have to have permission to touch things, here it’s the reverse.
Q. What your vision for the museum in the next five years?
A. This first year is almost like a pilot year where we test a lot of things and use that to navigate where we go next. We do a lot of work with early childhood and making and tinkering. Science and art are ways to explore the world. We know these are big themes, but we can explore them in a lot of different ways from programmatic, workshops, pop-up attractions, to adult nights. We’re doing a lot of work around our home base right and in the next couple of years we will get to spread a little further back out into the community.
Print Headline: Originally aiming for career in medicine,Amazeum director fell in love with museum world