Discovering new opportunities at Hands On!

Robert Houk • Jan 14, 2019 at 6:43 PM

Andy Marquart was born and raised in Missouri and began working in the museum field in 2004 at the Discovery Center of Springfield. Since then he has served as executive director of the Mid-America Science Museum in Hot Springs, Arkansas, and the CEO of the Galisano Children's Museum of Naples, Florida.

He is currently the president and CEO of the Hands On! Discovery Center and Gray Fossil Site. He has been with the organization since August 2013.

Marquart also serves on several boards in the region, including Junior Achievement of the Tri-Cities, Blue Plum Organization and the Northeast Tennessee Tourism Association. He is current council chairman of the Johnson City/Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Fast Facts

Favorite food: “Any seafood. but an authentic New England-style lobster roll is the best.”

Favorite vacation destination: “Our own back yard. There is nothing quite like living in the mountains of Northeast Tennessee.”

Dog or cat person: “I”m definitely a dog person. My pug Baxter just turned 16 years old in November.”

What's the best part of your job?

The best part of my job is seeing students in school groups come through each day. Many of the students who visit are from rural areas and this might be their one trip outside of their hometown for the entire year. They've usually never experienced anything like a trip to Hands On! and you can feel their energy in the building.

Our new exhibits allow them to explore at their own pace and learn through interactive activities that promote social interactions and teamwork. Students leave having learned something new about themselves and they feel empowered to keep learning after their visit.

Our job is to empower and inspire students to think about careers in STEM, and become more curious about the world around them. Our new location contains all the perfect ingredients to achieve that.

How would you describe Hands On! to people who are new to our area?

We are a place where curiosity thrives and there is a spirit of ongoing discovery. A place for families to learn and play together in a fun, safe and engaging environment. We combine art, science and natural history into one distinctive setting.

We blend playful curiosity with hard science that can be found in the largest Miocene epoch fossil dig site east of the Mississippi River where scientists are uncovering new discoveries each day. We are a place where science comes to life and we truly have something for everyone.

What's been the most significant change you've seen at Hands On! since moving to the Gray fossil site?

There have been so many positive changes, but the biggest is our audience. We are truly an all-ages experience now and we have transformed our experiences to engage more people and in a more meaningful way. In our old location, we were not only limited in our content and experiences, but also in the number of people we could serve.

Since opening at the Gray Fossil Site on June 1, 2018, we have seen a 40 percent increase in overall attendance, a 54 percent increase in group visits and a 78 percent increase in membership sales. We have had visitors from 49 States and several other countries.

On our busiest days, we have over 600 visitors. We have found that people will spend upwards of three hours here when they really take it all in. The partnership with East Tennessee State University and the Center for Excellence in Paleontology has set us apart from many other museums in the country. You can visit many science centers and fossil dig sites, but it's extremely rare to combine both into one inclusive experience.

Is there a particular activity or exhibit at Hands On! that you enjoy the most?

The Paleo Tower is something that is unique only to the Hands On! Discovery Center. It has transformed the space in the main atrium. Children and adults alike can climb through the tower and touch actual replicated fossils found on location at the dig site. To me, the Paleo Tower is a tangible representation of our partnership with ETSU and it has been a crowd favorite since we installed it.

Who has been the greatest influence on your life?

My dad has been the greatest influence on me. He has always done things the right way and prioritized all the right things. I learned the importance of hard work and a good laugh from him, and he is still someone that I can talk to, lean on and learn from.

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