Science is learned by doing, not just reading. With that guiding philosophy in mind, retired biotech entrepreneur Bonnie Baskin is out to inspire the next generation of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) leaders through her Hill Country Science Mill. The hands-on science museum in Johnson City, Texas, is geared specifically toward middle-schoolers with an eye on sparking student interest in exploring STEM-based careers.
Baskin’s successful foray into the biotech business world began in 1981, when the single mom who held a Ph.D. in microbiology found herself unable to meet the time demands of family and a university lab job. Not willing to sacrifice family time, she quit her job and eventually founded ViroMed. This mobile virus testing service quickly became one of the country’s leading clinical labs. She sold it 20 years later for $40 million. Not quite finished with the entrepreneurial world, Baskin went on to form AppTec, a testing and medical manufacturing company. She sold that business just six years later for $163 million.
Now retired and living in Johnson City with her husband, Robert P. Elde, a neuroscientist, Baskin has turned her attention toward inspiring the next generation of STEM leaders. To that end, she transformed an abandoned mill into a high-tech laboratory for kids. While other science museums exist, Baskins’ Hill Country Science Mill is cutting edge and designed specifically to target middle-schoolers.
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Since it opened in February 2015, the mill has welcomed more than 23,000 guests. With its use of STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics) rather than simply STEM, visitors are dazzled with displays like the “Fractalarium,” which features crystals patterned like Romanesco broccoli to illustrate the Fibonacci growth sequence.
While kids can get hands-on at the museum, exploring STEM topics and making the “invisible visible,” the lessons don’t stop after they leave either. Baskin wants to keep visitors engaged in learning by offering teacher support, live chats, follow-up information and summer camps.
There’s a method to the madness to be sure. Baskin is an outspoken supporter of STEM education. She also has a special place in her heart for aspiring young female entrepreneurs. She’s been quoted in the past as saying a woman has “the resources and capabilities that almost genetically make her superior to be a CEO.” She also supports women in business by sitting on numerous boards of women-owned or women-run companies.