New miSci head has big dreams
Sudduth wants to double center's size, make it regional destination in 5 years
SCHENECTADY William “Mac” Sudduth showed off the exhibits at miSci as if he was sharing some of his favorite things.
The new full-time executive director of what was formerly called the Schenectady Museum had only been on the job for a little more than one day on Tuesday morning, but looked completely at home amid the hands-on exhibits that encourage visitors to explore their sense of sight in new ways.
“The brain puts things together and sees what it thinks it ought to see,” he said, explaining why a stretch of aluminum bent at right angles looks like a triangle when viewed from a certain point in the airy exhibition space.
When Sudduth looks at miSci, he sees a regional science center double its current size, with an outdoor component and exhibits that will excite adults and children alike, and he said he expects his ambitious vision to become a reality in five years.
“Everybody in the region will say, ‘We’ve got to go there,’” he assured. “We’re going to be there for people who want to do serious science, and we’re also going to be there for the people who just like to learn. Learning is a lifelong experience.”
Sudduth and his wife, Sharon, are in the process of relocating to Schenectady from Decatur, Ga. While living there, he worked as director of the Fernbank Science Center in Atlanta. The center, which is owned by the DeKalb County School District, has a 500-seat planetarium and a 40-acre old-growth forest that visitors can investigate.
“The school system had gone through five superintendents in the 10 years [he worked there], and with the fifth superintendent, I decided to retire, and I thought, ‘Now I can afford to go and look for another science center.’ I looked at several,” said Sudduth, who demurred when asked his age during an interview.
Prior to the job in Georgia, for 10 years, Sudduth was president and CEO of The Science Place in Dallas, Texas, now known as the Dallas Museum of Nature and Science. While working there, he led an $18 million fund drive to build a new wing that included an IMAX Theater.
life in science
Sudduth has focused on science since he entered the professional world.
“When I worked for a living, I was a chemist,” he joked, regarding his initial profession.
In 1976, he switched gears and opened Omniplex in Oklahoma City, now known as Science Museum Oklahoma.
Besides his leadership roles at institutions in Oklahoma, Georgia and Texas, Sudduth spent time at the helm of science centers in North Carolina, Kentucky and British Columbia, and has extensive experience in grant writing.
The inspiration for his career path came from his grandmother, who was the first woman to graduate from the University of Oklahoma in 1903.
“They didn’t let women take science, because it interfered with the reproductive processes — that was the official explanation — so she would sit outside the physics lab or the chemistry lab and the professor would leave the door open so she could take notes,” Sudduth recounted. “She lived to be 106 and every technological change, she was up with.”
Sudduth was chosen from a pool of about 40 applicants for the executive director’s position, replacing interim executive director Teri Bordenave, who had been on the job since February.
“He was just, frankly, for us, a tremendously good fit and the experience he brought, and what we heard unanimously from his references is that he is really a person who could help us build this place into what we dream of having it be,” said Brad Lewis, president of miSci’s board of trustees, which conducted a national search to find a new director.
Sudduth has taken the reins at miSci at a time of change. The museum adopted its new name in August, and transitioned from a traditional museum to a regional science center. Thanks to a donation from Neil and Jane Golub, of the Golub Corp., miSci recently entered into a five-year partnership with San Francisco’s Exploratorium Museum, which designs and shares exhibits with other museums. The first of the revolving exhibitions, “Seeing,” is now on display.
The developments come on the heels of years of financial struggle.
“I think part of the problem was that the museum was very forward-looking, but they were mainly planning about what they were going to do in five years, and they may have taken their eye off the ball a little bit,” Sudduth said. “So what I’d like to do is when we’re bursting at the seams here and we can’t get another person in the building, we’ll do an expansion here.”
Sudduth said he believes visitors will come to miSci if the right exhibits and programs are offered.
“People have always been interested in science and technology, if you pitch it right,” he explained. “And that’s my interest, is getting people excited about it, getting kids to get their hands on science and actually do their own experimentation and go on to their own voyages of discovery, and helping adults, because a lot of what we learned is not in school, it’s after school, and that’s just always been the fun part, having people come and enjoy what we do.”