Pensacola, Florida
Wednesday October 22nd 2014

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Megan Pratt

Megan Pratt
Founder, The MESS Hall

Megan Pratt has always been industrious. After earning advanced degrees from MIT and Harvard, she signed up to be a science writer and educational outreach coordinator for the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition.

Then, she ran for and won a seat on City Council.

All while riding a unicycle on a tightrope and juggling two children above her head.
That’s a lot—even if you take away the unicycle and tight rope—but it wasn’t enough for Pratt.

“Three months ago, when people asked me what I did for a living, I would tell them, ‘I’m a stay at-home mom with two jobs,” she said. “Now, I’m a stay-at-home mom with two jobs and a full-time volunteer position.”

As she spoke, Pratt sat at a low plastic table in the back room of The MESS Hall, the children’s science museum she helped start this summer.

“MESS” is an acronym for “Math, Engineering, Science, and Stuff.” It also reflects Pratt’s belief that the best way to teach kids about science is to encourage them to just “mess around.”

This was the model for “Science Saturdays,” the monthly, hands-on science program she started in 2003. “It’s ‘Here’s some stuff. Here’s sort of your goal. Get there,’” Pratt said.

“Science Saturdays” has been successful. So successful that the Institute can no longer meet demand for the program. Pratt said she routinely has twice as many children sign up as she can accommodate.

This is one reason Pratt and others began thinking about a museum.

“They [the researchers] can’t give as much as the community is asking,” she said. “The demand was clearly there, and the community interest was clearly there.”

However, she needed money. Fundraising presented a particular challenge, given the nontraditional nature of what was planned.

The museum wasn’t going to be a “dead animal” museum, like the natural history museums of old. Nor was it going to be like Mobile’s Exploreum. Instead, Pratt wanted to build something that would teach children to think scientifically by giving them the freedom to, well, mess around.

She found this concept hard to explain to donors.

“I figured, instead of telling them, why don’t I figure out a way to show them,” she said.

This summer’s pop-up science museum is “one big science experiment” designed to do just this.
The group’s lease on the building is up at the end of July, with the option to renew. At that time, Pratt said, they will evaluate.

“So far it seems that the experiment has been a success, in terms of the interest in the community,” she said

“We are positive about the potential for making this a permanent asset in the community. Whatever happens at the end of July people should know that this will be a permanent part of the landscape of Pensacola in some form or another.”