The newly-opened San Antonio Museum of Science and Technology (SAMSAT), which seeks to become a world class science and technology museum and science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) innovation center, is a game changer.
The museum explores the past, present, and future of technology in San Antonio. For now, the collection is temporarily housed in a 12,000 sq. ft. showroom at the locally-based security company e-Watch Corp, located on IH-10 West near Friedrich Wilderness Park. Plans are to eventually relocate the collection to downtown San Antonio to allow for a full curation of the collection and development of curriculum, as well as for expansion of its programs, exhibits, and services.
Eventually, founder David Monroe, along with tech leader Shawn Williams, museum curator Jeff Wyatt from The Museum Practice, and others, plan to expand and move the collection to a 50,000 sq. ft. space.
“We plan to organize the collection into technology themes – cybersecurity, biotechnology, information technology, for example – and will look for those willing to partner with the museum to support a particular collection,” Monroe said.
The items currently in the museum come from Monroe’s personal collection. Only a small portion is currently on display. The Rivard Report was able to peek into the darkened warehouse space housing the rest. The stacks and stacks of objects just waiting to be curated into a meaningful narrative on science and technology is staggering.
“My early STEM experiences go back to when I was a 5-year-old back in 1960,” Monroe told an audience of educators visiting the museum collection on a rainy Saturday morning. “I wanted to check out the book The Boy Electrician and was told I was not allowed because I didn’t know how to read. I went home and took two weeks to learn how to read. I then returned with my mother to convince the librarian to allow me to check out the book. I spent my early boyhood going through the book and doing all the experiments in it.”
“That’s the power of a compelling STEM experience.”
That early maker experience guided Monroe’s career. Monroe, who holds 50 patents, dropped out of college at the University of Kansas to work at Datapoint in San Antonio, where he worked on the team responsible for inventing the first microprocessor chip used in personal computers. Monroe eventually became Datapoint vice president for research and development and is currently the CEO at E-Watch.
“We have in the collection the first vacuum tubes, for example, as well as so many other pieces of technology,” Monroe said. “With this museum, we can tell stories about all these inventions, as well as about the San Antonio science origin stories, to inspire students to become makers and STEM enthusiasts.”
Wyatt agrees on the power of exposing children to STEM.
“As a museum professional, I have seen firsthand the inspiring effect museums can have on children to pursue a career in science and technology,” he said. “We have a great history of tech and science here in San Antonio — inventions like the Datapoint story and its role in creating the first personal computer, the first cell phone camera, and the first Wi-Fi network were all created here. We haven’t had a forum to tell these stories before. The museum will be that forum for San Antonio’s tech history.”
SAMSAT has six goals: To help establish San Antonio on the map for science and tech; support STEM education by partnering with schools, the City, and organizations like SASTEMIC; contribute to economic development by creating a science destination city for visitors; provide a science and technology research platform; increase science and tech literacy; and help document science and tech history over the past 40 years.
The museum will go beyond a curated collection. It will provide interactive opportunities for visitors to engage with the science and technology concepts the collection reflects. To support the interactive nature of the museum, there will be a maker space with a wood shop, machine shop, laser cutter, computer-assisted design (CAD) design, and equipment for 3D printing.
“The long-term vision, which is our dream progression from a stand-alone museum to a comprehensive, coordinated STEM campus, is that it be ideally located in San Antonio’s Southside near the missions,” Monroe said. “The campus would then be accessible to both downtown and the rest of San Antonio, as well as to the Stinson airfield. Then we can expand and base an air and space collection and events at (the) airfield.
“We can see the museum becoming a destination with its collection, the maker spaces, and museum campus, all becoming the ‘go-to place’ for STEM.”
Stinson Municipal Airport is the second oldest continuously operated airport in the country and the oldest west of the Mississippi River. To envision it becoming the site for an air and space science and technology collection makes sense if SAMSAT can fulfill its long-range goals.
Phase 1 of SAMSAT’s initial master plan for the next two years will focus on finding at a minimum a 10,000 sq. ft. space someplace in downtown San Antonio. Phase 2 entails establishing that downtown presence and expanding to 20,000 sq. ft., and ideally, 50,000 sq. ft. to allow for the curated display of the entire collection. The museum team is currently seeking the first stage of funding as they negotiate for a suitable space downtown.
As the seventh largest city in the U.S., San Antonio is the largest city that does not have a significant science and technology museum. The six largest U.S. cities have established museums ranging from 165,000 to 600,000 sq. ft.
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Ultimately, the newly-launched SAMSAT and its future Air and Space Museum would complement the Witte Museum and the DoSeum, creating STEM-focused venues in San Antonio for visitors and their families.
With potential teaching topics at SAMSAT, such as the development of the personal computer, evolution of radio video conferencing, cyphers, and the World War II-era Enigma machine, and how GPS was created and the role it pays in everyday life, the opportunities for STEM education are an exciting addition for San Antonio.
“I’m thrilled about the museum being located here and how it gives San Antonio children the perfect launchpad to get excited about STEM,” Monroe said.
Top image: The new San Antonio Museum of Science and Technology is located on IH-10 West near Friedrich Wilderness Park. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone.