Discovery Center’s new director looks to keep improving

By Corene Brisendine

Fred Goss has been working as the new director of the Flint Hills Discovery Center since the beginning of May, but he hasn’t been resting on his laurels.

In the last month and a half, he’s been taking feedback on the center and creating a plan that includes attracting visitors from Europe, bringing in new programs and maintaining the “wow” factor he says the center currently has.

As the new director, Goss said he has been given the task of upholding and developing the center’s mission and goals, which were created before it opened. The mission of the center is to “inspire, interpret, explore and preserve.” Goss said over the next few months he will try to formulate a plan for the next three to five years and implement it with the staff. He said the plan should not be longer than that because he wants the center to be flexible and able to adapt to the changing wants and needs of visitors and the community.

He said for the last two months he has been gathering feedback from everyone — visitors, board members, city officials, center members and community members — from the Flint Hills and abroad. After sifting through all the suggestions, criticisms and compliments, Goss said he will develop a strategy that will develop relationships and partnerships that align with what the center hopes to accomplish, which is to inspire people to do what they can to preserve the continually shrinking prairie.

“I’m a big believer in promotionalism,” said Goss, who took over for Bob Workman.

Goss said he has been talking not only to residents and officials, but also people “from across the pond.” He said the prairie is fascinating to Europeans, and he hopes to cultivate those relationships he has developed by increasing the center’s presence on the Internet. His hope is to give them a taste of the center so they will come to Manhattan and visit the center, not just read about it on the web.

In addition to bringing people from abroad, Goss said he hopes to bring in more exhibits, as well as more internal and outreach programs.

He said another aspect of the center is to continue the “wow” factor in the programs. He said he thinks the exhibits currently exceed visitors’ expectations, and he wants to continue that in the future.

For example, the introductory movie to the center gives people a glimpse of what it is like living in the Flint Hills.

As the 15-minute video moves through the history of the region, audience members see and smell the smoke from the burning of the prairie, feel the wind blow across the plain, hear the rustling of the grass, shrink away from the heat of the sun and brush off big, fluffy flakes of snow that fall from the ceiling.

Pamela Kulokas, the center’s outreach coordinator, said Goss has been a great addition to the facility. She said he is adept at translating ideas into achievable goals, which helps her do her job more efficiently and effectively.

She said he also does a great job cultivating local partnerships by bringing in people and organizations that she did not think would be interested in supporting the center; that has opened new avenues for future programming and events.

Kulokas said Goss has brought the staff together, too, with his humility and willingness to listen. She said before he came to the center staff members were “functioning” but more as individual entities under the same roof. Goss has brought them all together to work as a cohesive unit, she said.

“Day 1, he walked in and said, ‘I’m a humble public servant,’” she said. “And he has definitely lived up to that.”

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