South Mississippi Strong: John Wilson launches educational engine with INFINITY Science Center

South Mississippi Strong: John Wilson launches educational engine with INFINITY Science Center

HANCOCK COUNTY, Miss. (WLOX) - INFINITY Science Center is changing the way people think about South Mississippi. It’s also preparing young minds to take over the next chapter of our history.

What you see when you step inside the facility today is all thanks to Executive Director John Wilson.

INFINITY Science Center Executive Director John Wilson reflects on his accomplishments weeks before he retires.
INFINITY Science Center Executive Director John Wilson reflects on his accomplishments weeks before he retires. (Source: WLOX)

"I will always be an educator at heart," he explains. "I think that's the heart and soul of how we develop the next generation."

John was named Executive Director of the center in 2013, but his journey with INFINITY started long before that.

0910_INFINITYScienceCenter
0910_INFINITYScienceCenter

"I came to the project in 2003, and my job was to figure out what people were going to learn, going to do and interact with here at the center," he explains. "Our goal was to make this a highly interactive place where people could get immersed. Really, this place is about inspiring. It's about showing young people there's a lot out there a lot they can invest their lives in. It's about showing parents how to encourage kids to be curious. Because the number one thing we try to do here is to encourage and foster curiosity."

When INFINITY Science Center opened in 2012 it looked much different.

When INFINITY Science Center opened in Hancock County in 2012, there were very few exhibits.
When INFINITY Science Center opened in Hancock County in 2012, there were very few exhibits. (Source: WLOX)

"We've grown so much over the past five years," says Director of Education Jill Senn. "It doesn't even look like the same place. When I first started in 2014, there were maybe three exhibits here. It was a lot of open space, and Mr. Wilson was instrumental in getting all of these things that you see here."

By helping bring a tiny piece of space to South Mississippi, John essentially launched an educational engine powered by impressive artifacts.

This Apollo 4 Command Module sits on the second floor of INFINITY Science Center.
This Apollo 4 Command Module sits on the second floor of INFINITY Science Center.

John admits his favorite exhibit is a tie between the Apollo capsule on display on the second floor, and the enormous booster that sits outside, taunting people as they drive by on I-10 in Hancock County.

This enormous Saturn V S-1C booster is an eye-catcher. It sits outside the science center, very visible from I-10 in Hancock County.
This enormous Saturn V S-1C booster is an eye-catcher. It sits outside the science center, very visible from I-10 in Hancock County. (Source: WLOX)

"I think one of the things about the booster, the first stage of the Saturn V, it showed us that Americans can dream big. I mean that was audacious to create a vehicle that large that would propel three men to the moon and bring them back safely."

John’s passion for for this building and what it represents is obvious. Just ask Rachel Ladner, who’s been with INFINITY since the start and now serves as Director of Finance and Human Resources.

“He really has been the backbone of the whole facility,” she says. “His loyalty and dedication to this place are unmatched and we’re so lucky to have had him throughout this time.”

Jill Senn agrees.

“I think INFINITY may not even exist if it weren’t for Mr. Wilson. I think that there’s probably no one that has the passion for it that he does.”

John says it's INFINITY's youngest guests who always encouraged him to succeed.

This space suit at the entrance of INFINITY Science Center is always a popular attraction for the kids.
This space suit at the entrance of INFINITY Science Center is always a popular attraction for the kids. (Source: WLOX)

“The thing I’m proud of and that inspires me most, is to inspire the next generation. You know, our children are like arrows that propel us into the future.”

"I am filled with great hope for the future. The planet is in good hands. We just have to continue to encourage those young people that will eventually take this over and run it, and not only run INFINITY Science Center, but run the world."

John Wilson’s last day as Executive Director is September 27th. He’s retiring to spend more time with his family.

Jill Senn, the current director of education, will be stepping in as the next executive director of INFINITY, and her mission will be to build on what John started. She wants to bring more people in to experience the science center.

There are a wide array of upcoming events to do just that. Click here for more details.

Copyright 2019 WLOX. All rights reserved.