Kate Arrizza has always had a true love for science, especially when it relates to water and the ocean. The former US Naval Officer spent six years out at sea on the USS Tortuga, Carr and Fort McHenry, and holds a holds a master’s degree in Museum Studies from Johns Hopkins University.
Today, Arrizza’s skills and passions have been directed in a way that benefits locals of all ages through her role as Chief Operating Officer of the South Florida Science Center and Aquarium in West Palm Beach.
“I consider myself a product of the product,” she said. “I came to the science museum as a little girl and it really shaped my path in life … [I] am thrilled to be back here shaping futures like mine was shaped.”
Arrizza, 34, who lives in Palm Beach Gardens with husband Evan and two children, became the Science Center’s education director in 2009, and became its COO in 2012. Her outstanding accomplishments have helped make the Science Center one of South Florida’s most successful nonprofits, attracting more than 205,000 visitors in 2014.
“The mission here is to ‘open every mind to science,’” Arrizza said. “Nothing inspires me or motivates me more than when I see children enter the center with one ho-hum outlook, and leave with completely different attitudes, loving every moment they spend.”
Arrizza’s dedication to improving the Science Center’s place in the community ties in naturally with her competitive nature; the long-distance ocean swimmer was recruited to the US Naval Academy swim team after she graduated from William T. Dwyer High School.
As COO, Arrizza has worked tirelessly to help raise the necessary $5 million to upgrade and expand the Science Center. She oversees all budgeting and scheduling in addition to reviewing and managing the Group Sales Office. She has also been actively involved in a number of important expansions and renovations that include the opening of the Science Center’s new “Hall of Discovery” this year, the first bilingual exhibit, and an early childhood education room enlargement.
The Hall of Discovery is a newly renovated 5,000-square-foot space that encompasses dozens of new or rehabilitated hands-on exhibits. These include an upgraded planetarium, a new 1,000-square-foot early childhood education room, Florida’s first and only nanoscience exhibit, an upgraded theater, a new science laboratory, upgraded amenities and much more.
Other improvements Arrizza made possible include “Science on Tap,” the only place in Palm Beach County where for the price of a cup of coffee or a beer, anyone can discuss the latest trends in science and technology with a world-class scientist; “Hack Shack,” a tech club for curious minds to explore computers; GEMS Club (Girls Excelling in Math and Science) and a new Robotics Club.
“All these activities are very important because we believe that the mind learns what the hands have touched – and there is not one exhibit in this Hall of Discovery that visitors cannot touch. It is engaging in a way that guests of all ages can enjoy,” she said.
Arrizza said the PNC sponsored Discovery Center has been packed with people ever since it opened in May. She added that the visitor reaction has been amazing and the Scence Center is already considering options for expanding the space outside. The early childhood education room has a 20-foot water table, 10-foot Lite-Brite wall, story time area, photo booth and seating area for parents.
The Science Center now boasts the largest aquarium from Miami to Orlando; it was even featured on the National Geographic TV show Fish Tank Kings. There are more than 90 species of local fish on display in the 3,000-square-foot Aquariums of the Atlantic, and visitors are invited to participate in shark feedings, alligator pettings and much more. And there are some out-of-this-world upgrades still in the works.
“We are in the process of upgrading our planetarium and observatory,” she said. “It’s the only public planetarium and observatory in the county. Come this fall we will have a new state-of-the-art digital planetarium system, brand-new digital telescopes and solar scopes through our tireless fundraising efforts.”
To reach out to more children and families in the future, there are even more good things on the horizon, Arrizza said. “This September we break ground here on our five-acre Science Trail and Conservation mini golf course designed by Gary Nicklaus and Jim Fazio. Other new exhibits are a physics forest, music station, bandstand, community gardens, run-through fountain and large dinosaurs.”
The continued success of the South Florida Science Center and Aquarium is all but assured thanks to the bright minds and unceasing determination of Arrizza and her colleagues – along with the generous support of fellow science lovers. It’s easy to imagine that they’ll also inspire the next generation to carry on this important legacy.
The South Florida Science Center and Aquarium is located at 4801 Dreher Trail N in West Palm Beach. To learn more, call (561) 832-1988 or visit www.sfsciencecenter.org.