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Episode 55: Joel Gordon is the Master Tinkerer at The Scott Family Amazeum

Spread the Ozark love

About the Show:

We recently sat down with Joel Gordon, Chief Maker, and Tinkerer at the Scott Family Amazeum in Bentonville.  Originally from Central Arkansas, Joel has had a lifetime of experience creatively using his mind and his hands to build and create great things. After learning he had dyslexia, Joel leveraged several opportunities that took him from learning the in’s and out’s of the theatre while in high school, then moving on to the Airforce after high school, and then the University of Alaska in Anchorage where he got back involved in Theatre. After Graduation, Joel spent time in the film industry in LA and NY before ending up back in Arkansas. 

This return to Arkansas brought Joel one step closer to the profession he loves so much. Joel’s father and grandfather were both great carpenters who were highly skilled with their hands. He got his “Making and Tinkering,” talent honestly and eventually parlayed it into a role in the redesign of the Children’s area of the Museum of Discovery in Central Arkansas. That project led to a managing role at the museum and a relationship with Sam Dean that eventually led to Joel making his way to Northwest Arkansas to lend his considerable talents to the Amazeum.

Joel has the enviable job of creating something from nothing and getting into the minds of young people that come from all over the Ozark region and beyond to dream, imagine, create, and learn what’s possible in life through the many exhibits and programs at the Scott Family Amazeum.   

You have to hear Joel’s whole story to appreciate where he’s been and where he is going. 

Listen to this podcast and read the transcript to learn more about Joel, the Scott Family Amazeum, and why he thinks Northwest Arkansas is such a great place to be. 

If this podcast episode resonates with you please let us know by commenting below or by dropping us an email. We appreciate each and every listener of this podcast. 

 All of this and more on this episode of I am Northwest Arkansas.   

IANWA Open 0:11

It's time for another episode of I am Northwest Arkansas, the podcast covering the intersection of business, culture, entrepreneurship and life in general here in the Ozarks. Whether you are considering a move to this area, or trying to learn more about the place you call home, we've got something special for you. Here's our host, Randy Wilburn.

Randy Wilburn 0:42

Hey folks, and welcome to another episode of I am Northwest Arkansas. I'm your host Randy Wilburn. And I'm excited to be here today. I am a kid at heart for those of you that don't know me personally, those that know me know that I'm a kid at heart but I'm actually sitting here in the bowels of the Scott Family Amazeum. In a really cool looking conference room with a very interesting gentleman that I asked to come on the show and for those of you that know that I'm constantly out there looking for, you know, interesting people to have on the show and the Scott Family Amazeum. After I had done Crystal Bridges, I really wanted to have somebody that represented them to come on the podcast and share with our audience. You know, with all of you guys, you know what the Scott Family Amazeum is all about and why they would stick such a fabulous museum for children. And, you know, it's more than a museum because when you think of a museum, you can't touch anything, but you can touch everything here. And that's the beauty of it. But without further ado, I want to introduce my audience here. At I am Northwest Arkansas to Joel Gordon, and Joel is the Making and Tinkering Manager of Scott family Amazeum Joel, how are you?

Joel Gordon 1:51

I'm good, man. How are you?

Randy Wilburn 1:51

I'm good. I'm good. It's exciting. So you know, of course we always banter about and have some conversation before the conversation. So I'm glad I had a chance to kind of catch up and find out a little bit about your interesting story. But I'd love for you just to share with our audience a little bit of your superhero origin story.

Joel Gordon 2:08

Oh, wow. Well, when I came from my planet, no. I grew up in, in North Little Rock in Scott, Arkansas which is right outside North Little Rock. My family had a great family, but we grew up "Po" Are you familiar with this term?

Randy Wilburn 2:25

Yes. Yes. That's when you can't afford the "or."

Joel Gordon 2:28

That's exactly right. That's exactly right. So we were kind of that family. My brother is now a doctor, he lives in Orlando, we were just visiting and we always end up reminiscing, and, you know, it was one of those things that when were a kid. We were kids, we didn't have friends at the house a lot because we didn't know if the electricity would be on and oh man kind of that situation. But I had, you know, my mom was incredibly supportive. And you know, I had very smart parents, obviously, and my brother's a doctor, my sister's head of a nursing department in Dallas. So everybody's in medicine. That I, you know, my siblings and then I came along and I'm the black sheep, I guess. I was always interested in particularly movies, I was anything I could escape with. So I always like to put my cards on the table. So I am dyslexic, extremely. I've learned to cope with it over the years. I'm real good with that. But when I was in elementary school it was kind of a struggle. So I was not your typical student. I didn't do really well in my classes, but I had some really supportive teachers, some really amazing folks in my life and got some some very lucky opportunities. But I you know, like I said, movies were always my escape. So when I was growing up, I thought, you know, I like this idea of movies, and I wonder how you can get to work in movies and do that kind of thing. So I started doing theater in high school. I was at Northeast High School and had an incredible theatre program and some really, really fabulous teachers there, Carol Davis and anyway. But, that was kind of my introduction to what a career might be. But I was also a big nerd. So it was about computers and electronics and like building things. So I was super into this is all for those of you out there who don't know, this is all pre internet. So, back in those days, we just absorbed magazines. So I was really into things like Fangoria magazine, you know. And I watched these guys who would build monsters for movies. So I learned about automation and creating, you know, interesting things with electronics and that kind of thing. So it was always taking things apart, putting it together and I was good at it.

So right out of high school into the Air Force, became an electronics communication specialist found out I was smarter than I thought I was. And yeah, then on to college. So, I got to college. thought I wanted to be I'm totally running you through the quick...

Randy Wilburn 4:51

No, that's fine.

Joel Gordon 4:52

My life. Got to college thought that I wanted to be a history teacher. And at that time, I was in Alaska. I was living in Alaska. I went to University of Alaska Anchorage, and had a really smart professor who said that you will never be a history teacher, you need to figure something else out. He was absolutely right. And, then I discovered that you know, that love for theater again. Yeah. And I thought I'll, I'll try it. But then I, you know, I was very into technical theatre and that kind of think so, yeah, I ended up doing that. I went to school for technical theatre, I got to move to Los Angeles for a little while lived in New York for a little while, lived in Chicago for a long time. I worked for Chicago scenic studios, and then had my own little company for a while with a couple of business partners and life happened on and on and on. I wound up back in Arkansas where I thought I would never ever be again. And I was actually back here taking care of my mom for a little while. She'd had some surgery done. And at that time, I was working in film, and you know you make all your money at one time and then you get lazy. Yeah, and I was in my lazy phase and taking care of mom And then the SAG strike happened. Big SAG strike. So Screen Actors Guild shut down. And I thought, man I'm gonna have to get some work and figure something out and out of the blue. I got a phone call from Nan Sells who was the Executive Director of the Museum of Discovery quite a few years ago. And she got my name from somebody and they had a big children's play area that they were working on. And I'd done a lot of work with the Art Institute in Chicago and and Museum of Science and Industry. And she said, I want you to take a look at this. So I did it. I wound up redesigning, and building this almost 5000 square foot children's play area, young kids, and I absolutely loved it and never done really been that involved in anything like that. Right? It was awesome. Yeah, I was just Oh, I love this. And I'd always kind of thought I wanted to be a teacher at heart. You know, I thought about history and all that and suddenly, I was discovering informal education and what that meant, and I was like, I think, you know, this might be a place for me. And out of the blue I finished the project and my wife and I were taking a vacation going to Costa Rica. And, just before we left on our trip, Nan Sells offered me a job as a director at the museum. Wow. So we got down to Costa Rica had at that time, I think my daughter, my youngest was maybe eight months old. And I talked to my wife about it. I said, You know, I, they offered me this job, and she goes, well I think you should do it. She had actually come down from Chicago, like not long before this, and quit her job. And we were taking a break. And she said, I think you should do it. And I said, All right, well, I'll do it for a year. So anyway, eight years later, you know, I mean, I was really into it that's in so that's how I actually met Sam Dean, who's the executive director here, right. Working at Museum of Discovery. I was the Director of Visitor Experience and the first tinkering hub in the state was at the Museum of Discovery. So, I got to work on the development of that and work with Sam and another young lady named Diana Bones. They were both with the Exploratorium in San Francisco. So, you know, kept meeting fabulous people. Yeah. And falling more and more in love with it. And we established all of these fantastic tinkering hubs and, you know, things as things go, I you know, we grow in directions. And the one thing that I was concerned with is that I saw that we were really losing kids around age 10. And for me around 10 is when I was really at a kind of a turning point in my life, trying to figure myself out and what my place was and I didn't know if frankly, I was an idiot, or a genius, or, you know, can I just live a life and what am I going to do and I can't, you know, struggling with school, and it just was really important to me that we caught that. You know, cognitively, around 10 or 11, kids are really forming their frontal lobe. So that's when you really discover who you are, yeah, what your personality is, right. So I wanted to, I wanted to get that. And I've been involved in this thing called the maker movement for at that time, about eight years, and 10 years. And I wanted to create opportunities for those kids who needed to learn with their hands. And hands on museums are incredible. But, you know, there's, there's that thing of, and I always describe it this way. museums and libraries are kind of like the two columns that hold up society, in a way, you know, so you, you come to a museum and you become inspired so museums are inspiration. And then you go to.. Well, back in our day, you know, my day, I won't put you in my old category. But, you know, back in my day, you went to the library and the library was information. So you become inspired you get that inspiration. at a museum and you walk out of that Museum, you walk out of Crystal Bridges and you want to be an artist. You walk out of Adler Planetarium in Chicago, you want to be an astronaut, you know, whatever it is. You get that inspiration. And the next thing you do is you want to learn everything you can about that. Yeah. So you seek information. And back in my day, you know, I had theater, wonderful theater classes where I could build and create and use my imagination. I had, there were shop classes, and there were these things that were going on. And at that time, we kind of lost that. And I really wanted to start creating that opportunity for kids. So I had an idea of creating a maker space. And there were these wonderful people in Argenta in North Little Rock where I grew up, right and first guy I met was just this incredible dude named John Godan, and John is kind of the Fairy Godfather of Argenta. He's amazing. I met Warrick Saban in the state legislature later at the time, the Mayor of North Little Rock, Joe Smith. I mean, all of these just in there, I could go on to be like an Oscar speech where everybody's going to do the whole list of names, right? Just an incredible group of people. But I ended up going to them and saying, Hey, I think I want to, I want to create a maker space. And they were like, Well tell us about it. So I started talking to him about it, tell them what it is. And they were like, cool. Why don't you walk across the street with us. We've got this building over here. And we're looking at some trying to figure out something to put in it. So at that time, they were working on this idea of an Arkansas Innovation Hub. But it was kind of a piecemeal thing. So the building itself was sort of the hub, and then they were going to put things in it. So at that time, incredible woman, Holly Lewis, who ran a program called Our Connection was in the building. And I wanted to create something at that time called the launchpad. So it was going to be the launch pad maker space, and I had about 6000 square feet. So, I signed up, got my 501c3, we started working on that. We really started to develop it and it just took off. And people looked at the model and you know, at some point along the way, we didn't want it to be, you know, the art thing over here in the maker thing over here and an entrepreneurial thing over here because we started to see how there was a Nexus and everything fit together. So it became the Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub, and about a year into it, crazy thing happened and this wonderful guy, Dale Doherty, who's actually going to be our keynote speaker at this Maker Summit that we're doing on the 30th of January, I went to San Mateo, California met him at Maker Fair. I got introduced to a few other people. And then I got asked to speak at a conference in New York, and went and spoke and got off the stage was standing in the hall, you know, walking through the New York Hall of Science where we did it. I'm walking through this hallway and this really nice young lady walks up to me and she goes, Hey, I just heard you speak and she said, I really enjoyed it. And she handed me her business card and her name is Stephanie Santoso. And I looked at her card and said "White House," and I went, "Oh," you know, that sounds important. So, anyway, so I met her and I told her I was from Arkansas. She was like, That's crazy. So I got asked to be on a panel at the White House. And we started developing something that is now called the Nation of Makers, the hub and all the process of all of this. We in partnership with some wonderful folks, Chris Massengill, from Delta Regional Authority, and US Economic Development. We we astoundingly received a million dollar grant from US Economic Development, and it just grew from there. And so I did that for years, I became the Executive Director of the hub, the Innovation Hub is now under Winrock International, which is incredible, and I had to slow down so I temporarily retired.

Randy Wilburn 13:56

You're too young to be retired but that's a whole nother story.

Well, but I took a break. Okay and wonderful guy came in Dr. Chris Jones. I love to brag about Chris Jones. He's a super nice guy very, very smart. But I like to brag that when I left they replaced me with an MIT PhD. You know. But read into what you want. Well, yeah, but now he's he's incredible. And they're still doing wonderful things and I spent a couple of years consulting and out of the blue Sam Dean, the wonderful Sam Dean called me and said, Hey, we're going to San Francisco. We're going to meet a bunch of folks. We're taking a group from up here and do you want to go and and help us kind of meet some people? And I said, Sure, you know, so we went and we had a wonderful time and I got to meet a bunch of old friends in San Francisco and get to meet a bunch of new friends from here and out of the blue. He just goes you know what, you should just move to Northwest Arkansas and I went on a starting to think you're right. Yeah. So that is it. That's my entire life story. And that's all I got. And thanks for joining us, folks.

Yeah, exactly. I love that. I love that. Well, there's so many things to unpack here. I just want to unpack a couple of things, just because I think that, you know, certainly I know there's a lot of different people and in this audience that come from all walks of life, the dyslexia thing certainly resonates with me because my oldest son has dyslexia. And he has actually done pretty well with it. And then when we started learning more about it, we realized that, you know, one in five children have Oh, yes, yes, it's the real deal. How much did your dyslexia inform how you, you know, you you were able to gravitate towards this type of work and what you're doing and and also the programs that you've created?

Yeah, I you know, here. The thing was, is that like, and I really stress this a lot, because in this is one of those things that I will stand up on a soapbox and pound my fist and so because I didn't necessarily do well in a lot of classes. I didn't get to apply myself to other things, because we evaluate kids for the most part on what's your GPA, right. And, so there were classes that I probably would have excelled in, that I didn't even qualify to step inside the door. And it really, for me, it really wasn't until I discovered theater in high school and started doing things and became creative and could use these skills that I'd kind of developed on my own. And my grandfather, my dad was a carpenter and a maker. He didn't like being a carpenter, but he was really good at it. So I learned a lot of good things. My grandfather was a furniture maker so I had a lot of that experience in my life. And we had a family farm in Scott, that you know, if something fell off the tractor, you welded it back on, right. It's just how you do it. And so I had all these skills that I'd learned that all the way through high school, I really yet to have the the big opportunities and because that was kind of reserved for that 10% of kids that, you know, we're making the grade. Yeah. But when I was in high school, we had a chance to take the ASVAB test, you know what that is? arm. So for those who don't know, Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, I had no one in my family who had ever been in the military. So I had no I, you know, but here's what it came down to. If you took the ASVAB exam at school, you got out of class for a day. So that was that was like, I'm out. I'm doing it, you know. So I didn't know if this is going to be something that I would just go in and blow off. Right. You know, I was just like, let's get me out of class. I don't care. And I went into it. And it started asking me questions about things that I was really interested in. And so long story short, I took this exam and I actually scored in the top 5% in the nation. So I got recruited from everywhere. I was terrified. I had like, guys in uniform just showing up in my parents apartment. And it was insane. And the Navy offered me a full ride to Annapolis. I don't know what Annapolis was right, right. I had no idea. But what all I knew was this. I never been in the military. I knew that they had guns and things like that. And I wasn't sure that that was my jam. And then the Navy said, yeah, we want to send you to college, and we'll pay for it. And it's going to be four years of college and four years in the Navy and did it. So I did the math, and I went, Oh, my gosh, by the time I get it, I'll be 27 years old because I was you know, 16 at the time, right, right. And I just went, I'll be so old. You know, so I went, yeah, you know, I'm gonna look into this. And it's probably a good idea because it pays for college. So I ended up joining the Air Force because I read that that was where I was least likely to ever touch a gun. Exactly. And so I went into it and then immediately got put in a combat communications unit, but I learned so much I got to go to tech school and really dig into electronics. And it was an amazing experience for a kid who had no discipline. And, you know, I don't recommend it for everybody. Yeah, but it was really good for me. And it gave me a lot of focus, and really showed me that I was smarter than I thought I was. Yeah. So but that's, that's kind of my point. It's, it's a lot of kids. Even today, a lot of kids don't get opportunities. If Albert Einstein, we're in, you know, a lot of the school systems around the US today, he'd fail out. Yeah, absolutely. You know, because he's, he was good at one thing, you know, and we don't celebrate people being incredibly good at one thing until they're grown up, right, you know, and then suddenly, well, he's an artist or she is a engineer, but you know, if you if you don't have the chops, you know, across the board, then, you know, it's a tough thing.

It is. It is it definitely is. I mean, it's one of the reasons why I actually got all three of my kids are now enrolled in the Arkansas Arts Academy and right they are getting so much of a well rounded education. And I mean, even just my nine year old, he's he's playing the ukulele. I mean, he's even playing behind his head now. I mean, he didn't play any instruments before he entered school in September. Now he's playing the ukulele, the guitar, the piano.

Joel Gordon 20:16

And music is math. I mean..

Randy Wilburn 20:18

It is, I mean, and he's actually brilliant at math. So you know, and and so I just, you know, I think that's really interesting. I know, there's parents out there that are listening to this that, you know, maybe have a dyslexic child. And sometimes I think a lot of kids that have dyslexia, they flounder, in normal environments, normal school environments, and it's tough. I mean, I think people need to be reminded, and I'll get off my soapbox after this. But, you know, as I was telling somebody the other day, I mean, so many brilliant people, men and women, you know, have dyslexia right and, and are able to achieve and do things at a high level. I think of Steve Jobs. I think Warren Buffett lot of people don't realize he's, I mean, just like yeah, severely and who's my other Bill Gates, right. I mean, there's just a number of people that have Oh, Richard, Sir Richard Branson. That's right. Yeah. And I mean, and you know, the story I was telling about him is that, you know, he that's the one reason why he journals all the time. Because, you know, when he when he was discovered to have dyslexia back in the 60s, they didn't really have a language for it. So his...

Joel Gordon 21:17

Oh, I didn't either. I mean, when I was growing up, yeah. If we hadn't invented it yet.

Randy Wilburn 21:22

Exactly. And so his coping mechanism was just to write everything down.

Yeah, I journaled. I wrote poetry I did, you know, I would, the way I started, you know, really developing coping mechanisms is that I would read and then write everything that I was reading, right. And my particular kind of dyslexia, like, all my brain gets ahead of what I'm reading. So I'll you know, I'll read a sentence and it will say, you know, the girl went down the hill, but my brain will go the gorilla went down the hill. Yeah. And I have to sort of stop and go, Well, that doesn't make any sense. I go back. Yeah. But you know, you train your brain and you get past it. Yeah. And I was probably about 14 when I really was like, good with it. Yeah, yeah, you know, it's it's that kind of thing. But yeah, having those those creative outlets and that's another reason I really love what's happening in Northwest Arkansas and we've got, you know, Don Tyson School of Innovation. My youngest was at Old High and that's just an incredible program. She's at Washington now. Sure. I really believe in public education. So I really, really, you know, but we're lucky to have really good schools here. We have Thaden and we have the New School, the New School. I mean, I could go on and on. Yeah, absolutely. My wife, her business is still down in Little Rock. So I am an Arkansas Bi-Coastal commuter. But, so we go back and forth. But, you know, my oldest daughter just got married. So she's an adult and very responsible and I'm very lucky. But our youngest, she'll be 13 soon. Yeah. So for her. I wanted to get her up here because the opportunity for education up here is stellar it is. I mean, wonderful teachers. We have just incredible infrastructure. It's a great town.

Yeah, it's a great town. It's a great area. It's a great region. And anybody listening to this, that's thinking about relocating here, whether you're coming to work for one of the big three, or just coming to this area to go to school to UofA, and you've got children of school age, there's a lot of opportunities. I mean, my wife had a chance to visit so many different schools when she came here on her fact finding mission before we moved here because I had to get her approval. Because I come from a household where if Mama's not happy, nobody's happy. And so we had to get her approval first and we got it but but that was only after doing a lot of research and visiting. I think she visited like five schools when she came here for a week to spend in Northwest Arkansas. So certainly, there's plenty of opportunities. Absolutely. So why don't you tell I'd love for you just to kind of tell the audience give them a glimpse into because to me, the Scott Family Amazeum feels like just a big playground. I told you I've been here times with my kids early on when it first opened. And I it just seems like it is expanded. And I haven't been able to keep up. But I'd love for you just to kind of give our audience just a glimpse into...

Joel Gordon 24:13

Oh,Yeah. And you know, I'll start off with saying how lucky we are to have it. Yeah, it's it's just incredible facility. And you know, what I was saying before about museums being inspiration libraries being information, you know, in a lot of cases, you know, it's about the internet today. But we still have these great library systems that are here that are these physical spaces where people can meet. So the fact that we have so much infrastructure in this region, but the the Amazeum, you know, there's this foundation of play in learning. Yeah. And we have to allow kids to play and discover and explore. And a lot of the philosophy here at the Amazeum is built around this idea of tinkering and tinkering is just open ended exploration of tools and materials. Life, you know, and so you get to come in and try things and dig into things. And we would often have parents still to this day when we, when we're doing activities, they'll have parents come in and go, Oh, well, you know, are they using scissors? And I'm like, Yeah, absolutely. They're gonna use scissors and here's a screwdriver and a hammer and a nail. And we're going to really use tools, we're gonna use all these things. So for us, a lot of it is about authenticity. We would rather introduce kids to the idea of using real tools in a real way in a safe manner and get that idea instilled in them. Then here's a plastic thing and here's a foam thing and you won't hurt yourself on this and we all bump and we bruise and that's okay. You get up and you walk and you learn from it.

Randy Wilburn 25:50

That's what iodine and bandaid are for.

Joel Gordon 25:53

We have real tools and real band-aids. But you know we have we also have really well trained staff They're always on top of it. But we have, you know, all of these, these permanent exhibits that are in place that are great to explore and to, you can use your imagination and get your hands in the middle of things and just have a wonderful time. And it's about developing the aha moment where you watch kids doing something and you see it when it clicks. And they go, aha, I get this. And that's really what we're all about, whether it's our permanent exhibit installations in the space, or it's the Tinkering Studio or Hershey lab, or I mean any of it, any of it. It's about creating that opportunity to for discovery and exploration.

Randy Wilburn 26:42

And how often are they rotating out exhibits?

As much as possible. eally? Yeah, I mean, well, you know, typically like our traveling exhibit right now we have Thomas the Train. Okay. Yeah, you should, you should check it out. Okay. But typically, traveling exhibits are about every three months. Okay, we have the things that are server anchor exhibits that really never changed. But they're all of those exhibits tend to be imagination stations, you know, they're they're places where you can go and use your own imagination to create your own adventures.

Yeah, absolutely.

Joel Gordon 27:18

And then we have with Hershey and the 3M tinkering hub. And right now we're developing our workshop space. And I can talk a little bit about that later. But we have, you know, all of these wonderful opportunities to sort of come in and explore and they're changing all the time. You know, in the 3M tinkering hub, we have a new activity every week. Okay. And typically the same thing in the Hershey lab. Yeah, so those things are always changing. Always. We've been in our workshops in our classes and our field trips and you know, everything's always changing, but we we have a bigger vision, you know, because our audience is growing, and, you know, ideas change you can't dwell on on the one thing You know, you have to always grow with the needs of the community, right? So we have new ideas that are happening, you know, our visitors are getting older. You know, we have kids that came here when they were five. And here it is, you know, four years later, and now they're nine, right? You have kids who were seven in there, you know, about to be 11. And there's that 10 year old thing that I was talking about before. So we want to, we want to create more opportunities for those kids.

Randy Wilburn 28:25

Yeah, no absolutely.

Joel Gordon 28:26

So right now we're working on where the tinkering hub has been. Our daily activities for the 3M tinkering hub have moved into showcase which is right in front of where people have typically seen the Hub. And that room that has always been the three and tinkering hub is now going to be the workshop. Sure, and that's going to be a maker space in our building. So we're developing that now. It's kind of we're kind of being slow and organic about it. But you know, a big part of what we do is we support teachers who are developing, making opportunities for kids at their schools and we have these incredible programs here that our education department are, you know, working directly in the schools and the districts and helping them create those opportunities there. So the workshop is going to sort of be our example of what, you know, we'd love to help everybody build. And, you know, we're really excited about that. But then that's going to give us an opportunity to work with those kids that are maybe getting a little older who are looking for something else. What's the next thing?

Randy Wilburn 29:27

Absolutely. Yeah, no, I love that. So why so you guys have obviously a lot on your plate and you're serving the needs of all the schools in this area. Do you find... Like I know when I visited with Crystal Bridges. I mean, they have students that come from Texas to come visit. Oh, yeah. But are you having kids come from other states coming?

Joel Gordon 29:44

Yeah, absolutely. Missouri, of course a lot, right. But I've seen kids who've come from Dallas and seen and then of course in the summer and holidays, you know, it's crazy. One of the big kicks I get is because I've had an my career and opportunity to really go around the world. I love hearing languages. So I've started keeping tabs of all the languages that I've heard spoken. And there have been a few that I've had to kind of ask. Right, you know, it's like, I know that's, I know that dialect is but I don't know what that is. But, and I speak really bad French, so, but I love it when I hear French and I get to, you know, parlez a bit a bit. Yeah. And, yeah, so we, you know, I mean, it's everything. It's it's German, it's Russian, it's Russian is when I recognized from living in Alaska, as long as I did, and I, you know, I just I hear Dutch I hear Chinese, Japanese, you know, I've heard Farsi, just on and on and on. But that's, I think that's also a reflection of Bentonville. You know, it's become very international.

Randy Wilburn 30:53

And people don't realize it, like I say, and I mean, again, when when I look at I mean, it's almost like you guys are like a one two punch. When you think of the Scott Family Amazeum. And then Crystal Bridges. I mean, you've got one of the one of the best collections of art in this country.

Joel Gordon 31:07

Oh, it's amazing.

Randy Wilburn 31:08

Right there. I mean, like a stone's throw from here. And for those of you that don't know, or you're not from this area, the Scott Family Amazeum and Crystal Bridges are basically right next to each other. So they almost share the same, you know, tract of land, if you will, and I forget what it is. But I want to say it's at least 270 plus acres. I haven't. Yeah, it's a

Joel Gordon 31:30

I love Mountain Biking there. And I've been all over those trails. And yeah, it just goes on and on and on.

Randy Wilburn 31:37

Yeah, actually. And the nice thing is, it's easy access from the highway to get here. I mean, they're just, there's just so many benefits to it. Yeah, they really are. So you know, before we close out, I'd love to know just I'll just give me a just a little taste of what this Maker Summit is all about.

Joel Gordon 31:52

Okay, so I'm so I'm part of this organization, the Nation of Makers, and I'm a delegate for the state of Arkansas. So what we do is help to develop policy and practices that supports not only maker education, but you know, as the executive director with the Innovation Hub. And with my background, I work with a lot of startup organizations and entrepreneurship. And do I used to do a lot of prototyping for people Sure, is a developed product. And I'm particularly in love with something called micro and distributed manufacturing. So we have all over the world now, but particularly in the United States, we've got a group of people who sort of bloomed out of this Maker Movement. So we have a lot of incredibly talented makers, who haven't typically, like me haven't typically taken that path to industry, right. So they're not necessarily certified. They're not necessarily they haven't necessarily gone to a tech school or college, but they have incredible skills that fit right into the needs of industry and manufacturing and In our infrastructure that we're trying to rebuild, so the maker movement is is about creating and doing yourself and becoming a creator less than a consumer. So we have here in Northwest Arkansas, we've got an incredible group of people that that are just creatives and makers and artists and, and so this is a great place to be. But a few years ago, when I was still on this committee through the White House, we got challenged to host a Maker Summit in our states. Sure. So I hosted the first maker summit at the innovation hub in Little Rock. And I invited the Amazeum the Scott Family Amazeum to come down and co-host with us because of the good work that they were doing in Northwest Arkansas. So Sam Dean and Eric Smith, Mindy Porter came down and we hosted an opportunity for educators, makers, industry and legislators to be in the same room and talk about this incredible energy that was building Around the maker movement, and, you know, all all of those nodes very much intersect over making sure industry you got to have makers to develop ideas to create new things. The educators are working with kids that have these talents, and they're going to be going down these varied paths of career. You got legislators, who're passing laws that are developing, you know, opportunities for people and creating new opportunities. So this we really wanted to become a Nexus. So that was the first one is a few years ago. So we're hosting it again here. And we're lucky enough to get Dale Doherty to come. Dale founded, he was one of the co- founders at O'Reilly Media. He founded Make Media which is Make Magazine and Make online and he founded Maker Fair. If you guys don't know what Maker Fair is, just google Maker Fair it will blow your mind?

Randy Wilburn 35:01

We'll put that in the show notes. Oh, sure. Yeah.

And Dale just does this incredible work so if you if you google Dale Doherty, one of the things that you know how Google always does that people have also searched. And it's who started the maker movement? And, it's Dale Doherty. He's the greatest guys. Nicest guy in the world. So we're really lucky to have him come and speak and I invite everybody out to sort of get inspired.

It's a one day event. It's a one day event on the 30th on a Thursday, January 30th, is it every year? We're

Joel Gordon 35:32

It's not every year. It's not. But it may become every year.

Randy Wilburn 35:35

Yeah, why not!

Joel Gordon 35:36

When the energy's there. That were open to the public and there is a ticket, okay?

Randy Wilburn 35:42

But if you, if you go to the Amazeum website, you can register, okay. And I absolutely, if you're if you're in industry, if you're in legislation, city development, community development, if you're a maker, if you're an educator, and if you know then you you should be in the room.

What about a podcaster?

Joel Gordon 36:01

And if your podcaster your a maker man. You're making podcast. Absolutely. You're creating a product. Yes. But yeah, I mean, we're at a really interesting point in the world. I mean, we're in a way we've we've hit this continuity of digital and physical, you know, I mean, we're using 3d printers to make things that we're designing in a computer that become a real object. And I used my first 3d printer 27 years ago, you know, and now I've got three in my house.

Randy Wilburn 36:33

They've come so far, and they do so much. It's crazy. Yeah.

Joel Gordon 36:37

I've got I mean, here at the museum, we've got 3d printers, we've got CNC machines that are just you know, we're designing and use them to cut things out. We've got CNC Mills, we've got laser cutter engravers just on and on. And those are things that you know, I want to teach kids it's, we kind of make the mistake of telling kids you know, you should, you should go into industry you should learn a trade Yeah. But, kids don't necessarily want to hear that. So what I what I like to say instead is, how would you like to run a giant robot that can make anything you can imagine? Yeah. And that's what our industry really is. It's so so we want to get people inspired. We want to show them how all those crazy paths connect, and it's around making.

Randy Wilburn 37:20

And I think part of that is just because I know you know, I'm a big proponent of engaging and giving kids an opportunity to learn more about the trades period. You know, I know one of the things that when I first came here one of my friends that does a lot of property development, you know, he's like, man, I would just kill for a Master Carpenter right now. Yeah, you know, I just I have so much work if I could just find one or two reliable Master Carpenter.

Joel Gordon 37:42

Well I'm a union certified master carpenter should I....

Randy Wilburn 37:45

I need to make that connection. But you know, you've got a lot on your plate. But I mean, I just think it's just important that everything doesn't have to traditionally be about like traditional school and traditional business and there are a lot of other ways for you to impact society. And I think that what you're doing, and the eyes that you're opening up through your work is tremendous. And I hope that you continue to get the support that you need, and the platform that would be necessary to create greater awareness.

Joel Gordon 38:18

And it's happening here, it's, it's, you know, a lot of people, they don't realize it, they come into the Amazeum and they go, wow, this is really cute for kids. That's our foundation, you know, that's, that's where it starts. And there's nothing more critical in an ecosystem. So, you know, having a facility like this, where this sort of work is happening, and, you know, having the thought leaders that are in this region that are incredibly supportive. Yeah. And, you know, I mean, I'm just, I'm just a guy, I'm not an Executive Director anymore. I'm just trying to enjoy life and, but it's, it's amazing that I'm living in a place where people just call out of the blue and go well you know you've got the expertise can we ask you to help us with this? And it's not a what's in it for me situation it's you know it's it's really about the community and you know there's a real there is a real all ships rise attitude here that I so dig, it's just been great.

Randy Wilburn 39:24

I love that. That's one of my favorite quotes so you know a rising tide lifts all ships and and it couldn't be more true than what you guys are doing right here. So no, I push it. Yeah, no, I appreciate you. So listen, before we close out, you've been up here a couple of years and as you said, when you were younger, you spent some time up here doing a lot of things. What do you like to do in your off time here in Northwest Arkansas?

Joel Gordon 39:45

I don't have any off time... You know, it's crazy. You know, when I first moved up here, I just had a little tiny apartment. It was right off of Seventh and I could It was insane. It reminded me of living in Brooklyn or Chicago again, where I could just walk out of my apartment and go a couple of blocks and go to a really cool restaurant bar. Right. So I became a Denison at Peddlers Pub. Okay, it's just it's this great spot. And then you know, do a few more blocks or hop on my bike and go down to the square and and just walk it's it is totally Mayberry sometimes I'm just gonna say it when you could just walk around on the street and just see people you know and say hi, and then it's completely San Francisco at night when you're or Austin maybe that's a better example. It's kind of an Austin evening when people are in these incredible restaurants and there's amazing food. Yeah, I mean, we we've got just in the square there's, there's at least one restaurant I still haven't tried. Yeah, Table Mesa is very good.

Randy Wilburn 40:59

Then you've got the 8th St Market.

Oh, yeah. So, so great. And then, you know, I just bought a little house in Bella Vista. Okay, and I'm up on the hillside. I'm right at the top of the back 40 Trail. Yeah. And we've got and when I say back 40, folks, I mean, it's 40 miles of some of the most amazing mountain biking trails in anywhere. You know, this is absolutely the Disneyland of mountain biking. Yeah. And if people don't know it, they need to know it. And then, you know, I love I still love kayaking. I don't climb anymore because I'm old. But I still love kayaking and fishing. And you know, so there's that side. So it's amazing to live anywhere where it's not unlike like San Francisco, if you live in San Francisco, you have all the restaurants everything and it's nothing to like say I've got some time off. I'm going to go to Yosemite Right, which will blow your mind exactly, but it feels like that here but but you don't even have to do the drive for Right, you know, I mean I can go to work in the morning, go home at night, step out of my door, and I've got wildlife and I can like take my bike down to the lake and hop in you know, I mean just anything and it's it's all accessible and even if you did want to drive just even like 20 to 25 minutes you've got Devils Den, you've got Pea Ridge, Buffalo river you're ever if you want to do some if you're into a little shopping and just as Eureka as my wonderful in-laws would say, if you want to go get some tchotchkes then you can head over to Eureka Springs, you can I mean you can do anything here and we've got XNA...

That's our airport for those of you that don't know the acronym but yeah, XNA.

Joel Gordon 42:48

So you know, you go well, now I gotta get out of town. Well, it's nothing to get out of town. You know. When I go see my brother in Orlando, it's just hop on a plane and I'm in Orlando. It can't be it can't beat it. So it's a I'm yeah so I plan on retiring here so there you go and my wife's gonna hear this podcast so you're really all right

Randy Wilburn 43:07

Well I'm glad you said that because you know the thing about being a maker the way that you are in a taker you can do that until the cows come home so that's

Yeah we'll see how that works out? Yeah, but that's my plan.

So if anybody listening to this podcast is you know this Joel guy sounds amazing I need to be able to connect with him what's the easiest way for people to reach out to you

Joel Gordon 43:25

They can email me.

Randy Wilburn 43:28

We'll put that in the show notes.

Joel Gordon 43:29

Yeah, so yeah, I'm all I'm always up for it.

Randy Wilburn 43:32

What is your email?

Here at the Amazeum it's But it's you know, talking about the the things that I love and did for years. I'm on Advisory Council for two emerging companies that are coming out of University of Arkansas. I'm working with one company called Ambots. If you don't know who they are look them up. It's amazing. Okay. I'm just going to say it's 3d printing and robots. It's

Were these kids in the Sam Walton School of Business or?

Joel Gordon 44:09

They're out of a Emerging? Yeah. Okay. So they're doing incredible stuff, I mean cutting edge, and then working with a young man named Cannon Reeves, who will actually be at Maker Summit. And he's got a company called More Tech. And, anyone who's out there he's looking for something to invest in. And I mean this, they are going to be the next Lego. I absolutely believe that. The product that they're creating, and they're using, you know, tells you I'm in love with this idea of micro manufacturing, right. So not only do we have this incredible lifestyle and these great restaurants and the nature and all this, but we have, you know, innovation labs at Walmart. We've got University of Arkansas and these incredible the Macmillan School of innovation. We've got all of these things that are happening and incredible ideas that are just emerging. We have startup companies happening, there's amazing entrepreneurship. All of our big three are investing in small companies that you know are going to change the world. It's this is a, I mean, for me, for anybody, this is the place to be.

Randy Wilburn 45:25

Yeah, I told somebody a while back, I said this, and I lived out in the Bay Area, so I can I can attest to this, but it This feels like and I wasn't there back at that time, but like, what Silicon Valley was probably like in the 60s and 70s Oh, yeah, I think so. There was just that you know, for whatever reason something's happened and there's energy Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely.

Joel Gordon 45:49

And, and nice people. Yeah, that's because that's the other thing you know, that that's that's the real reason I'm here. Yeah, because I because I could do this anywhere. But, and I've done it in other places. Yeah. But, that two years that I spent consulting was great. I made money and had great clients but I didn't enjoy my life. And I come here and, I am enveloped in the beautiful creamy, chocolatey, nougat of the Amazeum and these incredible kids that I get to see every day. Yeah. And I still get to, you know, go and do grown up things and be around incredibly intelligent people. And I love surrounding myself with smart people. Yeah, and kind people. It's just it's a great place.

Randy Wilburn 46:36

Yeah, I think the quality of life is is on, you know, at the top end of the spectrum for sure. Yeah. So yeah, well, man, Joel, this has been great. I cannot I mean, your your energy is infectious. And I'm glad that I reached out to you and thank you so much for Yeah, for joining me on this podcast. today. It's a little longer than normal. But I think you shared so much that that our listening audience Always looking forward to learn more about NWA. So thank you so much again for being here.

Joel Gordon 47:04

Thanks for inviting me. That was so nice of you!

Randy Wilburn 47:06

Absolutely. So folks, there you have it, Joe Gordon Making and Tinkering Manager at the Scott Family. Amazeum. You can check him out at Check out the Amazeum website at and just you need to come down if you live here in Northwest Arkansas, please come visit. please mention that you heard about it through this podcast and through hearing about all the wonderful things that Joel and his team are doing. And certainly we want to encourage you to come here and check it out. If you're coming to visit Northwest Arkansas, when you make time or if you make time to visit Crystal Bridges. I don't see why you wouldn't do that. You need to stop in and visit the Scott Family Amazeum even if you don't have kids, because the if you're a kid at heart, this place you will absolutely enjoy it. So I really want to encourage you to do that. Thank you so much and I appreciate everybody that listens to this podcast on a regular basis. Please feel free to share it with a friend We would love it if you could provide a review. If you listen to it on Apple podcast. We'd love a five star review. Let us know what you think about the podcast, what it does for you, when you like to listen to it, and what episodes really resonate with you. Your voice matters to us and we want to continue to bring you all of the great things that Northwest Arkansas has to offer like Joel and so we really appreciate our audience and we thank you so much. And remember we come out every Monday at noon. So that's all we have for this week. But we will see you with another episode next week. Bye for now.

IANWA Close 48:37

We hope you enjoyed this episode of I am Northwest Arkansas. Check us out each and every week available anywhere that great podcast can be found. For show notes or more information on becoming a guest visit. I am Northwest We'll see you next week on I am Northwest Arkansas

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