A Dayton Gem

 A Dayton Gem

Mark Meister uses his love of museums and archaeology to take the Boonshoft Museum of Discovery to the next level.

By Jamie Kenny

There is always something fun and educational going on through the Dayton Society of Natural History. Whether it’s a traveling exhibit or a focus on an important local program, the organization provides many opportunities for kids of all ages to learn and grow.

At the helm is president and CEO of the Dayton Society of Natural History, Mark Meister, who has been in the leadership role at the organization since January 2000.

“This job has been very exciting,” says Meister. “When I started here, it was during a growth phase and I’ve seen it really take off! As Dayton’s only natural history museum, we offer special attractions, like the planetarium and a native zoo, but we are always changing and improving because that is what it takes to be truly interactive and that is what we offer the Dayton community.”

So Much to Offer

The Dayton Society of Natural History (DSNH) operates the Boonshoft Museum of Discovery, Boonshoft Museum of Discovery Springfield, SunWatch Indian Village/Archaeological Park and Fort Ancient Earthworks and Nature Preserve (operated on behalf of the Ohio History Connection). The Boonshoft is the organization’s most visited site, with more than 200,000 annual visitors. This interactive children’s museum focuses on science, and its exhibits include an extensive natural history collection, as well as a collection of live animals that are native to Ohio. Educational outreach extends to the community by providing in-school programming and on-site special programs.

“We do so much in the community that many people just do not see,” says Meister. “We have programs with local schools that can come for free field trips to any of our locations, we take educational programs into the schools, we host summer camps and provide free lunch to qualified students, and we even have a state-licensed preschool at our Boonshoft location right here in Dayton.”

Another amazing benefit to having the Boonshoft in the community is its reciprocal relationship with hundreds of museums across the United States. Based on the Boonshoft’s many accreditations and associations with other organizations, members of the local DSNH can also use their membership to visit other museums beyond the local community. It is due to the nationwide success of the Boonshoft that members have this unique opportunity, and Meister is pleased to be a part of that success.

The Right Fit

Meister says that he found the right fit when he came to Dayton. Up to that point, his career had been spent in art museums in Minnesota, Michigan, Indiana and Connecticut; managing a children’s interactive and science museum in Minnesota; and a stint as the executive director of The Archaeological Institute of America in Boston.

A native of Baltimore, Md., Meister held positions throughout the Midwest before settling down in Dayton. Meister has a bachelor’s degree in Ancient Art and Archaeology from Washington University in St. Louis, and a master’s degree in Museology from the University of Minnesota. He also holds a certificate from the Museum Management Institute at the University of California, Berkeley.

“At the DSNH, I found that I could combine my experience as a museum professional with my background in archeology,” he says. “After my time in Boston, I knew I wanted to get back to my real love: working for a museum.”

But that wasn’t all Meister could offer Dayton. As soon as he arrived, he immediately got involved in a number of local organizations, including the Dayton Council on World Affairs, Board of Trustees; Dayton Peace Accords Project, Executive Committee; and the Dayton Sister City Committee, where he held many positions and was a member of the 2004 City Delegation to Augsburg, Germany, and Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, with the mayor and city commissioners.

Today, he volunteers with many organizations, including the Dayton Literary Peace Prize Foundation, Board of Trustees; the Dayton STEM Collaborative, Board of Trustees; Culture Works, Cultural Planning Steering Committee; the Dayton International Peace Museum Advisory Board, the Montgomery County Future Advisory Committee; the Dayton/Montgomery County Convention and Visitors Bureau Board of Trustees; and the Rotary Club of Dayton, where he has served in many capacities since 2000.

Meister is also highly respected in his industry, being named the Ohio Museums Association’s Professional of the Year in 2008, and was one of 14 individuals selected by the Association of Science and Technology Centers to be on the delegation to the 2010 China-U.S. Science Center Directors’ Forum in Beijing. He presented a paper at the China Science and Technology Center in Beijing on the outreach education programs of the Boonshoft Museum of Discovery.

When he is not working or volunteering, Meister enjoys living in Yellow Springs with his wife of 37 years, Carla Steiger. They have two grown daughters and enjoy being grandparents to their one granddaughter. They love the many activities that they can do around the area, including walking and biking, and they also enjoy traveling outside of Ohio. They have traveled all over the world, including visits to Thailand, Paris, London, New Orleans and Key West—all in one year! However, Meister always relishes coming back home to Dayton.

The Heart of Dayton

“I have seen so much positive growth in Dayton over my 15 years here,” says Meister. “All of the local universities have grown, and each one injects a real sense of accomplishment and learning into our community. I also think it is so important that people are moving back into downtown Dayton to live and revive the heart of the city. There are so many great things to do here, especially from a recreational standpoint, with opportunities through Five Rivers MetroParks and the ongoing development of Riverscape.”

Meister feels strongly about the future of Dayton and his organization.

“We are looking to enhance the educational offerings of the museum and our other facilities to accommodate even more children during the day and through our summer camps,” he says. “We have had such great success with all of our facilities and we will continue to enhance them.”

“The Dayton Society of Natural History is a tremendous resource for the Dayton community,” says Meister. “Many who visit are surprised to see a facility like this in Dayton because it is so unique. We will continue to do what we can to contribute to the success of our vibrant community.”