BUFFALO, N.Y. — In 2019, we are celebrating the women of Western New York who are shaping our region's future. This week's City Shaper is in charge of a space that's built for and about Western New York- the Explore and More Children's Museum.
Michelle Urbanczyk is the museum’s CEO, and she lives in West Seneca
"Were you originally doing something like this? Did you switch careers?" asked 2 On Your Side’s Kelly Dudzik.
"No, it's a different career path because I didn't know I was searching for Explore and More until I received a call," says Urbanczyk.
Urbanczyk was the president at EPIC, Every Person Influences Children, and she loved it there, so she wasn't looking for a new job.
“It just came and fell into my lap, and I'm happy it did. It was just one of those things I never thought I'd be CEO of Explore and More. So, it's been great," Urbanczyk said.
"You've got to be able to manager a whole bunch of different things at once," Dudzik asked.
"I do, and I like it. I do. I like chaotic, and I'd say it's a controlled chaos, but it is a lot of partners, a lot of donors, a lot of community agencies, a lot of educators, a lot of committees. But as I've said, we've had seven years. This is a seven-year project, and I told the board before I was hired, I'm expecting something really good," Urbanczyk said.
While there's still some work left to be done, the museum is open for sneak peeks on the weekends, allowing Urbanczyk and her staff to get lots of feedback.
"It has been a journey, but my customer is the children, so I get judged by an adult view, so the adult who goes on Facebook and will say don't come here or I loved this, but at the end of the day, did the child grow? Did they learn and were they immersive? And, I think that's what we don't, you know, it's a different philosophy because I get judged by how do you like it, but at the end of the day, did my five-year-old consumer really get what we were attempting to do, and that's really who I am focusing on," she says.
A lot of the museum focuses on learning about local history, events, and inventions, including three houses of families of a variety of cultures designed to look like the outsides of houses you see in Buffalo.
"The idea is they now live in Buffalo, but what type of traditions or heritage or belongings did they bring to really celebrate where they're from?" explained Amelia Blake, Manager of Learning & Education.
Inclusion is also a priority. Exhibits are adapted for children with special needs. And, there are two rooms for children who need breaks from over-stimulation. They double as nursing rooms.
"When we turn the lights off in this room, you can see that the sensory bubble tube will actually provide a really, really nice calming environment for them," says Lauren Savino, Access and Inclusion Specialist.
"You're seeing activity and things happening here that we didn't see five, ten years ago, so it's a really cool dynamic to be here," Urbanczyk said.
"What does it mean to you do be a part of that?" Dudzik asked.
"I'm proud. I'm immensely proud. As I said, it's surreal. Sometimes I just walk through going, wait, did I build this museum, wait, am I really in charge of this? It's surreal, I'm proud of it. I'm proud of our team," Urbanczyk said.
Forty-one people are on the staff right now. Urbanczyk plans on adding to her team as she spots new needs.
If you know a woman who would make a great City Shaper, send Kelly an email.
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