New Franchise Works To Foster A Love Of Science In Mid-south Students

Monday, May 05, 2008

One would never suspect that behind the door of Suite 106 in a Bartlett industrial park, a mad scientist lurks.

The office looks unassuming; the only clues to its purpose are the lab coat hung over the swivel chair and the bubble experiment set up between the microwave and coffee maker.

Mad Science owner Monica Norris shares a fun science lesson with dry ice during an after-school workshop with the Coleman Elementary Science Club.

Nikki Boertman/The Commercial Appeal Mad Science owner Monica Norris shares a fun science lesson with dry ice during an after-school workshop with the Coleman Elementary Science Club.

Comments There are no comments yet. Click here to start the conversation! STORY TOOLS * E-mail story * iPod friendly * Printer friendly related linksMore Business News * What to do * People in business * Music to their careers: Orchestra inner workings strike chord of teamwork for business Share and Enjoy Share and Enjoy [?] Share on Facebook It's immediately clear that Mad Science owner Monica Norris is crazy about her work.

Founded in Montreal in 1990, the Mad Science Group brings educational entertainment to school assemblies, after-care programs, summer camps and birthday parties throughout the United States and 18 other countries.

Norris bought her franchise in August and has been performing experiments for Mid-South children since October.

With a master's degree in education and more than a decade of experience in her family's business, Norris was at a career crossroads when her father decided to retire from operating Forklift Tires of Memphis.

"I started looking at children's franchises, and Mad Science was the first that came up. I fell in love with it as soon as I saw it." After completing a week of instruction in Montreal, additional online study and on-site preparation with a Mad Science trainer, Norris presented her first event at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic School.

St. Francis also happens to be where her daughters, Maggie, 7, and Molly, 4, attend school, which helped her break into the competitive realm of after-school activities.

"After-school enrichment is a big push in the schools right now. They want to provide something that's more than just a daycare situation," said Norris.

Unlike her past experience selling a specific product, Norris had to change tactics to market a unique service. She began her promotional campaign by offering sales and advertising in directories and on the Web. Her most successful tool was her most mobile one.

"I get calls all the time from people seeing my van," Norris said of her Honda Odyssey, wrapped in the Mad Science logo and Web address.

Norris has a lot of ground to cover in that van, with a franchise territory ranging from Jackson, Tenn., to Tunica County in Mississippi.

She hopes to open a satellite office in Jackson and expand her offerings to the casinos as an entertainment option for children whose parents are busy conducting their own experiments in probability.

For now, she and her staff of four instructors are busy with local bookings.

"We have 27 camps scheduled this summer. That's a very big booking for my first year; the average is about five. I'm very excited about that," Norris said.

She is also looking forward to a new "Be Tobacco-Free" event she designed for Red Ribbon Week, where her demonstrations with slime and dry ice will be modified to increase awareness of the dangers of smoking.

"The schools are really receptive. There's no other entertainer out there who can educate on this topic. Creating brown slime to simulate tobacco tar gets the message across better than a clown yelling, 'Don't do drugs!'" Norris also partners with home-schooling groups to provide science curricula for children from preschool through middle school.

Home-school parent Beth Blake was so impressed by the way Mad Science engages people that she hired the company for a birthday party.

"The adults had as much fun as the kids," Blake said.

While she loves getting parents involved, Norris's true passion -- and her mission behind Mad Science -- is to encourage children to see the wonders of science all around them.

"The schools have been placing a large emphasis on math and reading, but not nearly as much on science. This is a great opportunity to show that science is fun and offers them careers in the future."

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