HIGH POINT, N.C. (WGHP) — Elegant.
After spending a couple of hours with her recently, I can think of no other word that more accurately describes Mariana Qubein.
The dictionary defines the word this way: “pleasingly graceful and stylish in appearance or manner.”
I would just replace the word “or” with the word “and” between “appearance” and “manner” when it comes to her. She encompasses both.
You can also use the word to describe, at least partly, the new $30 million building in downtown High Point that carries her name. More on that in a few seconds.
There’s a reason her last name probably sounds familiar.
She’s the wife of internationally-renowned motivational speaker, leadership expert, business executive and High Point University President Dr. Nido Qubein.
In a 2019 newspaper article, Qubein described his wife as a powerhouse and the backbone of everything he does. He also calls her the “First Lady of High Point University.”
To say she’s been involved with her alma mater (She earned a biology degree from HPU) over the years is an understatement.
She’s worked tirelessly in establishing the critically-acclaimed multiple gardens, plant collections and trees on campus.
In 2019, she even published a book on the university’s botanical gardens titled “Planting Seeds of Greatness.” The book’s proceeds support student scholarships.
Educating young people is important to her. So it’s no surprise she’s been a driving force behind the Nido & Mariana Qubein Children’s Museum scheduled to open on April 30.
“Bring your children to play. Bring your children to learn. And bring your children to be inspired,” she told me.
The museum was her husband’s idea.
“Nido is very much a child at heart,” she said before guiding me on a tour of the place. “He loves creating environments that are very exciting, fun, challenging and learning. You can learn from them.”
And that’s a great description of each of the museum’s nearly two dozen exhibits.
“In the beginning, I was very involved,” she said. “We hired a company that helped us with these ideas. And they interviewed a lot of people in High Point.”
Mrs. Qubein and the museum’s leadership team also researched children’s museums across the country and decided on each element. Each is hands-on. Each is educational.
“Things that are familiar make you feel good about yourself,” she told me.
It’s why there’s a distinctive “High Point” theme throughout much of what you see on the first floor.
“Kids Point” is a miniature town modeled after “High Point.” You can walk down the street and stop by, among many other places, a dentist’s office and a grocery store.
“GiNormous” is a salute to the city’s furniture heritage. Children can climb under and slide out of oversized pieces of furniture. They include a bed and a replica of High Point’s “World’s Largest Chest of Drawers” which you can climb in and slide out of.
But there are also non-familiar elements.
In “Water Play” (Prepare for you and your children to get wet. There are aprons and air dryers nearby!) you can launch into the air plastic balls that end up in a water vortex. You can also, among other things, launch boats onto fast-moving rapids.
Travel into space via “Mars Academy” where not only can you start your own Mars colony but also explore the terrain.
“The Hall of Mysteries” is unlike anything I’ve ever seen in a children’s museum. It offers 150 clues to many different mysteries to solve. Solve a mystery and learn something you didn’t know!
Then there’s the “STEAM Lab.” (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math). High Point University education students will be very much involved in this.
You’ve heard of “STEM” before. This museum added “arts” to the concept.
“That’s very important for imagination,” Mrs. Qubein pointed out. “Technology has taken that away from children because when they’re bored, they go straight to the iPad or TV or whatever.”
“But if you leave them alone and put paint and a sheet of paper in front of them, they become artistic in their own way. They start thinking. They start imagining,” she said.
“STEAM Lab” is a lot more than paint and paper. Children can build things using materials from Legos to plastic straws to cloth (which you can use to make things that you can launch in a cylinder of rushing air.)
Oh, and did I mention the carousel out back? I’ve never seen a double-decker merry-go-round before!
“My husband one day said, ‘wouldn’t it be lovely to have a carousel?’”, she said. “I’m telling you, he loves anything to do with entertainment for children.”
This museum may be entertaining and educational for the young ones (and older ones too!) But as an adult, I was impressed by the ingenuity, craftsmanship and quality artwork in this place.
You might even call it “elegant.” Just like its namesake and benefactor.