The Tech Museum of Innovation | Tim Ritchie

 

About Tim Ritchie

Tim Ritchie has transformed The Tech Museum of Innovation into a vital community resource that excites and engages people of all ages with programs that help them discover their own problem-solving power. Under Ritchie’s leadership, The Tech has developed new partnerships with schools, created new teacher training programs, and increased its focus on equipping girls and low-income students to engage positively with science, technology, engineering and math. As a result of this work and more, The Tech in 2015 won the National Medal for Museum and Library Service, the highest honor an American museum can earn. Ritchie joined The Tech in 2011 after serving as the president and CEO of the McWane Science Center in Birmingham, Alabama. Prior to leading science centers, he practiced law, led education programs in a large public housing community, and led an organization that creates employment opportunities for adults with disabilities. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Davidson College, his law degree from Duke Law School and his master’s in public administration from Harvard University.

 

Interview Transcript:

Alan
Welcome back and visit here today with Tim Richie. He is the CEO and President of the Tech Museum of innovation in San Jose. Welcome to today’s show.

Tim
Thank you, Alan. Pleasure to be here.

Alan
So, Tim, for the listeners, can you give the background of how you came to be at the place you’re at today?

Tim
Yes, and I’m a lawyer by training. And I was practicing law in Birmingham, Alabama. And I was also volunteering in a public housing community in Birmingham. And I realized how much I enjoyed that work. So I left my law practice, and work for the next six and a half years in that public housing community, where we did education programs, we ended up buying a block, creating a community garden. And at that time, I saw what a difference a place of learning could do for the kids I was working with. And a science center was being created in Birmingham, called the McWane Science Center. And I knew what a difference that could make. I then left Birmingham, went back to graduate school. And my first job was to work with adults with disabilities. And I realized my job there was to help them to get and keep jobs, we created lots of businesses, and we gave them employment all throughout Louisville, and then I got a chance to go back to Birmingham and run the Science Center. I ran that science center for about seven years and was recruited to come to the tech. And the thing that connects all of those things, practicing law, working in public housing, working with adults with disabilities, and then working in science centers, is this deep belief in human dignity and the power of people to become something special. And the road to that usually is education. And oftentimes, it’s engaging kids and families in ways that the formal education system won’t, then there’s at the especially the interesting time working with adults with disabilities and the essential dignity and the value of everyone. Now, I think that that applies in everything we do at the tech now, because we have an abundance of kids that come to the tech who are full of talent, but they don’t have a lot of opportunity. And that connects with why I do what I do is to try to elevate people so that they can become who they were created to become.

Alan
You know, I love the way you put that. Working with individuals bringing better education lifting them to higher levels than they would have other. You know, that scene before when you had when you came into the tech. Is it okay? If I just refers is a Tech Museum in San Jose innovation, just the tech?

Tim
The tech so much better! Okay, if we had a if we had a hashtag or #NotAMuseum So that’s great.

Alan
Okay, so, so when you came into the tech, what, what differences Did you note between, you know, the Birmingham Alexandria, hour Alabama center versus coming into Silicon Valley here.

Tim
The principal difference is the silicon Silicon Valley itself. So the principle asset of the tech is not something that lies within the tech, but it’s Silicon Valley itself, all the intellectual capital of this community. And that is something special in the entire world. Silicon Valley is a gift to the world, it is helping create the world. And so one of the things I wanted to do is to bring all of that power and, and smarts and creativity into the tech itself. Birmingham doesn’t have that at this point. It has many great things in the community, but nobody has what Silicon Valley has.

Alan
And would you say the Tech is a living history or it continues to evolve?

Tim
Right? It is a living embodiment of where Silicon Valley is heading. It is definitely not a History Museum in any way. But for instance, we try to create as many opportunities as possible for Silicon Valley businesses to have a presence on the floor in ways that are actually exhibits. So for instance, that the augmented reality virtual reality and mixed reality exhibit that we’re creating now, we’re doing that in partnership with Oculus Rift, and with Google, and with Adobe and Nvidia and the like. And in our bio design studio, we do that in partnership with biotech companies to turn what they’re doing into exhibit so that our visitors are using tomorrow’s technology today.

Alan
If I understood correctly, you had a law degree, and then went back to graduate school, in what what field of the graduate.

Tim
So I got a Master’s in Public Administration from Harvard’s Kennedy School. And the reason I did that is I got to a point in my life where I thought I had to either go back to being a lawyer or I had to be better at managing nonprofit institutions. So that’s really what I decided we picked up and we moved everything. I did not have a job ahead of me. The whole family put our stuff in a U haul and drove from Birmingham to Cambridge. And we did the master’s program there. I was convinced that I would have to end up working for dunkin donuts or something. I had no idea. What was so pleased with my first job out of the Kennedy School was to help adults with disabilities to live with dignity in the world.

Alan
When amazing It’s just the way that this whole thing evolved. And, and I’ll have to say the tech is blessed for having you at the helm. I visit here today with Tim Ritchie. He’s the CEO and the president, the tech, and I need to take a quick break. And we’ll be right back after this.

Alan
welcome back and visit today with Tim Richie. He is the CEO and the and the president of the tech and, and timber the first, in the first segment, you know, we established your background, how you came to where you are today. But yeah, there was one comment that you made about, you know, that that the tech is continually evolving into is technology changing. And, you know, I, having been in Silicon Valley for some time, as technology changes six months ago, it’s already outdated. How do you stay ahead of the curve as things evolve and getting things on display.

Tim
The key is the partnerships we have with Silicon Valley businesses. So one of the mantras we have is build less and partner more in traditional science centers, which focus on understanding the physical universe phenomenological science, you can build an exhibit, and it can be current for a long time. But in Silicon Valley, that can’t happen. But it’s too much pressure on our exhibits team to try to do that ourselves. So we try to have as many partnerships as possible so that they are the ones who are providing the intellectual capital, and then we turn it into an exhibit. So for instance, we have an exhibit right now, with mushroom mycelium, which helps visitors understand the power of biology to be technology and mushroom mycelium can grow things like you can grow a table, you could grow packaging material. But we don’t do that ourselves. We do that in partnership with a business called Michael works. And then similarly in our augmented reality, virtual reality lab, all those things we show on the floor we do in partnership with other businesses, we hope to do the same with technology and the environment with artificial intelligence with cybersecurity. If we don’t do those things in partnership with Silicon Valley businesses, we will be ahead of the curve because we’ll be using their r&d.

Alan
So when you look at the the innovation right now, what trends do you see heading down the road?

Tim
Well, definitely big data is is the driving force right now, because data is becoming everything. And that’s it’s showing itself up and medicine and showing itself up and entertainment is showing itself and, and education and the like. So big data for sure. Artificial intelligence, the environment, the collapse of the the environment, so to speak, or the challenges of climate change, the advances that are happening in personalized medicine, all these things are happening just in breathtaking speed.

Alan
You mentioned also about I’m going to switch back into this life science about growing things. Are there ethics involved in some of this innovation that you guys have to evaluate?

Tim
So there’s ethics involved in every single one of them, we have a partnership with the Markkula Center for Ethics at Santa Clara University. And for instance, even this Saturday, there’s going to be a talk on self driving cars and the ethics of that. But we’re always doing things with ethics in mind. So we have a general push to not just consider innovation, which is the practical expression of your imagination, but also the ethical imagination. So you go from what can be to what should be. That’s what the ethical imagination is all about. And it applies to almost everything we do.

Alan
So the tech is giving a platform to send messaging for, for your partners. Who’s your target audience?

Tim
Target audience begins with the late elementary middle school audience, we have to be great at that. Essentially, we are in the pipeline business. We’re trying to build the innovators of tomorrow, hopefully that they will bend their lives to make that innovation count for global good. But nonetheless, we are in the pipeline business, helping kids achieve their potential. And then moving on from that there’s older audience and then moving out from that there’s the community as a whole. So it’s a series of concentric circles that begins with roughly speaking the middle school or late elementary school student in mind, and then moving out to young professionals and then to the community.

Alan
Put you on the spot if you don’t know it’s okay. But man, how many kids go through the museum a year? Yes.

Tim
So we’ll have attendance between 402 600,000 a year depending on what our exhibit mix is, of that amount, 140,000 or so common school groups would say at least half of our kids, generally speaking, visitors are kids. So that would be about 200 to 250,000, or maybe even 300,000 a year.

Alan
That’s a great pathway. If they’re so busy here today with Tim Richie, he’s the CEO and the president of the tech and Tim, I need to take another break. And we’ll be right back after these messages.

Alan
Welcome back and missing here today with Tim Ritchie. He’s the CEO and the president of the tech. And in Tim in the first segments where we’re building a background, we talked about some of the exhibits and partnerships if the Tech has what if I was to ask you to coin it, the face what exactly is the mission of the tech, what are you trying to do and you reach.

Tim
The mission of the tech is to inspire the innovator and everyone in the most important word in that mission is the word everyone. We deeply believe that everyone was born a problem solver, we deeply believe that everyone can contribute. But the challenge is that many people, although they’re born talented, many are born without opportunities. So we want the tech to be that place where we fire their imaginations for who they can become. The Tech in a sense is like the engine on a satellite, a satellite will go around the earth or around a body many, many, many, many times without ever firing its engine. The only time you fire an engine is when you want to change position, when you want it to take a new part of an orbit are to prevent it from crashing into the atmosphere. And we’re like the engine on our life. If a kid comes to the tech and the engine fires, and they get a different vision for who they can become, then we’ve done our job. And we that is our highest priority is to help all people have a new vision for who they can become and what they can do with their lives.

Alan
You know, they’re in it. And I’m glad that you said that, that the reaches for everyone, when we look at disadvantaged youth or kids that whenever they otherwise have the opportunity. How do you reach out to them knowing that although you got this mission, some of them you may not be able to get physically inside the tech? Is there? Is there an outreach program where you can bring some of the things to them or Yes, online.

Tim
So our our deepest programming comes through our professional development for teachers that work in those schools, we have a program called the tech academies, which is hands on professional development for teachers to help them bring engineering challenges in the classroom. And that program has been going for about four years, in the next four or five years, the teachers trained in that program will be working daily with 50,000 kids. And that is going to get engineering challenges into the classroom on a regular basis. And why is that important? Well, if you want to inspire the innovator, and everyone the way you do that is not through rote drills on a blackboard, it’s by giving them a real problem to solve a real engineering problem to solve and our teachers are doing that in the classroom. Now, day in day out and people are discovering their problem solving power.

Alan
In the area of opportunity gap. What is the tech working on if to effectively close it? And you touched on the base there with hitting in the classrooms there? But how do you monitor the progress? And, you know, it seems like as this world continues that, that you know that the gap continues to increase by the haves the have nots and and trying to get that middle ground is not always easy. But how do you either way you measure your progress there?

Tim
Yes, we measure our progress by essentially as a practical matter, we can measure our progress by how many kids we’re serving and what they’re actually making. So the way the Techmate measures what it does when they come in to the tech or in the classrooms, they make stuff make really interesting digital things. And they make really interesting engineering things. And we can see that we’re connecting, but I think you’ve raised a much bigger issue too, which is with whom are we also connected? Because this is not a problem that tech is going to solve by itself. In fact, it’s not a problem, any institutional solid by itself. This is an opportunity for collective impact. So we have to have deep partnerships with families. We have to have deep partnerships with schools and other things. Unity organizations, only that kind of collective impact will make a difference. But I would say the challenge is much more. In China, it’s much more difficult than anyone knows. Because the future belongs to people who can understand a new science and technology. And it’s happening. It’s such a breathtaking space, that if you happen to be poor, now, the opportunity for you to grab hold of the future is very, very short. You have to do that in your late elementary, early high school that that simple gap of about six years will define your future. And that is a very scary thing for us, as a society realize how many kids who are abundant with talent will miss that window. And it’s an avoidable mistake. It’s an avoidable loss, if we as a community don’t come together with collective impact, and try to help these kids achieve their full potential.

Alan
Yeah, I love the way that you laid that out in terms of it’s a short, it’s a short window of time, it seems that these entrepreneurs that are innovating, are younger, and younger and younger, and a lot of people are still in the mindset, they want to come out of school look for a job when they find out. You know, the technology has changed so quickly, what used to be true in the past is now different today.

Tim
Yes, and achieving that comfort level, that understanding that love of technology, as a young person, that’s really probably more important than anything else. Because if you develop that comfort level, that ability to use science and technology, then you’ll be able to move with the economy as it changes. But if you don’t, you won’t.

Alan
That we touched on the we touched on the partnerships in the classroom, the teachers and em, but I want to jump over to the tech itself. And, you know, the, the public may just have the perception we’re gonna walk through. And I’m using the word that you don’t want a museum, because it’s really it’s a living model. But are there programs that classes that happen inside the Tech Museum are tech, the tech on a regular basis.

Tim
So yes, there are classes in their programs all the time, but the way to think about it is think about it as a giant, fun, awesome problem solving space. So you’ll walk into the tech and you’ll walk into an exhibit area, and that exhibit area will give you a chance to solve a problem and a hands on open ended way using technology. So for instance, we have a exhibit area called social robots, where you can use basic materials to build a robot that would be some useful, or our bio design studio where you will have a problem, which would be to create a virtual creature out of synthetic DNA, and you’ll be able to create that and launch it into the virtual universe. And I could keep going with examples where it’s it’s an active problem solving space, where when you come out of it, you discover one thing, you discover your power to solve problems using technology. And hopefully, what you discover is that you’re pretty powerful. And you’re pretty wonderful.

Alan
So we talked about you have partnerships as a person, a company become a partnership at a corporate level or an individual level.

Tim
So at the level that we’re talking about, it really is subject matter dependent. So we would reach out to companies in the virtual reality, mixed reality space, and invite them to be a part of the pipeline. Companies can always contribute financially. And we need to do that as well. We have a $20 million a year budget, we have to raise about $14 million a year. So the financial contributions are hugely important as well. But the kinds of partnerships that produce exhibits, those are rare, and they’re important. And there’s a couple of subject matter areas where we need partners, especially technology in the environment, virtual reality, soon artificial intelligence, we want to have all of that stuff flooding into the tech.

Alan
And so for more information on the tech, where would person go, go?

Tim
To our website at the tech.org. And feel free to reach out to me personally, I’d love to meet some of your viewers.

Alan
Tim, this is wonderful having you on today’s show. Thank you, Alan came visiting today with Tim Ricci. He’s the CEO and the president of the tech. We’ll be right back after these messages. Welcome back. I’ve been visiting with Tim Richie, the President and CEO of the tech and, and although I’ve closed the last segment, Tim we’re visiting over the break and I couldn’t let him get out of the studio without one final question. And, and Tim, the, you know, when all was said and done, I look at you know, you have a law degree, you then went on for graduate degree at the Harvard Kennedy School and and then you’ve you’ve kind of gone off the grid, working with disadvantaged children disability, you know, trying to reach a great populace and influence. When everything’s said and done, and we’re talking about Tim as an individual, your mission statement. How are you going don’t want to have other editors talk about your success in life or what what defines success for you.

Tim
So on. Let me answer that by giving you a quick story. That today I got up and looked at my Facebook page. And it was the birthday of a young man named Patrick Hill. I knew Patrick Hill 20 years ago and Birmingham’s largest public housing project. He’s now married, He has four kids, he’s out of public housing. One of the reasons that happened was because we went into that community and surrounded that community, with love with education, with support and with belief, success is many, many, many Patrick hills, getting out of poverty, overcoming challenges and becoming something wonderful and special. And that was being married, having kids just living a normal life. But that’s light years, from the challenges of being desperately poor in public housing. If I could do that over and over and over again, that would be successful.

Alan
You know, I love that. You know, a lot of people, you know, talk about what they want to do, but you’re actually walking the talk. And I’d like to say it’s been a delight to have you with us today on American Dreams.

Tim
Thank you. Oh, my pleasure.

 

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This transcript was generated by software and may not accurately reflect exactly what was said.

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Tim Ritchie on Alan Olsen's American Dreams Radio
Tim Ritchie

Tim Ritchie has transformed The Tech Museum of Innovation into a vital community resource that excites and engages people of all ages with programs that help them discover their own problem-solving power. Under Ritchie’s leadership, The Tech has developed new partnerships with schools, created new teacher training programs, and increased its focus on equipping girls and low-income students to engage positively with science, technology, engineering and math. As a result of this work and more, The Tech in 2015 won the National Medal for Museum and Library Service, the highest honor an American museum can earn. Ritchie joined The Tech in 2011 after serving as the president and CEO of the McWane Science Center in Birmingham, Alabama. Prior to leading science centers, he practiced law, led education programs in a large public housing community, and led an organization that creates employment opportunities for adults with disabilities. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Davidson College, his law degree from Duke Law School and his master’s in public administration from Harvard University.

Alan Olsen on Alan Olsen's American Dreams Radio
Alan Olsen

Alan is managing partner at Greenstein, Rogoff, Olsen & Co., LLP, (GROCO) and is a respected leader in his field. He is also the radio show host to American Dreams. Alan’s CPA firm resides in the San Francisco Bay Area and serves some of the most influential Venture Capitalist in the world. GROCO’s affluent CPA core competency is advising High Net Worth individual clients in tax and financial strategies. Alan is a current member of the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research (S.I.E.P.R.) SIEPR’s goal is to improve long-term economic policy. Alan has more than 25 years of experience in public accounting and develops innovative financial strategies for business enterprises. Alan also serves on President Kim Clark’s BYU-Idaho Advancement council. (President Clark lead the Harvard Business School programs for 30 years prior to joining BYU-idaho. As a specialist in income tax, Alan frequently lectures and writes articles about tax issues for professional organizations and community groups. He also teaches accounting as a member of the adjunct faculty at Ohlone College.

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