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ERIC: From the Museum of Science in Boston, this is Pulsar, a podcast where we give you answers to the most frequently asked questions we've ever gotten from our visitors. I'm your host, Eric, and you are listening to our 100th episode. It's been a blast investigating your questions about dinosaur feathers, astronaut food, volcanic lightning, and so much more. But for this milestone episode, I thought we'd explore one of the most frequent questions we get about the museum of science itself: what's next? Who better to answer that question than Tim Ritchie, the president of the Museum of Science. Tim, thanks so much for joining me on the podcast.
TIM: Eric, It's a real honor to be here for the 100th Pulsar.
ERIC: So let's start with your story. Can you give us a quick version of your journey to our museum.
TIM: Eric, I began my professional career as a lawyer in Birmingham, Alabama. And I left my law firm to work in Birmingham's largest public housing community, which was the poorest zip code in America. And what I saw there was the ability of all those young people to use science and technology, especially things like their computers and their cell phones and that sort of thing, as well as anybody else. But they lacked opportunity. Well, right at that same time, a science center was being created in Birmingham, and I realized that the science center could really help build those kids' creative confidence. And so one thing led to another, I was eventually called back to Birmingham to lead that science center, then was recruited to San Jose, in Silicon Valley, to lead the Tech Museum of Innovation, which is now called the Tech Interactive, and then was really honored to be recruited here to lead the Museum of Science. So I began as a lawyer with a community focus. And I've really kept that focus ever since with this burning question of: how do we create opportunities for talented kids who just lack the opportunities to succeed in a world driven by science and technology.
ERIC: So coming from not a science background, but from more of a community-oriented background, really carries over, and it's not just moving from one thing to another, you really have that as part of your focus, your goals?
TIM: Yes, that's a thread that has been a part of all my life. At one point in my career, I also worked with adults with intellectual disabilities. My goal there was to help them get great employment or create jobs for them. And it was the same sort of thing. How do you give people with a certain kind of talent an opportunity? And I think this opportunity gap question is where I'm also trying to push the museum, which is, wow, what positive difference can we make in the world for all these people who don't have access to high quality science learning? And there are billions of people out there that I want us to be relevant to.
ERIC: That's definitely something we've been looking at lately. How can we be accessible and bring science to everybody? Can you summarize your role as a president? What are the most important duties that fall to you?
TIM: I could answer that question a lot of different ways. But, really, it boils down to three things which will seem kind of simplistic to our listeners, perhaps. But really, my first job is to communicate, to communicate to our staff, to our board, to the world, where we are heading and why it matters. The second big job I have is to build bridges. How do I build bridges between, say, our staff and the community, between our board and the museum, the museum and the world? And the third thing I have to do is remove obstacles. What is getting in the way of our doing our mission in the world? What is getting in the way of fulfilling our vision? So I communicate, I build bridges, I remove obstacles. Now as a practical matter, let's say this: I have to manage and be in charge of really three big things, which is: cashflow, can we actually be a sustainable institution? Culture, can we build a staff and a board that can help us succeed in this particular environment? And then board relations, so it's very important to have the board fired up about where we're heading. So that's two ways of looking at how I do what I do.
ERIC: Well that's a lot to take care of so we'll get right into the meat of our episode today. What's coming up? When folks ask us what's coming up at the museum, there's different ways to answer depending upon what timescale they mean. So sometimes we have a big event coming up in a few days, sometimes we're thrilled to have started a new project that won't bear fruit for years. So let's start with the short term. What are you excited about at the museum that's coming up soon?
TIM: I am excited about the many different ways we're serving the world. So for instance, we have an upcoming exhibit on mental health that will start this fall called Mind Matters. It's exciting because it's an exhibit, which is how we often express ourselves. I'm excited about all the climate change we have in the institution right now, between our Gaia globe and Arctic Adventure, New England Climate Stories. And Resilient Venice, I'm excited that we're rolling up our activities around climate change. But I'm also excited about the programs that are on top of those exhibit experiences. So there will be lots of programs on mental health, there's lots of programs on artificial intelligence and big focus on artificial intelligence, lots of evening programs. And then there are the small things that happened just very quickly. And I'm excited how we're going to respond to science at the pace of change. So for instance, this week, there was a kind of a concern about monkey pox in the world. And there was a lot of misinformation about it. So we were able to spin up a program very quickly as a public service to this community, which will then go out through our social channels. The other thing I'm excited about is, how will we respond to the science that is important to our community right now in a very fluid way. So those are some of the things I'm excited about that will happen in the near term, of being able to respond to the science and the news that people need to know about.
ERIC: It is important to me coming from the Current Science and Technology team and having that be my background at the museum. And it's great to see that we are answering some of those big issues facing society. I can remember a time at the museum where guests would ask us where to find information about climate change in our exhibit halls. And I would say: we don't really have any. And so to be able to point to multiple different things for things like mental health and climate change, it's just it feels like a better museum.
TIM: Oh, I agree that being relevant to the current issues of the day. And of course, that started early, when we were shut down by COVID. And the question was, okay, how can we be relevant to COVID? So we spun up the exhibits, we did the polls, we did the pop up clinics, we're continuing to take our exhibits around the country now. So that was a good example. And the team that you're on has been doing good work like this for 15 years. And you are able to respond to the current issues of the day. And I'm really excited about that.
ERIC: So moving on, what are you excited about that's coming up in the medium term, say the next couple of years?
TIM: I'm very excited about the creation of these five centers for public science learning. So we're going to have a Center of Life Sciences. And we already have a director for that. Then earth and space, climate, data. And then for tech and engineering. Having that team of people, frankly, join the team you're on, to meld our forces between the Centers for Public Science Learning and the Current Science and Technology team, having that base to be responsive in those five areas to the big issues that are coming up. And then having those things express themselves in exhibits, in our online activities, in what we're doing in schools, I think will make us hugely relevant to the world. There aren't a lot of people out there who are able to get current science and technology to young people in particular. We can do that on site, to the kind of work that your team does. Can we do that online? Can we do that in schools? And I think the answer is yes. And I'm excited to see how we're going to do that.
ERIC: Yeah, I'm really excited to see how we transition from 2020, when everything went online, because it had to, to moving past that and really bringing all of what we do at the museum to people at home, in schools, digitally. We've tried a lot of experiments. We've had some good ideas were working on. But it's exciting to know that we're moving forward with all that.
TIM: Yeah, I'd like to extend that in a very practical way by saying we have a big goal just for the next calendar year. So for 2023, we would like to extend our engagement from about 5 million people a year to about 23 million. So this is a big lift. I believe we can get there. Because I think we're going to create great content, I believe we will have good partners around the world who will want what we have. But this focus on the wellbeing of the world around us is really exciting to me. So it's not only the content areas that I mentioned before, but it's the reach to the world that needs us that makes me excited.
ERIC: And one of the things that makes the Museum of Science Boston Strong is Boston, because we have so many talented and smart people at different institutions around our area. We don't really need to look around the country, around the world. We do, but we know we have them right here in our backyard.
TIM: One of the great things about that, Eric, is that not only are they in our backyard, but they actually love us. We are a beloved institution. We've been around for 192 years. We were created 29 years before Darwin published The Origin of Species. And over that 192 years, everyone, whether they're in the state legislature or whether they're in industry or academia, they actually love the Museum of Science. So when we call them and say, hey, will you do a program on this current issue? Or will you advise on the creation of our own exhibits? They'll say yes. And that's a great, great asset that we have.
ERIC: It's really rare to talk to somebody who grew up in Boston, if they haven't heard of the museum. Everybody has a story of, oh, I can I remember standing under the T. rex. Oh, I can remember coming and seeing a planetarium show. We just have that kind of pervasive, throughout New England presence that really helps us to accomplish our goals.
TIM: I had that very experience when I moved here. And I had a bunch of my stuff sent to a Uhaul installation in Woburn. And when I went to Woburn, they asked me what I did for a living there in the Uhaul warehouse. And I told him, well, I have the honor of being the president of the Museum of Science. One of the people in the Uhaul place yelled out to all his friends, hey, we got the president of the Museum of Science here. I love the Museum of Science! They added a few little expletives in between. But it was so stunning to me, in this smaller town nearby, it was a serious love of the Museum of Science. And it reminded me that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is its own kind of special place.
ERIC: Now, you mentioned we've been around for 192 years. And that's something that you mentioned a lot, as you're kind of telling the staff what the big plans are, that we're coming up on our 200th anniversary. So what are the biggest things we hope to achieve as the museum long term in the next 10-plus years? What are you excited about on that longest timescale?
TIM: By 2030, I really want us to make a measurable improvement on our vision and mission. So what's the mission? The mission is to inspire a lifelong love of science in everyone. And the challenge there is the word everyone. So how do we expand to as many people as possible? I would really like to see by 2030, us engaging 100 million people a year. That leads to the vision, what kind of vision do we want? It's a vision of a world where science belongs to each of us, for the good of all of us. And the key word there is the word belonging. To what extent did people have agency? To what extent do they feel like science belongs to them, and they're able to succeed in this world? I want us to see that we not only reach 100 million people a year, but that we're engaging people who did not feel agency with science. So then that leads to some strategic objectives. One is this Boston Science Common vision, this idea of science at the pace of change with these five centers that I just mentioned before. I would love to see, by 2030, that all five of those centers are going. They're creating programs or creating exhibits, we're getting out into the world, which leads to the next big strategic objective, which is that we would have this digital team that will enable us to do things on site, digitally, in schools digitally and online, that does wrap up as many people as possible as we try to get to 100 million people a year. But then that leads to this other focus on equitable access, how do we make this more accessible to as many as people as possible? And once again, that gets that that concept of belonging. So I would love to see by 2030, so many communities that we are not engaged with here at the museum, where they feel like, yes, I belong there. That leads to the fourth big strategic initiative, how do we do that in a way that is sustainable? So really, what that means is to have much more contributed revenue and endowment revenue, so we take the pressure off of just the earned revenue. So that that really means by 2030, I hope we have doubled the amount that we raise from our community, doubled the amount we receive from our endowment, which means we need to be able to say to our community, hey, high quality science learning, public trust in science, is worth your philanthropic dollars. And finally, the fifth thing is the culture that supports all that. So I want us to have a culture here that is a tough, innovative culture and a generous culture so that people feel valued, they want to work here. And as a consequence, we're able to fulfill these big goals in the world.
ERIC: Big goals, we're all excited to be a part of it. Tim, thanks so much for telling us about what's coming up at the museum.
TIM: My pleasure, and I look forward to many more Pulsar podcasts to come.
ERIC: The best way to keep up with what's new at the Museum of Science is by visiting our website mos.org. For the latest on our new exhibits, programs, and more, as well as following the museum on your favorite social media platform. Until next time, keep asking questions.
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