The Tech is more than a venue to showcase innovation- it’s a tool to change the lives of the students who visit it. According to Tim Ritchie, President and CEO of The Tech, the opportunity for students to grab hold of their future is very short and “it's an unavoidable loss if we as a community don't come together with collective impact and try to help these kids achieve their potential”
Alan: Welcome back I'm here today with Tim Ritchie, he is the CEO and President of the Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose welcome to today's show.
Tim: Thank 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 at today?
Tim: Yes, Alan 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 worked 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 I my first job was to work with adults with disabilities. And I realize 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 that especially interesting time working with adults with disabilities and the essential dignity in the value of everyone- and I think 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 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 otherwise would have seen before. When you came into The Tech- and is it okay if I just refer to The Tech Museum of Innovation as just The Tech?
Tim: The Tech, so much better, if we had a hashtag it would be #NotAMuseum. So that's great.
Alan: Okay so when you came to The Tech, what differences did you note between the Birmingham Alabama center versus coming into Silicon Valley here.
Tim: The principle difference is Silicon Valley itself. So the principal asset of The Tech is not something that lies within the tech but at Silicon Valley itself, all of 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 was to bring all of that power 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 a Silicon Valley has.
Alan: Now would you say the tech is a living history or continues to evolve?
Tim: Right, it is a living embodiment of where Silicon Valley is heading. It is definitely not a history museum in anyway, but for instance, we try to create as many opportunities as possible for Silicon Valley business to have a presence on floor in ways that are actually exhibits. So for instance at 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 and to exhibits 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 field of graduate program?
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 either go back to being a lawyer or I had to be better at managing non-profit institutions. So that's really what I decided we picked up and we moved everything. I did not have a a job ahead of me, the whole family put our stuff in a U-Haul and drove from Birmingham to Cambridge and I 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 but was so pleased that my first job out of the Kennedy School was to help adults with disabilities to to live with dignity in the world.
Alan: What an amazing story, just the way that this whole thing involved and I have to say The Tech is blessed for having you at the helm.
Tim: Well thank you so much.
Alan: I'm visiting here today with Tim Ritchie, he's the CEO and the President of The Tech, I need to take a quick break and we'll be right back after these messages.
Alan: Welcome back, I'm visiting today with Tim Ritchie, he is the CEO and the President of The Tech and Tim in the first in the first segment, we established your back and how you came to where you are today, but yet there was one comment that you made about that The Tech is continually evolving as Technology changes and 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 in 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, phenomenal logical 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 bee technology and much of 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 partnership with a business called MycoWorks. 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 in the environment, with artificial intelligence, with cyber security- if we 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 innovation right now, what trends do you see heading down the road.
Tim: Well definitely big data is the driving force right now because data is becoming everything and it's showing up, in medicine, it's showing itself up in entertainment, it's showing itself in education and the like. So big data for sure, artificial intelligence, the environment, the collapse of the environment or so we speak- the challenges of climate change, the advances that are happening in personalized medicine- all these things are happening in just breathtaking speed.
Alan: I'm going to switch back into this life science about growing things, are their 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 Centre 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 were 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 with 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 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 none the less we are in the pipeline business helping kids achieve their potential. And then moving on from that, there's older audience and then 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: I'm going to put you on the spot, if you don't know it's okay, but about how many kids go through the museum a year?
Tim: Yes, so we'll have attendance between 400,000-600,000 a year depending on what our exhibit mix is. Of that amount, a 140,000 or so come in school groups, I would say at least half of our visitors are kids so that would be about 250,000 or even 300,000 thousand a year.
Alan: That's a great populace there. I'm visiting here today with Tim Ritchie, he's the CEO and the president of The Tech and Tim I need to take another break.
Alan: And we'll be right back after these messages.
Alan: Welcome back I'm here today with Tim Ritchie, he's the CEO and the President of The Tech, and Tim in the first segments we were visiting about your background, we talked about some of the exhibits and some partnerships that The Tech has, but if I was to ask you to coin the phrase, what exactly is the mission of The Tech? What are you trying to do in your reach?
Tim: The mission of The Tech is to inspire the innovator in everyone. And 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 when you want to fire an engine is when you want to change position. When you want to take a new part of an orbit or to prevent it from crashing into the atmosphere. We're like the engine on a life. If a kid comes to the tech and engine fires and they get a different vision for who they can become, then we've done our job and that is our highest priority0 is to help all people have a new vision for who they can become what they can do with their lives.
Alan: I'm glad that you said that the reach is for everyone, when you look at disadvantaged or kids that wouldn't 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 online?
Tim: Yes so 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 five years, the teachers trained in that program will be working daily with fifty thousand 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 in everyone, the way you do that is not through wrote 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 and day out and people are discovering their problem solving power.
Alan: In the area opportunity gap, what is the tech working on to effectively close it? And you touched on the base there with hitting in the classrooms there. But how do you monitor the progress... it seems like as the world continues that the gap continues to increase by the haves, the have nots and trying to get that middle ground is not always easy, but is there a way you measure your progress there.
Tim: Yes, we measure our progress 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 Tech measures what it does- when they come into 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, with whom are we also connected? Because this is not a problem The Tech is going to solve by itself- in fact it's not a problem any institution will solve 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 community organizations. Only that kind of collective impact will make a difference. But I would say the challenge is much more difficult than anyone knows because the future belongs to people who can understand a new science and technology and it's happening at 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 just that simple gap of about six years will define your future. And that is a very scary thing for us to realize as a society, to realize how many kids who are abundant what talent will miss that window, and it's an avoidable mistake. It's unavoidable loss if we as a community don't come together with collective impact and try to help these kids achieve their potential.
Alan: I love the way that you laid that out in terms of it's a short window of time.
It is. And it seems that these entrepreneurs that are innovating, are younger and younger and younger and lot of people are still in the mind set they want to come out school look for a job when they find out that 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: We touched on the partnerships in the classroom, the teachers but I want to jump over to The Tech itself and the public may just have the perception- we're going to walk through- and I'm using that word that you don't want, a museum because really it's a living model, but are there programs or classes that happen inside of The Tech on a regular basis?
Tim: So yes, there are classes and there are programs all of the time. But the way to think about it is to 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 in a hands on open ended way using technology. So for instance we have an exhibit area called social robots where you can use basic materials to build a robot that would be useful, or our bio-design studio where you will have a problem which would be to create a virtual creature out a synthetic DNA and you would 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 how you have partnership, has does a person or a company become a partnership at a corporate level or an individual level?
Tim: Right so at the level they were 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 dollars 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 a person go?
Tim: Go to our website at The Tech.org, and free to reach out to me personally, I'd love to to meet some of your viewers.
Alan: Tim, this is wonderful having you on today's show.
Tim: Thank you Alan
Alan: We've been visiting here today with Tim Ritchie, he's the CEO and the President of The Tech, we'll be right back after these messages.
Alan: Welcome back I've been visiting with Tim Ritchie, the President and CEO of The Tech and although I closed the last segment with Tim, we were visiting over the break and I couldn't let him get out the studio without one final question. And Tim, when all is said and done, I look at you have a law degree you then went off for a graduate degree at the Harvard Kennedy School, and then you've kind of gone off the grid working with disadvantaged children, disability, trying to reach a great populace in influence. When everything is said and done, and we're talking Tim as an individual, your mission statement, how are you going to want to have others talk about your success in life or what defines success for you?
Tim: So Alan, let me answer that by giving a quick story. 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 twenty years ago in 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 supporting 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: I love that, you know a lot of people 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 Alan, my pleasure.