The Tech Interactive — the innovative downtown San Jose museum that’s brought family-friendly STEM education to Silicon Valley since the 1980s — will soon see an innovation to its leadership.
Earlier this month, the center named Katrina Stevens — the director of learning science at the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative — as The Tech’s new president and CEO, the first female leader for the organization. Stevens will officially join the center in November, bringing 25 years of educational leadership experience from across the country.
She will lead strategic reopening plans after the popular museum closed its doors in March due to COVID-19, and will oversee The Tech’s 20-year vision to develop problem-solvers locally, nationally and globally.
Speaking over Zoom on Thursday, Stevens shared that this new role calls back to her original career as a classroom teacher.
“I’m still very much an educator at heart, and that’s something that, for me, is about how you ignite that spark in young people, which is very aligned to The Tech’s mission around creating problem-solvers,” she said.
Since her initial classroom experiences, Stevens has worked in many educational roles, including strategic consulting for educational nonprofits and serving as a senior adviser to the Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology under the Obama administration. As the director of learning science with Chan Zuckerberg, Stevens oversaw a $200 million portfolio of 67 educational grants.
“Over the years, we’ve been trying to figure out how to get the best minds — researchers, educators and technologists — working together to collaborate and make much better tools for kids,” she said. “(At Chan Zuckerberg), part of my work is around how do we get to what we know around how people learn? How do we get that into tools, how do we get that into classrooms?”
Last year, the museum, previously called the San Jose Tech Museum of Innovation, rebranded itself and announced new local educational programs to help K-12 students.
Chris DiGiorgio, chairman of The Tech’s board and interim president and CEO, led the search beginning in late January, following the departure of Tim Ritchie.
The organization outlined its 20-year strategic plan at the end of last year, which includes being more impactful in Silicon Valley schools and Boys & Girls clubs, while also sharing expertise on a national and global level.
“(Those goals helped) define what we were looking for in a new leader, someone who had that kind of expertise and could bring complementary and incremental experience, contacts and skills to the team to help us better achieve that big vision,” he said.
The board — in partnership with a search firm — assessed approximately 200 applicants from around the world, which eventually was narrowed down to four finalists, who all happened to be female.
“(It’s so important for) young women to see people like me in a role leading a tech organization…the more of us that model that, the more likely that young women will see themselves as being able to have an active role in technology,” she said.
Bob Wise, former president of the Alliance for Excellent Education, who has worked with Stevens over the course of the last eight years, commended her many traits as an educator, with a particular emphasis on the respect she shows to other teachers.
DiGiorgio said Stevens stood out by her lifelong commitment and genuine passion for education. “Many science centers are led by scientists with PhDs, which is all good too, but this is an educator at heart,” he said. “When you think about what The Tech is doing, yes it’s a technology center, but it’s really an education facility, focused on outreach.”
Although The Tech closed on March 13, the center began offering virtual learning programs for students. DiGiorgio noted The Tech’s national program through Discovery Education, with more than 700,000 students attending virtual field trips this year. Some of the museum’s experiences also moved online through the Tech at Home program, which provides materials in both English and Spanish.
Stevens is particularly focused on increasing equitable learning outcomes for students of low-income or marginalized backgrounds who may not have access to the technologies.
“For me, this is about an opportunity to really think about how we design with the local community to figure out what would be most valuable for the community, and how we can tailor these experiences to resonate with our young people,” she said.
Contact Grace Stetson at [email protected] and follow her @grace_m_stetson on Twitter.