A Community Resource

JUST DAYS BEFORE Tim Ritchie MC/MPA 1998 became president of Boston’s Museum of Science (MOS), the United States reported its first coronavirus case. Soon the nation was dealing with a major crisis that affected just about everyone—and MOS was no exception. As the pandemic reached Boston and Massachusetts began its lockdown in March, MOS followed suit. In April, Ritchie had the unenviable task of laying off nearly two-thirds of the museum’s workforce. “There’s been a lot of grief and loss, and there’s been a lot of growth and change,” he says of that intense time.

The crisis hastened some transformations Ritchie was already planning, including bringing science education to everyone, not just those who could afford the museum’s admission fee—which at $29 for adults and $24 for children is among the highest in the nation. “We’ve become a digital institution; we’re now free in people’s homes,” he says. “Everything we were doing on the floor, we’re trying to do online.” MOS also introduced programming in Spanish, something that continued after the museum reopened in late July—and after the museum rehired about 70 people, bringing the head count up to 50 percent of its typical number.

man stands in front of Museum of Science in Boston
Tim Ritchie MC/MPA 1998 stands in front of the entrance of Boston’s Museum of Science

Equitable access to education is a thread that runs through Ritchie’s career. A lawyer by training, he had worked to improve the lives of children in public housing in Birmingham, Alabama, leading efforts to develop after-school and summer programs for low-income children. There, he recognized the abilities of children who had been left behind by schools. “I saw how effective and capable young people were with applied technology—phones, computers, games—and I realized there was no talent gap between those young students in public housing and students anyplace else,” Ritchie says. “There were huge gaps with regard to high-quality formal education, but I realized that informal learning could build a young person’s creative confidence and help cross the opportunity gap.”

Committed to improving their lives, Ritchie started his own charter school, which would have taken advantage of all that downtown Birmingham had to offer. The project didn’t work out, in part because Alabama did not have legislation enabling charter schools. The silver lining is that the failure led him to apply to HKS. “I knew I had to get better at nonprofit management,” he says. He notes that his year at HKS was life-changing—and that he takes its lessons to heart. “This is 22 years old, from Gary Orren’s class in persuasion,” says Ritchie, holding up a dog-eared notebook. “I still use it.” He also takes inspiration from the Kennedy School’s John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum at the Institute of Politics. “Seeing the massive degree of programming in the Forum day in and day out gave me a vision for what the Museum of Science could be. My vision for how an institution uses its architecture to be a community resource for learning came from wandering through the Forum.”

headshot of a man in a blue suit with a red tie smiling

My vision for how an institution uses its architecture to be a community resource for learning came from wandering through the Forum.

Tim Ritchie MC/MPA 1998

After attending HKS, Ritchie headed to Louisville, Kentucky, to work for a United Way organization that provided opportunities for adults with developmental disabilities. He was recruited back to Birmingham to lead the city’s McWane Science Center, then moved to The Tech Interactive in San Jose, California, and finally made his way back to the East Coast after being tapped to lead MOS.

Despite the difficulties of starting a new job that focuses on in-person experiences, Ritchie is optimistic. He says, “Equitable access, future-forward science and technology programming, and community collaboration are keys to the museum’s future, along with building a sustainable financial base to reach many more people.”

Photos courtesy of the Museum of Science

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