DJ Patil on the impact of science and technology centers and museums

Science centers are transformative. That’s the message that Dr. DJ Patil, former U.S. Chief Data Scientist, emphasized during his remarks at ASTC’s Senior Leaders Summit earlier this week. The summit gathered chief executives, board members, and other senior leaders of ASTC-member science centers and museums to discuss approaches to recovery from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and look toward strategies for building stronger, more resilient organizations.

Patil, an entrepreneur, executive, and data scientist who has led organizations in multiple sectors, described how visiting science museums has supported him throughout his life, offering access to learning that he didn’t always feel connected to in school. Patil recounted how formative trips to the Clark Planetarium, the Lawrence Hall of Science, Exploratorium, The Tech Interactive, COSI, Saint Louis Science Center, and Space Center Houston—just to name a few—offered him game-changing opportunities to be exposed to scientific topics. Whether browsing the books in a museum gift shop, using a telescope for the first time, or participating in a DNA lab program, those experiences “transformed” him and provided a freedom to learn that Patil hadn’t found in formal learning environments.

[Participating in science center activities] opened my mind in such a way that even though I was such a bad student, curiosity, imagination and that freedom to learn that you provided was something that was literally tangential to the traditional education system. And that is what enabled me to really get the super power and the love for learning.

My success is because of you.

While acknowledging that the last year has been extraordinarily difficult and that science centers have “been in the thick of it,” Patil also conjured hope, saying that embracing challenge is an opportunity to experiment. “We get to play,” Patil noted, suggesting that new models should be created and cautioned not to be daunted by failures when trying something new. Sharing ideas, including unsuccessful ones, across—and within—organizations is a path to doing better.

Patil closed by thanking all who work at science centers and museums. He affirmed that not only have their missions have been important to him personally, but that kids all over depend on science museums to inspire, give hope, and cultivate passion for science.

DJ Patil, PhD, is an entrepreneur, executive, and data scientist who has lead companies in multiple sectors. DJ served as U.S. Chief Data Scientist during the Obama Administration. Read more about DJ.


The ASTC Senior Leaders Summit was developed by the ASTC’s Task Force on COVID-19 Response and Recovery, with input from the ASTC Board of Directors, and other chief executives of science centers and science museums.

The summit was designed to take an optimistic and realistic look at the future of science and technology centers and museums, as well as the broader science learning and science engagement ecosystems. ASTC developed the summit around an exploration of the themes emerging from the experiences of the last year, from the practical need to build greater financial resilience into our business models to the strategic opportunities to meet community needs in new ways and on a range of fronts, including rebuilding public trust in science, addressing racial justice, and creating STEM opportunities for all.

The Summit was open to all chief executives of ASTC science center and museum members in good standing, who had the opportunity to extend an invitation to one guest who is either a member of their institution’s board or senior leadership team.

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