Twenty-year career leading high-performing teams to design world-class visitor experiences which evoke wonder, spark curiosity, inspire investigation, and bring people together in memorable settings.
Directing Creative Teams
Master Plans & Capital Campaigns
Exhibit Planning & Design
Technology & Interaction Design
Branding & Identity
Board & Donor Relations
Partnerships & Grants
Writing & Public Speaking
Budgets & Schedules
Hellenga Projects – Elmhurst, IL January 2012 to present
Consultant (2012 to present)
Perform strategic planning and oversight for clients pursuing major exhibition initiatives and capital projects. Manage in-house teams and external design resources to deliver compelling learning experiences which engage audiences, attract funding, drive attendance, and deepen community involvement. Identify and promote best practices in informal learning on behalf of museum associations. Maker & Inclusion Advocate (2013 to present)
Invented and patented flexible circuit boards and LEDs which snap under LEGO bricks. Regularly present gender-friendly and disability-friendly DIY electronics projects at STEM fairs, Maker Faires, LEGO conventions, and professional conferences. Apply storytelling power of LEGO to make circuits more appealing and less intimidating.
Selected clients include the following:
Great Lakes Science Center – Cleveland, OH
Wrote experience description for successful $1 million NASA grant. Supervised client’s staff and external software developers, evaluators, and advisers to implement Mission to STEM. Tablets guide visitors through space missions and bring NASA artifacts to life with augmented and virtual reality. Embedding artifacts in mission stories provides context, ensures meaningful interaction, and deepens visitor engagement.
The Works – Bloomington, MN
Produced report to support museum’s strategic plan. Outlined key trends in engineering, open-source technology, museum visitor demographics, and inclusion of children with autism. Supervised client’s staff in producing Sensor Zone, with an Arduino-controlled maze, high-tech clubhouse, and other exhibit stations.
The Discovery Museum – Acton, MA
Translated master plan into measurable goals and visitor outcomes for the new facility opening March 2018. Won four grants totaling $500K from the Institute for Museum and Library Services. Researched the cognitive and emotional benefits of time spent in nature to aid planning process for outdoor exhibit. Developed comprehensive summary of inclusive design strategies to guide design of new facility and exhibits.
Center for the Advancement of Informal Science Education – Washington, D.C.
Served as writer, editor, and producer for The Principal Investigator's Guide: Managing Evaluation in Informal STEM Education. Gathered and presented the collective wisdom of senior museum professionals.
Association of Children’s Museums – Washington, D.C.
Panelist for Advancing Accessibility in Museums. Selected children’s museums to receive awards for notable inclusion practices in museum programs, exhibitions, and facilities.
B. R. Ryall YMCA – Glen Ellyn, IL
Teamed up with the YMCA to offer summer camps at the College of DuPage. Beta tested flexible circuit components that snap under LEGO. Participants transform LEGO base plates into circuit boards.
Workshop 88 – Glen Ellyn, IL
Procured funding from Maker Ed Foundation to produce Teknistas after school program and summer camp introducing girls to DIY electronics. Secured venues, recruited participants, and beta tested curriculum featuring interactive LEGO displays, glowing gummy bears, light-up duct tape roses, and Teddy bear t-shirts.
Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center – Skokie, IL June 2010 to December 2011
Director of Program Services
Reported to president and CEO as part of the senior management team. Supervised 15 full-time and part-time staff. Oversaw exhibitions, collections, education, and marketing departments and presented metrics to the board of directors. Gained experience in branding, marketing, public relations, and advertising and oversaw implementation of the organization’s first museum-wide branding campaign encompassing billboard design, bus placards, and print and online media. Served as liaison to Exhibit and Programs Committee of the board. Led the $1 million Harvey L. Miller Family Make a Difference! anti-bullying initiative and successfully implemented an exhibition, outreach programs, and a symposium for Chicago-area high school principals.
Museum of Science and Industry – Chicago, IL August 2006 to June 2010
Project Director (2007 to 2010)
Reported to VP, Collections & Exhibitions. Directed creative efforts of seven staff and 25+ vendors to renovate the west wing and introduce Science Storms, a 26,000 sq. ft. permanent exhibition on physics and chemistry featuring a three-story tornado, live fire, 30-foot rainbow, 200 artifacts, and 50 interactive stations. Delivered world-class visitor experience which was named one of the 20 Most Influential Exhibitions This Century by the Society for Experiential and Graphic Design (2018). Science Storms received the industry’s top design awards: AAM award for Overall Excellence in Exhibitions (2011); ASTC Roy Shafer Leading Edge Award for Visitor Experience (2011); and Themed Entertainment Association’s Thea Award for Outstanding Achievement (2010).
Senior Project Manager (2006 to 2007)
Performed project management through schematic design. Established the $30 million budget projection, developed the four-year schedule, produced RFPs and contracts, and secured landmark approval for building modifications. Initiated museum’s first podcast series and launched a behind-the-scenes blog.
Chicago Children’s Museum – Chicago, IL August 2003 to July 2006
Associate Vice President, Partnership of Playful Learners – (2004 to 2006)
Submitted successful $1.7 million proposal to the NSF for the Partnership of Playful Learners, featuring the Skyline exhibition, research partnership with Northeastern University, and community partnership with the North Lawndale YMCA. Introduced graphic design approaches which increased family collaboration and conversation. Developed interaction design strategies which increased girls’ participation to match that of the boys. The project was recognized by the AAM award for Special Achievement in Cooperative Learning (2010).
Associate Vice President, Production & New Ventures – (2003 to 2004)
Developed cost projections, cash flow, and schedule for the museum’s $30 million renovation and expansion. Established contracts for architectural services, exhibit planning, and construction management. Conducted negotiations with Navy Pier for lease agreement and parking concessions. Secured landmark approvals.
The Tech Museum of Innovation – San Jose, CA – June 1999 to June 2003
Senior Director of Exhibits and Programs (2002-2003) Director of Exhibits – (1999-2002)
Reported to VP of Exhibitions. Supervised a team of 13 staff and dozens of vendors in production of exhibitions and public programs. Managed $2.3 million annual capital and operating budget. Closed out contracts totaling several million dollars after the new facility opened and established standards to streamline future design, fabrication, and installation. Developed a five-year strategic plan leading to over $4 million in new project funding within three years. Served as liaison to Exhibits and Programs Committee of the Board and as principle investigator for NSF-funded Exploration gallery (Earth, Ocean, and Space); NSF-funded NetPl@net; and NIH-funded Genetics: Technology with a Twist. Introduced falling sand interactive replicated by more than 50 venues.
Exhibit Developer and Project Manager (1995-1999)
Led the development of $3.5 million Communications: Global Connections gallery for The Tech’s new facility opening October 1998. Made successful fundraising presentations to individual and corporate donors.
HARVARD UNIVERSITY – Cambridge, MA 1989
Bachelor of Arts in Psychology (John Harvard Scholarship for high academic distinction)
REGGIO CHILDREN - Reggio, Italy 2005
Study tour of Reggio Emilia education methods