Spartans at Work: The Tech Museum of Innovation

(This summer, SJSU Today hit the road, visiting students and recent grads on the job at summer destinations throughout the Bay Area. Our 2013 Spartans at Work series continues with psychology alumna Maryanne Mwangi.)

In the heart of downtown San Jose is an impressive building with orange walls and a dome roof, home of The Hackworth IMAX Dome Theater and part of The Tech Museum of Innovation. The Tech is a distinctive part of the downtown San Jose skyline and a fitting museum for a city whose motto is “the capital of Silicon Valley.”

“Being that we’re in Silicon Valley, we are surrounded by innovators who create or want to create technology that can change the world, so The Tech is moving towards becoming a resource for those innovators and others around the world, ” said Maryanne Mwangi, ’11 Psychology.

As assistant project manager for the exhibits team, Mwangi provides support during the development and creation of the museum’s experiences. She is there every step of the way from brainstorming and initiation to maintaining a schedule, managing a budget and communicating with other teams during the set-up.

Mwangi assisted with the brand-new experience Social Robots, which opened July 1. Visitors have the opportunity to design and build their own working robots. She describes the “a-ha moment” when people connect the different pieces together, and their robots come alive.

“You come into the Social Robots exhibit and you’re provided with the tools and resources to build something amazing,” she said. “While you’re building you are also learning  how data is transferred between inputs and outputs to create an action. The Tech is providing the opportunity to bring out the innovator that’s in all of us and I think that’s amazing!”

User experience is an important priority in both technology and museums, especially for a technology and science museum that is creating more interactive, hands-on experiences like Social Robots. Mwangi’s psychology education gave her a foundation for brainstorming and collaborating with her team on exhibits.

“It’s an understanding of how people will interact with different things and trying to anticipate how someone will utilize  something that is put out on the floor,” she said. “Psychology plays a role in helping to understand people’s emotions and trying to figure out what would make them happy and  motivated to try something.”