Areas of Expertise: museum leadership for ethnic and socioeconomic diversity; children’s museums as educational centers; fundraising and board development; pragmatic growth for nonprofits
Biography: Marilee Jennings is responsible for fulfilling the Museum’s mission of bringing innovative and life-changing learning to the more than 400,000 children, families and teachers that visit each year. Under her leadership since 2008, the museum/science center hybrid has become renowned for its groundbreaking work with the ethnic and socioeconomic diversity of San Jose, resulting in the organization’s world-wide reputation as a leading children’s museum.
Ms. Jennings’ strategic vision and direction has launched trailblazing initiatives, including Breaking Ground, a three-year initiative funded by The Institute of Museum and Library Services to work with immigrant populations, the Cultural Competency Learning Institute, and the Vietnamese and Latino Audience Development Initiatives. Under her tenure, the museum formed advisory committees that co-created programming for the LGBTQ and Autism communities, and launched childhood obesity prevention programs. As an outgrowth of these programs, Ms. Jennings spearheaded a three-year research and design project to reimagine the role of the museum’s food service. The result is FoodShed, a wildly successful cafe that is now aligned with the audience, mission and business goals and serves as an educational space supporting healthy eating and active living.
Ms. Jennings biggest undertaking to-date is the $3.5 million she raised to create the innovative outdoor learning environment. Bill’s Backyard: Bridge to Nature opened in October 2017, nearly doubling the museum’s exhibit space and connecting kids to nature.
She’s been instrumental in securing national resources and recognition including major federal grants from the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the prestigious National Science Foundation, and numerous awards such as the coveted National Award for Museum Service bestowed by First Lady Laura Bush. She’s published articles on serving multilingual audiences and mission alignment around healthy eating and sustainability. Ms. Jennings has presented at conferences and served on panels across the country on audience development for diversity, healthy eating initiatives, science education, and fundraising.
Ms. Jennings first joined the museum in 1987 and held the Director of Development and Marketing and Associate Executive Director positions before taking the helm in 2008. She has a B.A. degree from Newcomb College and is credentialed faculty for San Jose State University’s Certificate Program in Non-Profit Management. She served as Board President for the Association of Children’s Museums from 2014 – 2016. Ms. Jennings is a Noyce Leadership Fellow and was awarded the High 5 Partner Appreciation Award from FIRST 5 Santa Clara County and is recognized as a Silicon Valley Business Journal Woman of Influence.