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CEO for the Next Gen: Jen Stancil, leads Glazer Children's Museum

TAMPA — Jennifer Stancil is that cool mom who flashes the newest apps and plays the latest games.

As the new Glazer Children's Museum president and CEO, she's presenting her latest game to more than just the kids in her neighborhood.

Stancil brings the Situated Multimedia Art Learning Lab (SMALLabs), developed at Arizona State University, to the museum this month and it will allow visitors of all ages to enjoy an embodied-learning exhibit loaded with hundreds of interactive game-based scenarios— from learning the ABCs to chemical titrations — with the help of 12 motion-capture cameras.

"We're the first children's museum to have SMALLabs," she said. "You feel like a game piece inside an iPad.

"You're a fraction, a paintbrush, a molecule."

Such brain-building — and revenue producing — science, technology, engineering, art and math (STEAM) programs make her a leader in incorporating technology in early play experiences at traditionally tech-free children's museums.

"I'm a huge techie," said Stancil, 45, who answered a headhunter's call to fill a year-long vacancy, arriving in November and immediately launching the Arts + Bots exhibit combining crafts, robotic and gaming activities for tots.

Featuring more technology will help expand the target 0-to-10 age range by engaging teens, parents and grandparents, Stancil said. She has a standing offer to young professional groups and start-ups to use the museum for meeting and civic space.

"We are trying to position ourselves to age up with our visitors," she said. "I want every experience to feel different, based on you the visitor, the creator, the innovator."

Stancil hopes to build on the number of visitors, about 215,000 last year, including summer campers in conjunction with the YMCA. SMALLabs will help, and in the process, it will serve as the sole Pre-K test center. Games created in Tampa will be exported to 65 sites around the world.

Increased visibility is a top priority for board chairman Ian Smith, who praised Stancil's energetic and comprehensive vision for the downtown Tampa facility.

"We were looking for someone to set the museum on a brand new and brilliant future," Smith said. "Someone with the leadership, knowledge and passion to see what we could be, a cornerstone of the Tampa bay community."

Stancil, who oversees a staff of 17, plus 17 part-time employees, and a $3.3 million annual budget, refers to the museum as "a 360-business with a triple bottom line.

"First, the mission, to be essential to every child. Second, the business, making money … an economic driver. And third, community, being a true gem and partner."

To the latter, Stancil sought out her fellow cultural executive directors, "to discuss aggregating impact.

"How do we capitalize the downtown cultural corridor? How can a child learn here, then move onto the Florida Aquarium, then take in a performance at the Straz Center?"

Stancil answers her own question: "We watch what our constituents want. We stay in our own lane but we lift everybody's boat."

Growing up in Lincoln, Neb., Stancil studied human biology, animal behavior and mathematical modeling, never doubting she would become a doctor, but a post-graduation road trip to multiple museums steered her towards a different path for her creative and scientific aptitudes: museum education.

She built her resume with stops at the Red Mountain Museum, now the McWane Science Center, in Birmingham, Ala., and the Marbles Kids Museum in Raleigh, N.C., where she met her husband John in 2004. Since moving to Tampa, John is a stay-at-home dad with their daughter, Avery Grace, 9, who attends third grade.

The family spent the previous 10 years in Pittsburgh, where Stancil directed the Girls Math & Science Partnership, part of the Carnegie Science Center to promote technology careers.

There, she won awards for two collaborations: Brain.cake.org (renamed CanTeenGirl.org), a math and science game website, and Click!, a summer program designed as a spy school.

Such achievements drew Stancil to the attention of PBS affiliate, WQED Multimedia, where she was named executive director of Educational Partnerships in 2010.

Its lure: the thrill of broadcasting from the home of Sesame Street and Mister Rogers Neighborhood, "with free range to create anything I wanted."

Stancil succeeded on multiple platforms with the creation of the iQ:smartmedia brand which features iQzoo.org; iQKidsRadio and iQ:smartparent, a 30-minute TV show on healthy media usage: apps, tablets, phones and the web.

The talk show, now broadcast by PBS affilitates in 27 states, won an Emmy for season two in September 2015.

All of Stancil's accomplishments have created great excitement among the museum leaders, including benefactor Bryan Glazer.

"Jen's combination background of education and entertainment is tremendous," Glazer said, "out of the traditional mold."

Stancil likes the fit, too.

"I've been teaching since I was 18," Stancil said, "and obsessed with being a scientist since I was 12.

"Now look at this trajectory… I get to do a job that is essential to who I am. I get to wear a suit of my own skin."

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