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It’s Full STEAM Ahead for Thinkery CEO

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This accountant turned nonprofit CEO isn’t afraid to reinvent herself.

By Susan Johnston Taylor, Photos courtesy of Thinkery 

In late 2016, Patricia “Trish” Young Brown prepared to retire as president and CEO of Central Health, the public entity that serves low-income and uninsured Travis County residents, a role she’d held for nearly 12 years. About that same time, Thinkery approached her about becoming its new CEO. Young Brown had already transitioned from accounting to public health, so she was no stranger to reinvention. She stepped into her new role at Thinkery in January 2017.

“I love working in organizations that serve the community,” she says. “The Thinkery is one of Austin’s long-standing cultural assets as a children’s science center. It’s a wonderful place to provide these amazing informal learning experiences.”

Thinkery’s education focus is on STEAM, or science, technology, engineering, art and math, and the museum features experiential exhibits about such topics as the dynamics of water, light, color and shadows, and nutrition, balance, motion and more.

“It’s a pretty awesome thing to come to work and see these cute little faces in the museum,” Young Brown says.

Under Young Brown’s leadership, Thinkery became the first Austin-area museum to join Museums for All, a national initiative encouraging underserved families to use their government-program cards to gain free general admission to Thinkery.

“Those programs already indicate that families are in need of services,” Young Brown says. “It’s another aspect of what we refer to as our open-door program.”

Thinkery’s open-door program also includes subsidized admission and camp scholarships for children and families of limited means. For the general public, Thinkery implements a donation-based model every Wednesday evening.

Last summer, the museum added community spotlights highlighting various groups, including the George Washington Carver Museum for Black History Month and Family Equality Council for LGBTQ Pride Night.

“We use those themes and bring a learning opportunity around those communities,” Young Brown says.

Her work outside Thinkery is equally impressive and impactful. Young Brown serves on the board of Capital City Innovation, which is building an innovation zone in Austin anchored by the new Dell Medical School, and she’s involved in local organizations providing cancer care and reducing stigma about mental-health issues. Young Brown also volunteers with the No One Dies Alone program through Seton Medical Center Austin.

“Essentially, if there’s an individual going through the dying process but does not have family…volunteers come and sit with the patient,” she explains. “It’s the most amazingly holy experience to be with someone as they’re dying and support them in that journey.”

As if that weren’t enough to keep her busy, Young Brown is working on a Master of Arts degree in spiritual formation through the Episcopal Theological Seminary of the Southwest. Since earning an accounting degree from the University of Denver in the early 1980s, she’s had an itch to return to school. Since her sons are out of the house (Her youngest just finished his first year of college.), Young Brown considered various graduate areas of study, including law, but settled on spiritual formation, which she describes as an individual’s journey to his or her faith life.

Losing two of her four sons certainly impacted Young Brown on her own spiritual path.

“I like the idea of working with individuals,” Young Brown says. “My work thus far has had me working in organizations, changing systems for the benefit of individuals, but I’ve never been someone working one on one. This was my opportunity to do that in an area that has meaning for me.”

That passion and empathy are hallmarks of Young Brown’s work throughout Austin.

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