Marilee Jennings

Leadership Team | Children's Discovery Museum of San Jose
“Cambio is an important opportunity to expand our museum’s thinking with a group of advisors outside of our typical network.”

Marilee was born and raised in Kansas City and received a BA degree from Newcomb College in New Orleans, Louisiana. She was attracted to Children’s Discovery Museum after becoming a new mom and seeking to use my time away from my newborn son on creating something that would benefit his education and well-being.

Marilee joined the Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose (CDM) as its first Development Director in 1987, three years before public opening. It was the early years in this job that put Marilee on the cultural competence path. Once the museum opened, her responsibilities were expanded to include generating earned income from admissions and membership. So when attendance began to wane a couple of years after opening (as the novelty of a new children’s museum wore off), Marilee began to take a deeper look at who was visiting and who was not. It didn’t take long to notice the remarkable ethnic diversity of kids visiting in school groups during the week and the distinctively white families who visited on weekends.

This insight was the start of Marilee’s journey to understand more about her local Latinx community and understand why families were not visiting. She recruited a committed group of community advisors, and convinced the Director of Education to partner with her, and they listened, learned, and then developed a comprehensive approach to change the audience composition that included strategies for exhibits, broad-based community events, and grass-roots cultural programming, marketing and communications, and governance.

This multi-pronged approach encouraged staff to think about the ways in which their museum could be more welcoming and relevant to Latinx families. The steps they undertook to develop and implement the varied strategies were the very pillars of organizational change that have enabled the museum to respond to the fast-paced demographic change that Silicon Valley has experienced over the past 30+ years. Marilee sees her work with Cambio as an important opportunity to share new perspectives and insights that museums can use to benefit families in their own backyards. When she’s not at the museum, you can find her scouring cookbooks from generations past and from around the world in search of the best possible techniques for pickling vegetables.