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Jennifer Pace Robinson '92 stands in front of Wonder Woman costume

’92 alum heads world-famous Children’s Museum

Dreams are developed, ideas are inspired and futures are influenced for children who visit the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis.

Jennifer Pace Robinson ’92 knows, because she was one of those kids. Nearly every Sunday of her childhood, her father took her to the museum to expose her to a plethora of possibilities for her life.

But little did Robinson know that her dreams would literally come true at the world-renowned museum. No, for all the inspiration offered there, she is neither an astronaut nor a paleontologist, not a chemist nor an Egyptologist. After 29 years at the museum – during which she has developed some of its most iconic exhibits – she was named president and chief executive officer May 8.

“I may be the headline on things, but I’ve got this amazing support network underneath me that has allowed me to lead in every role that I was in,” said Robinson, who previously was vice president of experience development and family learning and, most recently, executive vice president. “I will say that I pushed for things that I felt needed to happen. And I’ve made those hard calls. I’ve made those difficult deals. I really put myself out there, flying across the ocean, meeting with other governments. But really, the implementation in the last several years has really come down to this amazing team. …

“I’m able to go after an idea, negotiate work with an external partner and then bring it back to the team and it’s like clockwork. They know how to put it into motion.”

Jennifer Pace Robinson stands in front of dinosaur skeleton.
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Jennifer Pace Robinson stands with Chinese warrior statues.
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About 18 months ago, the museum’s board alerted employees that Jeffrey Patchen, then the president and CEO, planned to retire and asked interested internal candidates to apply. It became clear that Robinson was the board’s choice, but she had to learn areas with which she was less familiar – the museum’s annual operating budget, technology, human resources and fundraising – and to demonstrate to the board that she could master those skills as well as she had handled exhibits.

Those topics were not foreign to her; she had, after all, managed the budget for multi-million-dollar exhibits and been tapped to describe for prospective donors what she had in mind for new exhibits. But the transition period enabled Robinson to delve into the museum’s strategies, its approach to corporations’ foundations and other tasks that a CEO performs.

Robinson has held a series of positions since joining the museum; she has spent her entire career there except for an internship immediately after graduation. She has, among other things, persuaded Hollywood to loan her Wonder Woman’s movie costume and dreamed up a way to transport museum visitors 65 million years back to dinosaur times. She also has collaborated with international counterparts to help them enhance their own collections.

At DePauw, Robinson majored in communication but pursued an interdisciplinary education that exposed her to a world of ideas and experiences. She sought a career that would enable her to meld her interests in archaeology and anthropology with storytelling and teamwork, and museum work came to the fore when she spent her senior year winter term touring English museums.

She seemed to be headed in that direction since those childhood days that she spent at the museum. ‘While I didn’t know the exact job I wanted to do, I knew the type of person I wanted to become,” she said. “I wanted to become somebody who was a listener, somebody who was interested in other cultures, somebody who was open-minded, somebody who was an explorer.”

Now she hopes to help children “really feel like they’re making a difference and that they have a voice … If I can help a family with the idea that, ‘oh, I could do this someday’ or ‘I could add to this body of knowledge,’ I feel really successful.”

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