Andrew Hong ’13 wants you to start tinkering. As Public Programs Coordinator for the MIT Museum in Cambridge, Mass., Hong works to shine a light on the university’s high-tech research break throughs while bringing science education to local communities. Along the way, he’s found an outlet for his passion for getting people to engage with new technology and making the field of science less intimidating and more accessible for everyone.
INNOVATION MEETS EDUCATION
At MIT, Hong organizes programs designed to demystify research and create a “public face” for the institution. To draw in children and families, the museum offers interactive discussions with MIT scientists who share their latest experiments and discoveries, from projects like creating new prosthetic body parts to designing better solar-powered lighting. Other events are geared more to an older crowd, like a program called “Drinkable Science” that explains the physics and chemistry behind the trendy art of mixology. The idea is to “sneak science into fun, everyday topics,” Hong explains.
A key mission of the museum is encouraging people to reconsider their assumptions that a certain technology or concept might be too complicated to understand. Hong tries to make visitors feel more confident about their abilities by giving them a taste of the trial-and-error process that engineers and scientists wrestle with every day. “We structure our activities with failure built in,” he says.
“There’s an expectation that you’re not going to get it right the first time.”
DELVING INTO DESIGN
One of Hong’s favorite projects has been creating a new design and engineering space called the Idea Hub, where museum-goers can experiment with unfamiliar tools and learn skills like computer programming. Visitors do hands-on activities like assembling electronic circuits and creating art with 3D printers. “Our goal is to teach people—to give people this hands-on experience—so that they feel empowered to engage with technology in the future.”
Hong has been building up his own expertise by taking advantage of the resources he’s found in Cambridge. The job gives him access to courses at MIT, where his assignments include tasks like programming 3D printers to generate artistic designs and models. “Since getting here, it’s just been a constant crash course in how to build things and how to tinker,” he says.
By expanding his knowledge, Hong says he’s been inspired to get others excited about tinkering. “It feeds back into my desire to show people that you can do this stuff. I’m a walking example of someone who didn’t have a background in this field, and now is competent enough to teach people creative problem-solving and the design process.”
FINDING HIS FIT
A neuroscience major at Pomona, Hong was always fascinated with the sciences, but didn’t picture himself as a teacher or researcher. After sophomore year he began to chart his own path, starting with a SURP project at Professor of Art Mark Allen’s L.A. nonprofit, Machine Project, where he was exposed to the idea of learning about technology through the use of art and creativity. The next summer he landed an internship funded by the Career Development Office at the Exploratorium science museum in San Francisco, known for its participatory exhibits.
His experience in Cambridge has given Hong a clearer vision for the future. His ultimate goal is to design educational technologies for the museum field, like the kind he uses every day in his work. Wherever he ends up, Hong says he will keep following his personal career philosophy, inspired by the advice of Pomona neuroscience professor Rachel Levin.
“Her advice to me was, ‘Get really good at something you love, and convince someone that they need you.’”