Tom Preston

Austin, TX

“Seeing toddlers and 11-year olds crying because they don’t want to leave the museum gives you the feeling that what you’re doing is worthwhile.”

I grew up in Austin, Texas and moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico for a job that was supposed to last a year – in manufacturing at Intel. 17 years later, I have finally come back home.

When I retired, I took advantage of a unique partnership between Intel, Encore.org and the United Way of Central New Mexico. I applied for the Encore.org Fellowships program that allows Intel retirees to work for a year in a nonprofit. I was hoping to find a fellowship where I could use my recently-acquired information technology degree. I thought I could help a nonprofit organization and the organization could help me build my skills.

I was placed at The Thinkery, Austin’€™s museum for children focused on science, technology, engineering, arts and math education. The idea of working at a museum intrigued me because of all the creative things they do.

Tom PrestonI had pictured myself working behind the scenes in an IT role. But when I started, I was asked to teach in their outreach program, working mainly with school students in robotics and programming. That’€™s where their biggest need was at the time, but I was concerned because I had never taught before.

To my surprise, I enjoyed it immensely. It was cool to see the sparks ignite in those 4th graders as we worked with LEGO robots. They were 9 or 10-year olds, most from underprivileged schools in Austin, and came in one afternoon a week – the class was all girls!

My second project was working with the museum’€™s exhibits team to build a new exhibit. I’€™d always been interested in woodworking and carpentry and I worked with talented creative people. It was hard physical manual labor and, again, they flipped the script and now they were teaching me something.

My third project was building a curriculum database for the education staff at the museum. That has been a challenging endeavor as it has to be a technical solution that was sustainable after I left, always a challenge for a resource-strapped nonprofit.

When my fellowship ended, I went away with a really good experience and good memories – in particular, the sight of toddlers to 11-year olds breaking into tears when they are told they have to leave the museum.

It’€™s a funny sight, but it gives you the feeling that what you’€™re doing is right, inspiring and worthwhile.