Podcast Transcript – Cliff Zintgraff

Today’s podcast features an interview with UNT alumni Cliff Zintgraff. We asked him a few questions related to his program and to talk a little bit about his postgraduation career path. 

We hope you’ll stay tuned. My name is Cliff Zintgraff, I attended the Learning Technologies Program, graduated in December of 2016, and I am now the chief learning officer at SAMSAT at the San Antonio Museum of Science and Technology. 

When you started at UNT, what were your plans for after graduation? Have these plans changed, if at all? 

So after graduation, I didn’t really have any specific plans. I was already doing work that I that was very interesting to me. I was doing innovation and entrepreneurship training for a place called the IC² Institute at the University of Texas at Austin that was sending me around the world to work with entrepreneurs. And then previously I was an entrepreneur myself, working in the STEM education field. And I started to study the connection between STEM education and the underlying learning methodologies and how that relates to the regional development of cities, which is something the institute have researched for many years and heard a lot about. 

So I was already working on that front and entered the program really to develop my capabilities in that area, more so than looking for me because of you. 

What advice do you have for current students as they decide their next steps after graduation? 

So for a student who is about to graduate? One thing is to look back at your original goals and think about whether those goals still apply for you or not. A number of my colleagues in the program had entered because they were interested in moving beyond whatever their current role was. You might have been a teacher or administrator in K-12 perhaps, or a professor, administrator in university. 

They were looking to stay with the university, perhaps at a number of them have done that. One calling in mind in particular, who became an assistant professor was now in a great position for her, something that she really looked to do. In my own case, I had already been studying an area that was interest to me, which is how K-12 education and especially STEM education connects to regional economic development and was already in a position that was helping me advance that. 

I was involved with nonprofits that I had helped start where I could continue that work. So I think the general advice I would offered any graduate is to think about think about what you do and what kind of work you’d like to do, what kind of lifestyle you’d like to have and look for something that is a great fit for you that that will really serve you well project-based. How did your program at UNT help you feel prepared for this role? So the program at UNT to help prepare me not not really for a new role, as I mentioned, but for the role I was already good at, it helped me develop that that role more. I came in with a natural interest in the way that inquiry learning works, the way that project based learning works. But what I didn’t necessarily have was good foundational understanding of the philosophies, the history of how people learn that has been studied and written about literally for thousands of years. 

And I came to understand that much better. And I think another thing the program really helped me learn how to do better was to bring a variety of thoughts together and communicate them in a very direct way, more so than I was then I was doing before. And so I’ve taken what I learned in the program and have been able to advance the work that I was doing at the time. I was on the board and I was the board chair of some nonprofit in San Antonio, Texas, and I am now on the staff of that nonprofit is the chief learning officer. 

And in fact, I helped us as the director. I helped us merge with a startup museum in town that has really increased the strength of both organizations. And then as part of my research, I was able to work with people that I had met for the program and during the program. And I published my first book, which is called STEM in the Technolopis, which combines these ideas of how people learn with how cities develop and how the challenges of cities make for rich content, for learning experiences and the entire program. 

The program really helped me develop that capability. 

How did you find your current role? So the way I found my current role as I helped start the nonprofit that I work for today. Myself and some colleagues co-founded a nonprofit in San Antonio called Systemic. We had a main founder. I was one of the co-founders and CEO. 

It is very much in space that I find interesting thinking about STEM education, about project based learning, thinking about how that affects what is going on in a city, how the challenges of the city can help drive those learning experiences, and how those same students can learn and become leaders in the city can enter careers related to town, which is of particular interest in San Antonio, and several spaces in particular around cybersecurity, which was the main topic of my dissertation. 

So I was already working in that nonprofit and through the work that I did in my program was able to further develop that work. And I’m now the chief learning officer for a large, larger organization that is really making a difference in a and an area of San Antonio with lots of underrepresented students, with literally tens of thousands of employees, high tech companies and startups that are within half a mile of the front door of our museum.