Tom Rosso and Phil Senescall

Recorded January 23, 2020 Archived January 23, 2020 41:01 minutes
0:00 / 0:00
Id: ddf000464


Tom Rosso (52) speaks with his fellow board member and friend Phil Senescall (36) about autism awareness, parenthood, soft skills, and their push for inclusivity and accessibility at the New Children's Museum.

Subject Log / Time Code

PS speaks about his first experiences with the NCM, and his drive to serve the board in honor of his deceased sister Lauren, who was an artist.
PS speaks about autism awareness and inclusivity as a personal mission; mentioning his son Jack. PS describes Jack and speaks about the way he engages with art.
PS speaks about connections he has made in the local autism community, and the "Accessibility Mornings" hosted by the NCM for families with special-needs. PS describes some challenges those in the community face, including social stigmas.
PS speaks about the concept of those with autism having a "superpower," and speaks more about the way his son creates art. TR speaks about his desire to provide better access for all, and recalls the way his own children responded to the museum.
TR speaks about the way the NCM is inclusive, and the mission of the NCM to provide experiences and lessons with "soft skills" such as empathy and collaboration for kids.
TR and PS speak about the importance of "soft skills" in adult and professional lives, and the need for Art in STEAM.
PS describes the NCM as a form of kindergarten readiness, and speaks about the lack of access for San Diego families to pre-school. PS and TR discuss the NCM moving to a free-for-all access plan.


  • Tom Rosso
  • Phil Senescall

Recording Location

The New Children's Museum

Venue / Recording Kit

Partnership Type

Fee for Service


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00:02 My name is Tom Rosso. I'm 52 years old. It's January 23rd 2020 and I'm here at the new Children's Museum in San Diego, California. My partner for the interview today is Phil Senegal Phil and I have been on the board together here at the new children's museum since 2016.

00:26 That's correct. My name is Phil Santa skull I'm 36 years old. Today's date is January 23rd, 2020. We're here and the wonderful new Children's Museum of downtown San Diego. I'm interviewing with Tom Rosso board president board chair and my relationship to Tom is we served on the board together since 2016 and I consider him up a good friend.

01:00 Agreed agreed valet at like The Back-up maybe to start with before 2016 on what was your first experience with Museum? And how did you get involved? I know the two of us.

01:17 Met here at the board and have become good friends as you said and and had a great time serving the museum over the past several years, but I'm curious. Where did it all start for you?

01:35 Yeah, thank you for that Tom. I remember the first time I ever met you was over in that green hall room right down the hallway back in 2016. We were introduced as its new board members, but but what was my calling to serve Why why did I?

01:55 Support the children's museum in this capacity. Why did I become a board member? Well, it's

02:03 It's a combination of things my company professional maintenance systems is very philanthropic very involved in the community. I'm in an executive role and was steered towards giving back by joining a non-profit board and I welcome the opportunity to do so, but I just wanted to make sure that I got involved in an organization that

02:37 Was meaningful not just professionally but on a personal level so that said

02:46 Two things Peak my interest about supporting the new children's museum first in loving memory of my late sister Lauren lot of folks here don't know this story. Not sure I shared it with you before but my my sister Lauren was an artist and she was an incredible Artist as early on as I can remember and it's what she wanted to be when she grew up sadly. She died in the car accident on her senior year of high school.

03:34 Her life was was on.

03:37 Was cut short and just this idea that I would come and support a children's Contemporary Art Museum served in loving memory of my sister Lauren.

03:57 And then second.

04:00 Big draw why I'm here as you know.

04:04 Islam I'm an advocate for autism awareness and autism inclusivity

04:12 My son jack was diagnosed on the autism spectrum in 2016. Same time. We came to meet you here at the board and

04:26 I never anticipated going down that path. I didn't know other families with autism. Like I didn't have autism in my family. Needless to say it was a spooky time.

04:41 And my wife and I were

04:45 Anxious to find ways to support Jack including fostering a community for him and I saw the children's museum is that is that is as a vehicle to do that. So he's you know at his school and he's in a special ed classroom. So he's segregated from the typical kids the General Ed setting but you don't have that here, you know here at the Children's Museum all the kids learn and play together. That's what I like about it here.

05:27 Kids schools up formal educational institution are museum is an informal educational institution. And what I like to say is the perfect platform to mainstream autistic kid outside my son jack so simply put I'm here on the board on the radio as an advocate for autism awareness and inclusivity make in the world.

05:58 A better place for my son and Kettles like them interested in maybe what what progress you think has been made in your last couple years serving here and also just being able to observe Jack's development and his journey along with the rest of your family. How is the museum and how do you think your service is played a part in that?

06:34 The service has really benefited me.

06:40 And my son it's benefited me on many levels. I I've grown a lot personally and professionally. I'm here on the board.

06:59 In working with a group of peers if I'm worthy enough to call him that and I'm learning a lot from fellow board members like yourself and from the The Talented senior staff here at the Museum and the result has been very transformational like I think of myself and I'm now a better version of of of of aam

07:27 Of myself for for for doing so

07:30 And then you know how it's benefited my son jack. I swear it's a trip or it's just Destiny, but he's found his calling. He's an artist like my my my late sister Lauren and I just don't think I could have planned that that question if

07:52 You know my involvement here in the exposure shaped his his his his his Newfound superpower of soap. I'm just giddy about it that he's such a great artist and I want to continue to

08:11 Nurture his his artistic ability by continuing to stay involved in supporting this organization on on on on the word level. It's a it's a it's a it's a trip. I

08:28 Aya

08:30 I don't know how he gets through his day at school. I mean the guy can't sit still he has a very hard time focusing unless you put a piece of paper and some markers in front of them or you put like a puzzle in front of them like a hundred 200 piece puzzle and he changes he becomes he snaps on he is he is in Peak State Peak State. He's in the zone. He is laser focus. I mean he can't otherwise it's still unless he's doing his heart in which case he can sit still for an hour at a time. He's he's he's hyper focused on his art and coloring in between the lines and doing these beautiful drawings is a better artist than me 7 years old and the puzzle thing.

09:23 I mean we give him a 200 piece puzzle. I know I haven't told you this before you got to see it Pete he reaches.

09:32 4 puzzle piece

09:34 And he instantly connects it. I don't even get it. He's he's he's hyper-focus. He gets he connects every PC gets everyone right on on on the first click and

09:50 I'm realizing.

09:53 That autism isn't a disability. It's a different ability mess with my son house it have you ever you found that you've been able to forge good connections. I know that you've been very involved with awareness and in the broader Community with autism, if you found that you've been able to forge good connections between the museum and the broader community and be that conduit between the two.

10:29 I have as I said earlier the museum.

10:36 Serves as my

10:38 Vehicle for making positive on change in the local autism community and I've bridged connections with other Community Partners. We do work with autism Tree Project foundation and with Autism Speaks, and I'd like to give Autism Speaks a shout-out for providing the grant support necessary to keep are on accessibility mornings program going and I'd like to

11:16 Speak to accessibility mornings. It's my my favorite part of the museum. I really like the way back installation and and and playing with my kids in in not the end that new installation but accessibility mornings is

11:34 My favorite thing here and I had an opportunity to go on KUSI last year and sort of them plug the program. It's a quarterly event.

11:51 And basically what it is is we open the museum a couple hours early once a quarter and we open the museum a couple hours early and we provide free access onto special needs families particularly.

12:11 Families with autism autism families

12:16 And

12:19 All the installations exhibits art stations. They're all open like, you know, like they would otherwise be too too too too general admission, but we do to make it a real safe safe place in environment is maybe we you know adjust the lighting or or or the noise levels again to promote a more sensory friendly experience for for these autistic kiddos and and and and their families noise cancelling headphones are available at the front desk that's common and in the community

13:00 And on

13:03 Accessibility mornings that is coming to being relatively recently rights and or was it was revived. We started the program in in in 2015 at lost some traction and with this newfound Grant support from our community partner Autism Speaks, and you know, I am closely guiding the program. It's it's some it's driving again. And in the part that I wanted to get in earlier was just that Tom

13:33 The result in in doing this is we make we welcome the autism families to experience the museum and we make it a comfortable experience for the families and the kids. So just to speak to the the families first, you know.

13:58 When a family is out and about and a child is acting atypically, you know, making noises moving a lot, you know, other families stop and and stare and you know autistic families, they'll avoid coming to the museum or are going on these outings.

14:25 Out of fear of being judged. Thankfully I don't have that problem. I I I feel no shame no shame here, but I know other other families a deal with it and it's perhaps reason why you know, they otherwise have have have not come to the museum your or avoid these These are the social outings going in and Gatherings and then really accessibility mornings it creates on.

14:56 Comfortability for the autistic children. So when I bring my son to a crowded space like a kid's birthday party or an event, he instantly becomes over-stimulated and how the symptoms present themselves is, you know, he's making noises. He's he's he's he's moving a lot and he cannot focus he cannot focus. It's very distracting for him. It's distracting for me. So, you know having accessibility mornings and creating that safe place. He can come here he

15:39 Can get settled in.

15:41 Before a general admission arrives and ultimately Cope's better, you know when the museum is is is is packed with with general admission. Do you know if other children have found their superpower like a jackass and an art and clay and been inspired by what they've seen and been able to do here? I think it's so interesting. You know, I get this question or I used to get this question all the time like oh, you know your kids autistic. Like what is his superpower? Like I've seen that movie Rain Man like a secret liking to grow up and be like a star poker player or or what then I got to be honest. I was starting to feel a little too spirited because I was thinking to myself my son doesn't have a superpower.

16:39 Thankfully, it just came up within the last year or so. You know, what we we realize that he's got a great artistic ability and it is very hyper focused and I think he could grow up and be the Family artist. He's our our Picasso will he'll be like a little retail Gallery downtown and he'll sell is our pieces or maybe he'll move into a field like

17:14 Engineering or software engineering. So it's it's it's it's very exciting. But I think that you know, we really can't pigeonhole these these kiddos. It is a broad-spectrum as they say and while my son's really good at Art. Maybe you know, what another autistic kid is really good at golf.

17:42 I do have a buddy and his son a Colby is the only guy on the high school golf team with autism and I watch his golf swing on video. It's it's uncanny Flawless. That's his superpower.

18:05 Fantastic, so maybe this helps to serve to unlock some of that and help help parents. It sounds like Vine their way and be part of a community. And and I think that's that's a lot of what's been important to me to do is just helping provide access to underserved parts of this community because there's so much

18:39 That kids can learn here. And it's it's it's it's so natural in the way that they do it. I think when I got in introduced to the museum

18:51 It was through just having young kids and starting off as a guest but then seeing how they responded to that synthesis that unique synthesis essay of Art and play was fascinating to me and and it clicked that this is a set of experiences that maybe I grew up with where parents said get outside invent your own games Do Your Own Thing be with your friends and

19:34 That doesn't seem to happen this much anymore. But this seems to be a place where those spontaneous activities and the unstructured activities are are welcome and encouraged and it's it's been fascinating not only to see that firsthand with my kids when they were young and how they experience the museum but watch it during our years of service here.

20:06 Hundreds of times thousands of times and see how

20:12 There's value there across all the different walks of life and all the different segments of our community. And that's that really continues to resonate with me and

20:26 That's why the museum has been an important part of my life our life. My family's life and everybody else. It's that experience that they get that they

20:41 Don't naturally get in school or in their highly structured lives with sports and other activities that they get here where everything disappears there's the electronics are gone and

21:01 Everything is open and didn't unscripted and they get to do what they do best, which is be kids and play there's you mentioned this earlier felon, and this really connects with me to is there are so few barriers between people and families. It's just it's a place that's welcoming and open and inclusive with

21:33 The objective to help kids learn through ART and play and and I love that that it just makes total sense to me now and has had a fantastic impact on my family, but I see it also in the hundreds of thousands of people and families that we are able to serve every year. So I I focus on my board service with how do we expand that? How do we continue to grow? How do we continue to make that available to more people in more parts of our community and to promote this like face-to-face interaction connectivity amongst our youth headphones on their phone the whole time these days I fear, you know,

22:31 Societies connectivity is is is a Rodan. I'm curious Tom. I know what the museum means to me and and why I'm here and I spoke to that and it's just, you know, one segment of our our our broader mission is in that segment being serving the autistic Community, but you know as far as our fearless leader Hazard Hazard board president if you were tasked to condense are messaging.

23:07 To a broader audience, you know in so many in so many words or less. How would you

23:19 Present the Children's Museums mission

23:25 Well, I would say that.

23:31 The core of

23:33 Art and play help develop a set of skills that are useful.

23:49 It helps develop a set of skills that are valuable in.

23:54 Life and career and all sorts of places and I've seen this recently especially in my career where I work with many many technical folks and

24:12 It's the things that they don't teach in school and the things that you don't learn in your science or engineering classes or other places that often become the difference in how you interact with your peers how you interact with your family and it sits things such as

24:37 Empathy and collaboration and working together in teams skills and it's it's the soft skills. It's the things that I think art is a perfect way to do that because inherently it's open-ended. It requires its it's very personal to you, but it also requires a set of

25:11 Thinking and stimulates creativity and also helps

25:20 Drive some of those parts of the brain that kids don't necessarily get in their daily lives. And as you called it are very connected world. I've always thought of this the museum is a very analog place in an increasingly digital world. And I think that's a good thing. I think I think we all need that amount of balance to be plugged in and connected but also be unplugged and be able to think about

25:56 Other things and think about how do I interface with others? Whether it's my family or friends or the community or others that I bump into in my day-to-day life? It's all of those soft skills that seem to be disappearing as we become increasingly connected but the museum helps Foster a lot of those things and you can see it every day out on the floor and in the exhibits in the way that the kids interact with each other and the big kids watch out for the smaller kids and you see a lot of those characteristics

26:47 Come out and just the fact that all of the exhibits and installation in the yard just encourages that and

27:00 Every kid approaches it a little bit differently and they see different things in the exhibits and they interact with it in different ways. But you also have the other group of kids there that they're engaging interfacing interacting with the same time. That's fantastic again, I've seen how that works not only with my family but with many many others and hear the stories and we see the impact that

27:32 That combination of Art and play has been able to have and it's not simulating experiences that kids will see in the real world or in the adult world. It's simulating things that they're comfortable with which is

27:52 Playing and having fun, but they're learning to

27:56 Tom these the soft skills that were developing and nnnn fostering in in our in our youth on let me ask you you're a leader in the life-signs community you're entrenched in that space and you lead a great organization and part of having a great organization is having great people on board when you are looking to bring someone into your organization. Are you seeking out those soft skills that were developing in and our kids here at the Museum. Absolutely, and that's where I see that.

28:40 It's it's very important. I work. I work in a technical field that work with scientists and Engineers all day long, but

28:50 Getting things done building new products being

28:54 Continuing to innovate all of those things drop on a separate set of skills and very

29:06 Little gets done is an individual anymore. So being able to collaborate and work on teams and in figure out what those complementary skills are those are all very important and we over the years. I've learned that sometimes the people that are the most successful are necessarily the ones that are the top in their field. It's the ones that understand how to engage in different ways to get things done. And then again, this is where the kite back to why art is important in in this is this is another thing that we talked about in that I sincerely believe in is

30:04 Schools talk a lot about STEM Science technology engineering math. We talked about steam with the a being art engaged in that and I think that's just a remarkable combination when you put those together because again, it brings in that nonlinear thinking and it brings in some of the creativity and some of the Innovation and some of the other pieces that often.

30:37 Are missing in the core stem parts. I think when you put art and it's very complimentary and it and it fills a gap. That's there where you have those technical disciplines and the highly analytical Parts Blended ultimately with the creative and the pieces that are really activated by different parts in your brain and just being able to put those all together has been

31:12 I've seen it.

31:14 Work in the professional world. I've seen it work in my personal life. I see it. It's important here every day at the Museum and

31:27 That's a big reason of why I'm here. I believe in a world where we continue to talk about Ai and machine learning transforming the workforce.

31:42 You can't automate creativity and you can't automate that type of nonlinear thinking in the same way.

31:55 And that's where I think again the museum provides.

32:00 A unique set of skills for kids that they can bring with them forward and their lives as Society changes and it's done in a way that is perfectly compatible with the way they operate and want to play and want to have fun.

32:19 I love the slogan that Arts are now at the the center of of of stem Steam and that we're promoting this this this emphasis on an art.

32:35 Let me ask you.

32:37 And we've talked about this before I've said that.

32:42 How I communicate our mission?

32:46 Broadly to a broader audience is I say that the new children's museum is a form of of kindergarten Readiness we talked about this before I was saying that

33:01 San Diego over 3 million people here and Dom 50% of of kids don't go to preschool that's remarkable. And there's a reason for that can't families can't afford it preschools expensive. Unfortunately the result is that kids who go to kindergarten Saint Ann's preschool are at a disadvantage which they sustained K through 12 and ultimately the entirety of their lives and I I just I can hardly stomach it because I feel

33:43 Every kid deserves a head start on just how that's how I promote the Children's Museums broader mission in a world a preschool are alternative or a form of kindergarten Readiness. I love love love that almost a third of admissions are are free or or are close to free. We're all about access and welcoming the the military families and families from under serve under privilage communities.

34:23 How do you feel?

34:26 About this would be a huge paradigm shift and and in the organization's thinking and and and model but how do you feel about free access for all what if it was just free or not just a third but for everybody and if your family that can't afford preschool, will then bring your kid to the Children's Museum and

35:20 Bring your kid to the children's museum let them experience, you know arts and pain and play and an interact with with with other children and developing leadership skills and build self-esteem and ultimately be ready for kindergarten and the journey ahead. How do you feel Tom about you know, leading this organization towards free access for all.

35:52 Let's said it's it's a fascinating question. And then the numbers you bring up with preschool or just the fact that kids are at that don't go to preschool that that deficit carrot can carry through often. I would love to make the museum accessible to more and obviously a big part of my interest in being here is just expanding that access. I think we just continue along that path way to

36:42 Broaden awareness broadly Arete reach broaden that access and reach more of the community and provide some of those capabilities that

37:01 Ultimately, the museum is an organization that relies on the community and our generous supporters to continue to provide this access. So I would love to see that we as board members continue to evangelize and push on that objective of expanding access and continuing to do that through

38:17 Got it. It's it's our.

38:25 Job as board members to keep pushing on that.

38:29 And

38:32 And let me jump in ight I guess some.

38:36 I'm not in fan of

38:42 Getting doing away with our our our earned Revenue components and solely relying on contributed Revenue corporate donors in in personal donors and foundation and and Grant support but what just came to me right now here and you speak Tom here and you speak to it as maybe our our our board members Mantra is expand access open the museum to all

39:16 That that's I think that's that's consistent with our mission. We are old mately a mission-driven organization. And I think that's our responsibility as board members to is to be good stewards of the mission and continue to look for opportunities to expand reach and expand in and I think that's something for you and I to continue to work on Phil and I look forward to the next couple years and continuing to

39:55 Serve the board and serve the museum and hopefully continue to drive some of those Ambitions and objectives.

40:07 And I'm going to communicate back to to my company use a big corporate donor hear that what's the return on investment other than you know, my personal benefit and and and that if my my son's the return-on-investment is expanding access and allowing for more kids to come and an experienced the museum and and to grow and I can't think of anyone else that I'd rather do this interview with thanks, Thanks so much for doing this. Thank you so much bill has been fun. Yes, go get a steak and some french fries.