Tim Pula, the second Spark!Lab team member featured in our Staff Spotlight, is the Interpretive Exhibits Coordinator. His Spark!Lab tenure began in June of last year. Responsible for creating, repairing, and maintaining the hands-on activities our visitors engage with, he knows the Invention Process better than just about anyone.
Tim’s office is actually located in the back of the Spark!Lab space. Its glass windows exhibit the Invention Process transparently for visitors. If you get a chance to visit, you might see him working on new activities using a variety of tools, devices, machines, and gadgets (including a 3D printer). Despite his many projects, Tim kindly took time to answer the following interview questions.
Name: Tim Pula
Title: Interpretive Exhibits Coordinator
On staff since: June, 2014
Alma maters: Seminole Community College (vocational certificate); The University of Central Florida; The University of Texas (Tyler, TX); graduated from LeTourneau University (Longview, TX)
Favorite invention in the world: The automobile
Favorite object from NMAH collections: Automaton monk, an early walking/rolling wind-up automata
What background do you have with maker spaces?
I have been a follower of the maker movement for the past eight years. I attended the 2007 MakerFaire in San Mateo, CA. I also attended the 2011 MakerFaire in Queens, NY. While in my last position, I spent around a year collaborating with the local Hackerspace on projects that would turn into museum programs.
What background do you have in working with children?
In my early college days, I spent time working with kids as a volunteer at a pediatric physical therapy/occupational therapy office. I have spent 10 years on the floors of science museums. This included doing demonstrations, teaching classes, facilitating after-school and in-school programs, and performing/giving talks at schools.
What did you study?
Lots of things. I started out in vocational school for auto mechanics. I began community college trying to get into the physical-therapy assisting program. In college I started out in radiology but quickly changed to micro- and molecular biology. My final major, and the one I graduated with, is biology.
Any other work experiences you’d like to mention?
As a teen and while in vocational school, I worked as a management staff member/mechanic/track attendant at a go-cart track in the Orlando area. I spent many years in retail. I also spent time working in the lab of an adhesive-manufacturing facility and working in the organic extractions lab of an environment-testing company. I spent a short stint as a pharmacy tech, and for about two weeks, I worked as a mechanic in a Porsche shop. After all of those jobs, I found my niche as a museum educator, and that is where I have been for the past 11 years.
What’s your favorite thing about Spark!Lab?
I love the open-ended exploration process. That is the most fun part of learning for me. I am not a big “learn-by-reading” person. I didn’t particularly like school, but I love to try things and learn.
What’s your least favorite thing?
Those visitors who come to destroy. It makes my job difficult. Obviously things will break, given the number of visitors we have. It is when something is broken maliciously and intentionally that drives me crazy. It just takes away from the experience for other people.
Where do you think you’ve been most successful?
Creating hands on-activities for museums. That has made a way for me to provide for my family, enjoy what I do, and grow in my skills and creativity.
Where do you think you could use some more practice?
This is easy: Being organized. My head, desk, and work area are all mirrors of each other.
If you had to explain Spark!Lab in four words…
Fun, inventive, experimental, success.
What’s your favorite invention in Spark!Lab?
I like the Van Halen guitar. I have a few reasons why it is my favorite. First off that guitar comes from the time when I was a teen. I would see it on MTV, and I would hear the music from while [I was] in the wild years of my life. Secondly, I watched the American Lives interview with Eddie Van Halen and was fascinated with his process for making the guitar. He talks about hacking away and things, hooking stuff up that would spark and smoke, and using pieces that were not made for the guitar.
In which of your own inventions do you take the most pride?
I am pretty proud of the gyro cube. I met a lot of goals that I had for developing an activity that tied to both [Charles Stark “Doc”] Draper and Things That Roll [Spark!Lab’s first theme]. It also works in an unexpected way. I like that.
What most excited you about our theme change from “Things That Roll” to “Things That Make Sound”?
Getting the activities done. It’s great to see visitors interact with more of my creations. I love to make stuff that people like to explore.
When you’re not working at the Museum, what do you do in your free time?
Spend time with my wife. We like to talk, read, and explore new places. I have also taken to thrift-store shopping. You never know what kinds of treasures you will find.
Do you consider yourself inventive or innovative?
Somewhat. I like to think up and make new and needed things. That is fun.