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Rube Goldberg Granddaughter Fashion Designer Jennifer George: “How we can use the zeitgeist of Rube Goldberg to engage more young people in STEM”

Rube Goldberg Inc. uses the zeitgeist of my grandfather as a launching point to show kids how to think differently. A Rube Goldberg Machine is built from everyday objects and designed to accomplish a simple task in the most overly complicated way possible. This may seem like a giant waste of time and energy, but […]

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Rube Goldberg Inc. uses the zeitgeist of my grandfather as a launching point to show kids how to think differently. A Rube Goldberg Machine is built from everyday objects and designed to accomplish a simple task in the most overly complicated way possible. This may seem like a giant waste of time and energy, but in order to design simply, it helps to know how to over-design something. It’s also more fun. So with that in mind, every year for the past three decades thousands of kids compete in Rube Goldberg Machine Contests both Live and Online. These student builders suddenly have to look at the world around him/her and imagine the kinetic possibilities. And this is not just a solo endeavor, it involves teamwork, tenacity, improvisation and real problem solving. Our competitions also build social skills which are just as important as building a Rube Goldberg Machine. Any opportunity to have kids work and problem solve together is a win-win especially when so much time is spent in front of screens. I’m also proud that our competitions level the playing field — all you need is a pile of junk a great imagination to compete. This means there’s real parity and a Title 1 school can win just as easily as a private school.


As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jennifer George. Fashion Designer Jennifer George is Rube Goldberg’s granddaughter and oversees all aspects of her grandfather’s estate. There are books, toys, museum shows and a feature film in the works, but for 32 years the cornerstone of the Rube Goldberg IP has been the Machine Contests that bear his name. Jennifer inherited the mantle of running RGI from her father and is focused on keeping the IP thriving for generations to come.


Thank you so much for doing this with us Jennifer! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

JG: An accident of birth — being born into my lovely wacky family!

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

JG: I’m not sure if this is the most interesting thing that has happened since taking over the reins, but my grandfather’s name alone carries more weight than I ever could have imagined. People I had only dreamed of meeting on this journey, shepherding my grandfather’s work into the 21st century, were suddenly accessible. Some have even become mentors and share my vision for the work our not for profit does in STEM/STEAM education. But the funniest moment over the last few years that I can remember is when a company came in for a meeting in our brand new office space and brought an elaborate Rube Goldberg Machine with them, replete with pyrotechnics, dry ice and a working rocket. As the chain reactions began to fire, I had visions of the Rube Goldberg offices being destroyed by a Rube Goldberg Machine!

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

JG: Mistakes aren’t usually funny and this one certainly wasn’t, but suffice it to say never get pressured into signing a contract. If it doesn’t feel right, it isn’t. And no matter how small your percentage is always work with gross numbers, not net. I learned my lesson the hard way.

Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?

JG: Rube Goldberg Inc. uses the zeitgeist of my grandfather as a launching point to show kids how to think differently. A Rube Goldberg Machine is built from everyday objects and designed to accomplish a simple task in the most overly complicated way possible. This may seem like a giant waste of time and energy, but in order to design simply, it helps to know how to over-design something. It’s also more fun. So with that in mind, every year for the past three decades thousands of kids compete in Rube Goldberg Machine Contests both Live and Online. These student builders suddenly have to look at the world around him/her and imagine the kinetic possibilities. And this is not just a solo endeavor, it involves teamwork, tenacity, improvisation and real problem solving. Our competitions also build social skills which are just as important as building a Rube Goldberg Machine. Any opportunity to have kids work and problem solve together is a win-win especially when so much time is spent in front of screens. I’m also proud that our competitions level the playing field — all you need is a pile of junk a great imagination to compete. This means there’s real parity and a Title 1 school can win just as easily as a private school.

Can you tell me a story about a particular individual who was impacted by your cause?

JG: There are too many to name, but I get parent testimonials all the time about how our competitions change the course of a student’s life.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

JG: Allot more resources to STEM/STEAM curriculum.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

JG: Someone who has the confidence and vision to articulate their ideas and rally others to join them.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

1. You will work harder than you have ever worked before.

As a single working mother living in NYC I am used to hard work. And I have always had to make a living. But when you inherit the mantle of a not for profit, and believe wholeheartedly in its mission, your work begins when your paying job ends. I am often up past midnight drafting emails, writing marketing materials, books, and correspondence. I am also in the hot seat for funding and spreading the word about what we do to educators, students and corporate entities that share our vision. But hopefully the hard work pays off. Mine does, every April, when we host the Rube Goldberg Machine Contest FINALS.

2. The work will expand your world in the most positive way.

Every week I have the good fortune to do SKYPE in the classrooms and talk to kids all over the country (and around the world) about my grandfather and his wacky machines. This enriches my life in ways I could not have imagined, in fact one of the children I talked to during one of these SKYPE sessions asked me a question that I used as the launching point for the introduction I wrote for a book on one of my grandfather’s most celebrated cartoon strips, Foolish Questions. He asked me “When did you find out you were Rube Goldberg’s granddaughter?”

3. If you don’t ask, you won’t receive.

I have a hard time asking for money. And as a not for profit 501(c)3 whose focus is on STEM education, there are a lot of like minded individuals and organizations who share our mission and believe that the work we do will have a significant impact on the future of young minds and the world they will inherit. It took me almost 10 years to realize you need to ask for financial help in order to receive it.

4. Ask for permission.

Even though it may sound sort of spiritual and vaguely voodoo I think when you’re in charge of shepherding someone’s life work, it helps to take a deep dive, be thoughtful and ask permission. I often take time to digest a new opportunity, have a quiet moment of introspection and in a sense talk to my grandfather before I venture forward.

5. Learn to delegate.

In the beginning when you’re essentially a team of one, you’re pretty much doing everything yourself. And then if you’re lucky enough to build your team it’s essential for both sustainability and morale to delegate. For example, I was asked to write an updated overview/mission statement for RGI and was having a hard time coming up with the most concise draft, even though I’d done it many times before. I asked our Director of Operations Deb to take a shot at it and she knocked it out of the park. Believe in the people around you and let them shine.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

JG: That we are all human and that at the end of the day, at our core, we all have the ability to speak the same language no matter how vastly different our cultures are. Music. Art. Love. Food. Even Rube Goldberg Machines. These are universal.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

JG: “No matter how thin you slice it, it’s still bologna.” It taught me not to take life too seriously.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

JG: Bill and Melinda Gates. Their efforts to improve the education system in America is near and dear to my heart. I would love to share with them what we have learned in the 32 years of bringing STEM education and the RUBE GOLDBERG MACHINE CONTEST into the classroom and beyond. Amazingly, we started long before the acronym existed!

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Twitter — @RubeGoldberg Instagram — @rubegoldberg Facebook — @rubegoldbergofficial

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