Gerald Solomon is Co-Founder and Co-Chair of the STEM Learning Ecosystems Initiative and serves as the Executive Director for the Samueli Foundation.
My first professional career: I was a lawyer for almost 20 years in San Diego, CA. The driver for me to become a lawyer was participating in protests in the late 60s and early 70s around the Vietnam War. I realized that I wanted to be part of social change, so I decided to “infiltrate the system” so I became a lawyer for those who needed to be fought for. After that, I moved into the non-profit sector to continue to act on my passion for social change and impact. Then I moved into philanthropy.
What drew you to work in the STEM education field?
My bosses! I knew nothing about it until hired by Henry and Susan Samueli. Henry Samueli’s initial request was to figure out how to use philanthropy to expand workforce opportunities so that companies like Broadcom (which he founded) have a competent workforce and people can get good jobs, and communities can thrive. I had long since realized that people are predestined in our society to certain things because of the zip code where they’re born, and only education and health help them move outside those boundaries. His ideals matched up well with my personal belief system, valuing education for its ability to foster change.
In 2010 we convened a group of 168 STEM leaders at UC Irvine. Samueli Foundation funded it, and we had leaders from National Academy of Engineering, the National Research Council, the University of California School of Education and the School of Engineering. We spent three days talking about STEM, STEM education and STEM learning. Out of that, we developed the STEM Funders Network, and we set up OC STEM. After about 18 months, due to relationships with local leaders, we expanded to Tulsa, then Boston and New York. The rest is history, with the development of the growing STEM Learning Ecosystems (read about it here.)
What do think can be accomplished within the framework of the Ecosystems that can’t be done (or is more difficult) without it?
Everything. Not to be facetious, but our systems are so fragmented; they’re fiscally and financially broken, with huge political challenges. A new architecture and new system’s approach needs to be designed and developed. We believe that we have created that new architecture that encourages opportunities that could otherwise not happen.
For the future for the Ecosystems, we’re continuing to build capacity and sustainability with a long-term commitment to ensure that as many communities around the country and world have an opportunity to build out these new platforms. We know that we can change how educators teach and students learn, and workforces with STEM skills can be developed so that communities and individuals can thrive.
How do you see different regions benefiting from involvement in STEM Ecosystems?
We’re working with the Ecosystems to create strategic and thoughtful relationships, communication strategies, and pathways that break down barriers (real or perceived) to integrate all community stakeholders. We’re addressing diversity by putting it at the forefront as a core value proposition for how we define and measure impact.
I am amazed at and am in awe at what I see on a daily basis. I wished for creating an architecture and platform for social change around learning and getting people out of poverty and creating equity and opportunity for all, and I see it every day, in rural and urban communities. We often hear these stories “but for the STEM Ecosystems, THIS great thing wouldn’t be happening…” There are too many to mention by name.
Do you have a mentor or role model?
I didn’t really have an “aha moment” or a favorite teacher in school. I was molded more by the literature I read and the social engagement and activities I was involved in. I was impacted in a profound fashion in 1971 when I engaged in the march in Washington, DC, to protest the Vietnam War. I experienced the reality of coalescing with others around common goals and objectives, seeing that individual and collective voice have value and we can have impact and make change.
In the business world, Chris Grimm has been my mentor for more than a decade. She’s been a coach in a formal sense, first helping me learn how to best manage an organization through major changes, and then continuing as a formal mentor, bringing value to everything I do. (In fact, we’ve brought her on to assist with the LEAD STEM work so that she can have that same impact on key Ecosystem leaders.)
Today, I am deeply humbled and often in awe of Henry and Susan Samueli. They continually demonstrate what it means to have a moral compass in life, and what it means to care for and take one’s resources and invest them for the common good. I have never met a couple who have that kind of impact, and for this I have tremendous respect.
Gerald recently discussed the work of the STEM Ecosystems in a broadcast interview with one of the newest Ecosystems in Canada. Watch that discussion here.