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5 Things We Want to Know – Ron Ottinger



Ron Ottinger is Co-Founder and Co-Chair of the STEM Learning Ecosystems Initiative. He is also the Executive Director of STEM Next. 

What’s your background?

Making a difference for low-income kids and their families has been a thread that has knitted together all the positions I have had throughout my career. For the past nine years, I led the Noyce Foundation, which was dedicated to helping young people become curious, thoughtful, and engaged learners. Prior to joining Noyce, I served for fourteen years as National Associate Director of the non-profit AVID Center. I was elected to three terms on the San Diego City Schools’ Board of Education from 1992-2004 (a period of major reform of the school system) and was the longest running board president.

Describe the STEM Ecosystems and your role.

We’re creating new models for STEM learning in and out of school with multiple partners and stakeholders in a community. I provide leadership, thought partnership, fund development, and work on communications and promotion with key public and private organizations. For the future, I’m focusing on fund development (especially with the STEM Funders Network and STEM Next Opportunity Fund) and evaluation and assessment strategies. Other focuses include establishing parent engagement strategies and building the capacity of out of school time (OST) partners and networks.

Outside of the Ecosystems, what are you involved in?

I’m passionate about building the field of STEM learning in afterschool, summer, and other informal settings. These include the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation’s Statewide afterschool networks, Imagine Science national youth development organizations, the Every Hour Counts urban intermediary network, the Click2Science PD platform, PEAR Institute youth assessment and program quality tools, and parent engagement in STEM strategies.

Figuring out how to grow and scale large national initiatives with smart, thoughtful partners is one of the most rewarding aspects of this work. I love seeing these initiatives take on lives of their own beyond the support that the Noyce Foundation and now STEM Next Opportunity Fund has or is providing.

Do you have a mentor?

Crosby Milne, who passed away last year at the age of 95, was a lifelong mentor starting from when I began as a community organizer fighting bank redlining in Brooklyn, NY, to working on a national full-employment initiative to running and winning for school board in San Diego City through all of my career and family moves. I learned the art of diplomacy, strategy, attention to detail, group dynamics, negotiation, and so much more.  Crosby was self-taught and self-made and led from behind in major national efforts including helping Cesar Chavez negotiate the first contracts with California growers, negotiating with NESTLE on infant formula in Third World Countries, among many others.

Who was a role model for you when you were younger?

Stevie Wonder has been a lifelong role model in his passionate advocacy for Black Americans and all people of color. Through the creativity of his music, he is able to bring people of all economic backgrounds, ages, race and ethnicities together around a message of love, respect, and community.  Stevie was instrumental in gaining Congressional approval for the national holiday we now observe for Martin Luther King, Jr.

Beyond his valuable work with the STEM Ecosystems, Ron is leading important work in many areas of education as executive director of the STEM Next Opportunity Fund, successor to the Noyce Foundation.  This includes the publication in 2017 of STEM Ready America. As Executive Editor, he convened the nation’s leading STEM experts presenting bold and persuasive evidence—as well as real-world examples of effective practices, programs, and partnerships on how science, technology, engineering and mathematics knowledge and skills are preparing young people to be successful in school today and the workforce tomorrow.