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The Secret of Brilliant Minds



I almost fell out of my chair when I got the email – “Yes, I’ll speak.”

Walter Isaacson had just agreed to deliver the keynote address at the bi-annual convening of the STEM Learning Ecosystems Community of Practice (SLECoP) Convening April 4 in New Orleans.

I was excited to share the news on our team call later that day,  “There is a reason we asked Mr. Isaacson. Actually, there are a lot of reasons.”

My colleagues know Isaacson as an extraordinary, famous writer, scholar and student of what makes brilliant minds tick.

I helped them understand that Walter Isaacson is particularly special for our group – a diverse collection of professionals from across the world devoted to changing the way we learn and creating equitable STEM learning opportunities for all.

He takes the work of our most influential creators to offer tangible explanations for how math lives outside of classrooms and how science permeates everything. He assimilates the humanities and STEM.

In his biographies of Leonardo da Vinci, Steve Jobs, Albert Einstein, Benjamin Franklin and Henry Kissinger, Isaacson carefully links what we call STEM into everything that matters. In a context we understand, he gives us the blueprint for STEM in our lives.

There’s no art without science, as Isaacson explored in his 2017 book, “Leonardo da Vinci.” After examining thousands of pages of da Vinci’s notebooks, Isaacson credits the famous artists’ obsessive studies of science, math, anatomy, nature and engineering as the success factor for his most famous portrait.

“His scientific explorations informed his art. He peeled flesh off the faces of cadavers, delineated the muscles that move the lips, and then painted the world’s most memorable smile.,” Isaacson wrote, referring to da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa.”

Isaacson said that da Vinci studied human skulls, made layered drawings of the bones and teeth, and conveyed the skeletal agony of Saint Jerome in the “Wilderness.”

Math was integral to da Vinci’s work as well, Isaacson explained. “He explored the mathematics of optics, showed how light rays strike the retina, and produced magical illusions of changing visual perspectives in “The Last Supper.’”

Like da Vinci, all of Isaacson’s subjects were curious about the world and recognized that understanding science, technology, engineering and math is critical for thriving organizations and individuals.

Take Steve Jobs, for instance. In his 2011 authorized biography, Isaacson explains how the Apple icon connected creativity with technology through deep understandings of engineering and design, partnered with unbridled imagination.

And then there’s Isaacson’s biography of Benjamin Franklin, a scientist and statesman who built printing presses, invented bifocal glasses, created the lighting rod, making lasting contributions to how we approach life and work. (Remember the famous Ben Franklin saying, “A penny saved is a penny earned?”)

Franklin, as Isaacson explained, used science, math, engineering and technology to address life’s most basic challenges and to elevate humanity. And this is the exact challenge that the 68+ STEM Learning Ecosystems have accepted in our collaborative quest  to foster meaningful learning for children.

When Isaacson speaks at the STEM Learning Ecosystem Community of Practice Convening in New Orleans, he may discuss Franklin, Jobs, da Vinci, Einstein or others who have impacted how we live and work. We know, however, whomever he chooses to discuss, he will most certainly make meaningful connections to the work that schools, businesses, colleges, nonprofits, science centers and community organizations are doing within ecosystems to cultivate the curiosity, imagination and study of STEM for children today.

Isaacson, the former chairman of CNN and the Aspen Institute, is known to deliver eloquent, extemporaneous talks fueled by his own curiosities of others.  We’ve asked him to embolden the adults in the room to allow space for the next generation to become problems solvers like so many of the great minds he’s studied.  His remarks will surely reignite the passion of our ecosystems to transform systems to build curiosity and big thinking for all of our youth.



Walter Isaacson’s speech begins at 9 a.m. Thursday, April 4, 2019 in the ballroom of the Marriott, New Orleans.

After Isaacson finishes his prepared remarks, Dr. Calvin Mackie, President & Founder of STEM NOLA, will moderate questions from members of the STEM Learning Ecosystems Community of Practice.