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Helping NYAS Hug Science Teachers

Helping NYAS Hug Science Teachers

The Jacksons' generosity has enabled a timely symposium and an essential new initiative.

Thomas Campbell Jackson met his wife Penny when they were working at the old Shakespeare & Co. bookstore on New York's Upper West Side. She worked in the fiction section, and he in nonfiction, a detail that continues to resonate for them. Mr. Jackson is a health policy consultant with a nose for science; Mrs. Jackson is a novelist, playwright, and educator. Their professional and philanthropic interests have evolved as if scripted by C.P. Snow's famous "Two Cultures" essay, the 50th Anniversary of which was celebrated at the Academy in May, thanks in part to Mr. Jackson's sponsorship. Merging the streams of science and the humanities through education has been an ongoing theme for the Jacksons, one that recently began to take shape in their advocacy of the Academy's Science Teacher Education Initiative.

Mr. Jackson grew up in the suburbs of Rockland County, NY, and as a high school student attended the honors science program at Columbia. When he entered college, he knew he was interested in "science for science's sake," but ended up majoring in German and economics. During a year abroad at the University of Tübingen, he developed a passion for Goethe, another champion of reciprocity between science and art. He worked in publishing and finance before entering public health administration in Boston city government. After earning a master's degree in public health at Columbia's Mailman School, he ran the City of New York's Health Benefits Program and went on to work as an independent consultant in health policy, advising a number of think tanks on health care reform.

Jackson's strong advocacy for education corresponds in no small part to his wife's career as a teacher. Mrs. Jackson grew up in the city and attended Barnard as an English major before receiving her Master's from Columbia's Teachers College. She has taught at Chapin and other New York City schools, and continues to volunteer as an instructor at the United Nations. Along the way, she earned a fellowship in creative writing at Stanford, and published her first novel in 1992. As parents of a 17 year-old daughter, it's not surprising that the Jacksons share an interest in supporting science education for young women. One program that embodies this focus is a new semester school for girls in Freeport, Maine, where students will study marine biology and leadership.

Through friendships made at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Mr. Jackson recently began attending the Academy's public events. He was immediately impressed by the caliber of programming and with the way the Academy was able to match supporters with its programs. When he heard about plans for the Two Cultures Symposium, he decided to make a deeper investment in the Academy.

He subsequently sat down with Academy leaders to talk about education, realizing that if the Academy could bring together a critical mass of high school science teachers, it could impact the dialogue in science education. Jackson's ideas prompted the Academy to invite him to a stakeholder's meeting with key players in the science community to discuss how a program might take form. The meeting generated much enthusiasm, and Jackson felt compelled to step up his involvement. The Jacksons provided the entirety of the initial seed money for the project, which has attracted other investors, who have since quadrupled their investment.

The Academy's Science Education Initiative aims to enroll up to 1,300 sponsored science educators, who will enjoy full membership at the Academy, exchanging ideas about best practices, and creating connections with university professors and museum scientists exploring how to bring new students to science. Important advocates have signed on to offer financial and strategic support, and the program will host its first events in early 2010.

The Jacksons enthuse unabashedly about the richness of programming at the Academy, and about guests such as Richard Dawkins and Dean Kamen. And while the economic downturn makes fundraising daunting, Jackson hopes that with "the blush off the Wall St. rose," more students will recognize science as an attractive career path. He cautions that the explosion of popular science programming in New York City makes it more challenging for organizations to capture the public's attention. But he is energized by the possibilities, citing E.O. Wilson's Consilience as yet another call to synthesize the sciences and unite them with the humanities. As foretold in their crossing of the bookstore aisles years ago, the Jacksons are doing their part to uphold this vision, matching science and education with civic-mindedness.

Adam Ludwig is a writer in New York City.