ETHS alumnus pledges $500,000 to STEM labs

Ciara McCarthy, Reporter

An alumnus of Evanston Township High School has pledged a $500,000 gift in support of the school’s science program.

The donor, Leonard Schaeffer, specified one condition: that the ETHS Educational Foundation raise an additional $100,000.

The combined $600,000 will go toward the construction of three Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics labs at the school in 2014, said Fran Caan, executive director of the ETHS Educational Foundation.

“The combination of the people I met and the education I received at ETHS opened up a world that I would not have entered if I hadn’t gone to school there,” Schaeffer said. “I wanted to do what I can to make sure that other young people in the area have a similarly good experience.”

Schaeffer is the founding chairman and former CEO of the health care company WellPoint. He currently advises the private equity firm TPG Capital and is a professor at the University of Southern California.

Although Schaeffer has donated to the school in the past, this particular gift will mark Schaeffer’s 50th anniversary of graduating from ETHS in 1963. Three proposals were presented to Schaeffer, including the refurbishment of a campus planetarium, the renovation of the school’s orchestra pit and the STEM labs.

Schaeffer said he decided to fund the STEM labs because they would have the largest impact on the greatest number of students.

Terri Sowa-Imbo, ETHS science department chair, is part of the committee that will plan the STEM labs.

“The idea behind getting new labs is to really bring the students into 21st century learning,” she said.

The STEM labs will be equipped with modern technological tools so students can experience science in new and creative ways, such as using Skype to talk to a variety of industry professionals, Sowa-Imbo said.

Kristen Perkins, the recently appointed Northwestern/ETHS partnership coordinator, said a STEM approach to education has practical applications.

“What STEM education does is look at real-world problems in terms of problem solving through collaboration and utilizing the expertise of all of those disciplines,” she said.

The ETHS Educational Foundation was established in 2005 to raise funds for the high school in addition to public funding. Each year, the Foundation’s Board of Trustees focuses fundraising efforts on one project, Caan said. This year, the Foundation will work to raise the $100,000 goal by June 30.

To raise the money, the Foundation will host fundraising events during the year and send a year-end appeal letter to alumni and parents of current students. The first such fundraising event, the ETHS Wildkit Golf Outing on Sept. 21, raised about $20,000 toward the $100,000 goal.

In total, Caan said that the Foundation has already raised $40,000.

“What happened to me is a whole realm of possibilities opened up, educational and vocational, as a result of going to Evanston Township and graduating,” Schaeffer said. “And I hope that the same can happen for other students.”