Fermi National Laboratory

Volume 25  |  Friday, March 29, 2002  |  Number 6
In This Issue  |  FermiNews Main Page

Best Friends
Friends of Fermilab mark 20 years of support for ecucation programs

by Mike Perricone

The early days: Leon Lederman (left) confers with Friends of Fermilab Jim Ruebush, physics teacher at St. Charles High School; Stanka Jovanovic (standing); Marge Bardeen (seated); Batavia banker Rober Riley and Judy Schramm, in 1985 Like many pivotal ideas, the Friends of Fermilab, who have supported and enriched the lab’s educational programs for two decades, owe their origins to hard work, dedication, timing and good food. More than 20 years ago, then-Fermilab director Leon Lederman, good-naturedly described by a colleague as “a frustrated professor,” had noticed teachers arriving along with students for his Saturday Morning Physics lectures. He had an idea, and he took that idea to the most effective forum he could imagine: the Wilson Hall cafeteria.

“In early 1981, Leon started talking around the lunch tables, saying that Fermilab should do something to help science education in local schools,” said Stanka Jovanovic, wife of Fermilab physicist Drasko Jovanovic, and herself a research chemist at Argonne National Laboratory. “He needed private funds. I heard about it through Drasko, and wrote Leon an outline on how to go about raising funds for such a purpose.”

A few years previously, Stanka Jovanovic had put together a not-for-profit organization to support music education in Downers Grove School District 58. A referendum had cut funding for the music program, a cut Jovanovic found unacceptable.

“My daughter was in that program,” she recalled, “and I refused to let her be without music.”

A few months later, Drasko and Stanka Jovanovic dined with Ellen and Leon Lederman, and the topic arose again.

“Leon asked if I could help Fermilab create a foundation, and I realized he was quite serious,” Stanka said. “I decided to call Marge Bardeen, who at that time was president of the Glenbard School Board, thinking that if she were willing to get involved, I would do it.”

Bardeen (now head of Fermilab’s Education Office) agreed. They invited Jean Fisk, also an educator (and wife of physicist Gene Fisk), and the late Bob McCullough, a local businessman knowledgeable in fund raising, to join the effort. Lederman asked Judy Schramm, then his executive assistant, to help. To establish a theme, they assembled a group of teachers, scientists and professors, had a meal, and asked: “What would the goals of a high-school program be for you?”

Within a month, there was a proposal to create Friends of Fermilab, a not-for-profit foundation to raise funds for precollege science education programs at the lab. The Fermilab Board of Trustees approved the proposal in October, 1982. Bardeen asked Marge Cox (wife of physicist Brad Cox), then Director of Instruction for the Glenbard School District, to help organize a science education needs assessment, identifying what Fermilab could do to help local schools.

“We wanted to know how to match up their goals with Fermilab’s resources,” Bardeen said. “We met on a Saturday over lunch. We had quiche.”

The result was a proposal for “The Summer Institute for Science Teachers at Fermilab.”

Concern for education was in the air. The National Commission on Excellence in Education, formed in 1981, was about to release its findings. The commission included Nobel Prize winner Glenn T. Seaborg, physicist Gerald Holton of Harvard, and president A. Bartlett Giamatti of Yale. They described their report as “An Open Letter to the American People,” and titled it, “A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform.”

“On March 11, 1983, our proposal was mailed to 50 local foundations,” Jovanovic recalled. “A few days later the ‘Nation at Risk’ report was announced, and on March 16 we had all the money we needed to run the 1983 Summer Institute. Friends of Fermilab was incorporated earlier the same month. The rest is history.”

And quite a story, as well.

From 1983 to 1989, before the establishment of the Fermilab Education Office, the Friends of Fermilab raised $1.7 million toward educational programs. In their nearly 20 years of operation, the Friends have raised a total of $4.5 million. The benefits? Last year, as an example, Fermilab’s education programs reached approximately 24,000 elementary-to-high-school-age students, and 6,400 teachers.

QuarkNet students get a vision of virtual reality at Fermilab. QuarkNet is one of many programs that have benefited from the Friends of Fermilab over the years The second Symposium on the Nature of Science, held March 16 in Wilson Hall, is an example on a grand scale of the Friends’ support. But examine the range of Fermilab’s education programs, and the imprint of the Friends is unmistakable. In QuarkNet, the Friends add to a program funded by DOE. LinC, in its 10th year of training master teachers who train other teachers to integrate the Web into their classroom and curriculum, receives significant outside support in addition to such funding sources as the State of Illinois.

Over the years, the Friends’ support has been critical in operating programs such as Problem Solving in Mathematics; Physics Mini-Courses; Hands-On Science; Teaching Integrated Math and Science (TIMS, which grew into a math textbook series); Particles and Prairies; Quarks to Quasars—the list goes on and on. And the Leon M. Lederman Science Education Center, celebrating its 10th year, could not have been built without the support of the Friends.

“The Science Education Center has had a profound impact on science education in the community,” said George S. Zahrobsky, retired chairman of the Science Department at Glenbard West High School in Glen Ellyn, who has been a board member since the beginning. “For me it has been a great honor to serve with Marge and Stanka from the onset of Friends of Fermilab.”

There’s just one catch in the anniversary celebrations: the Friends feel that their name doesn’t convey an adequate description of their commitment to education, and the function of the group in raising funds for students and teachers in the community, not for the operation of the lab.

“We’d like to change the name,” Bardeen said, “and we’re thinking of holding a contest. We’d certainly welcome suggestions.”

Based on history, discussing it over lunch might not be a bad idea.

On the web:

Fermilab Education Office
Friends of Fermilab Program History
Friends of Fermilab Board of Directors
A Nation at Risk

last modified 3/29/2002   email Fermilab