Ron Ottinger, Noyce Foundation

TITLE: Executive Director 

FUNDING AREAS: Informal science and math education

CONTACT: rlottinger@noycefdn.org, 650-856-2600

IP TAKE: After a long stints running school boards and college preparedness nonprofits, Ottinger is now a vocal advocate for afterschool and other informal science and math education. 2015 will be his last year running the Noyce Foundation, as it's ceasing operations at the end of the year.

PROFILE: At a recent panel discussion on afterschool science programs, Ron Ottinger cited a prominent national survey of parents' attitudes toward science education. The majority of parents felt that "Yes, science is important, just not for my kid or me. It's for those smart kids, it's for those kids who are geeks." 

That common sentiment in parents and students that science just isn't important for most people, is exactly what educators are up against as they attempt to improve science education in the United States, according to Ottinger. And as executive director of the Noyce Foundation, he works to counter that attitude, primarily by getting kids involved in science early, and outside of classrooms in their daily and after-school lives. 

"I'd be willing to bet the funds in our portfolio that if we don't focus on the kids who have been turned off to science—and that's kids who aren't only young girls, who aren't only low income kids, but my kids and kids across the economic spectrum who have been turned off to science, then we won't see any budge or change in the percentage of kids who are engaged in science or going on to science or STEM majors or careers," he said at the panel, hosted by nonprofit Change the Equation. 

The Noyce Foundation is a Palo Alto, California-based funder devoted to K-12 science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education, with a specific focus on informal education, or what happens outside the classroom. The foundation is shutting down operations at the end of 2015, after 25 years of education grantmaking.

Ottinger spent more than a dozen years working in education policy by serving on the San Diego City Schools Board of Education and as associate director for AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination), a college preparation program for low-income students.

In terms of the school board: Ottinger served three terms , from 1992 to 2004, and was the San Diego district's longest-serving board president. During the time he served the district, San Diego schools underwent major reforms, including an initiative to reduce class size that would become a model for all state schools.

In terms of AVID, where he worked 14 years:  It's a rigorous program that focuses on underserved populations, attempting to close the achievement gap and increase college opportunities. 

Ottinger was named executive director at Noyce in 2006. Noyce Foundation was created by the family of Robert Noyce, cofounder of Intel (along with Silicon Valley philanthropy giant Gordon Moore) and inventor of the integrated circuit, the microchip that would become the building block of modern computing. Noyce was concerned by the shrinking pipeline of scientists and engineers, so the foundation in his name tackles the issue.

The foundation largely supports expanding informal science education programs, research to determine their effectiveness and best practices, and national policy that supports such work. The foundation also has a program dedicated to math instruction and another for research on how to recruit, develop, and retain quality educators

In its 24 years of operations, he foundation was giving about $15 million a year, and recent grants of note include: 

  • $1.14 million to the Association of Science-Technology Centers, a non-profit organization of museums and science centers that seek to increase public engagement with science
  • The Mott-Noyce collaboration for STEM in statewide afterschool networks, a three-year, $1.4 million endeavor that targets after-school programs in 19 states
  • $1.6 million to the National 4-H Council, to implement a science initiative in its youth programs
  • Oregon State University, a $1.2 million research initiative to study how youth develop an interest in STEM
  • Several smaller grants to supplement local programs, launch pilot or expansion programs that incorporate science education, or test new models and tools for science education

See more about the foundation's giving in its archive of detailed annual reports, and read about its programs here

The foundation trustees announced at the end of 2014 that Noyce would be shutting down at the end of 2015, keeping with its goal of operating on a limited timeline. Ottinger will be continuing his work in informal education at the Center for Education Policy and Law at the University of San Diego.