This article first appeared in the Mason News.
What began in 2011 as a quiet conversation and an anonymous donation has become the largest gift ever received by George Mason University from a faculty member.
The $2 million gift from the Sterling Family Foundation was announced Friday at the conclusion of a symposium celebrating VISTA founder Professor Donna R. Sterling’s 21-year career as a pioneer in science education.
Sterling’s husband, David, and children, Dana and Douglas, jointly presented the gift that will create the Donna R. and David E. Sterling Endowed Chair in Science Education.
“This extraordinary gift by the Sterling family will be a lasting tribute to Donna’s lifelong commitment and dedication both to the education of teachers of science and the learning and development of their students,” said Mark R. Ginsberg, Dean of the College of Education and Human Development. “We are deeply indebted to the entire Sterling family for their generosity in helping to enhance the college’s nationally respected academic program in science education.”
David Sterling recalled that he and Donna had been very fortunate throughout their lives and wanted to make this contribution to George Mason in recognition of the welcoming environment the college provided Donna to allow her to pursue her research. “Donna blossomed at Mason, and we trust her collaborative and innovative methods will continue to be the core of the chair as it expands how Virginia’s children become excited and proficient in science,” Mr. Sterling said.
Ginsberg noted the transformational nature of the gift, which will be critical to the college’s continuing efforts to improve science teaching methods and educate future generations of highly qualified and innovative science teachers and leaders. The funds will help recruit a distinguished academic leader to build upon Sterling’s work.
“This gift will honor Donna’s legacy while continuing to elevate the teaching of science and the active engagement of students in our P-12 schools as they learn to love and excel in the STEM fields,” Ginsberg said.
The newly endowed chair is the second for the college.
“Public grade school students across Virginia have felt the influence of Professor Sterling’s scholarship,” said S. David Wu, Mason provost and executive vice president. “Through this gift, her work will continue to enrich the field that she represented so well. We thank the Sterling family for supporting this professorship, which will allow Mason faculty to continue their efforts in making a great impact on our educational system.”
Sterling, who passed away last summer after a short illness, served as the director of the Center for Restructuring Education in Science and Technology and the principal investigator for the Virginia Initiative for Science Teaching and Achievement (VISTA).
Her research formed the basis for VISTA, a $28.5 million U.S. Department of Education i3 validation grant-supported program that is strengthening science education throughout Virginia by promoting active, project-based learning that is evidence-based. VISTA is at the forefront of a national imperative to improve science education in our schools. She was also the author of more than 100 scholarly articles, books, and reports.