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Ken Olivier and Angela Nomellini

Stanford alumni Ken Olivier and Angela Nomellini are funding a new educational technology initiative at Stanford. PHOTO: Steve Castillo

$10 Million Gift to Advance Educational Technology at Stanford

Stanford alumni Angela Nomellini and Ken Olivier give $10 million to support research, scholarship and innovation in educational technology

By Brooke Donald 

Spring 2016

Stanford Graduate School of Education (GSE) has received a $10 million gift to support research, scholarship and innovation in educational technology.

The donation from Angela Nomellini and Ken Olivier, alumni and longtime supporters of Stanford, will enable researchers to pursue projects that leverage educational technology to advance knowledge, support effective teaching and create learning opportunities for students, families and communities.

"Technology can disrupt the status quo, or it can increase the efficiency of enforcing the status quo," said GSE Dean Daniel Schwartz. "It's critical that we stay ahead of the trends, find new ways to solve problems and investigate what works best for effective teaching and learning. Ken and Angela's generous gift accelerates Stanford's efforts in this transformational, and fairly new, area of education."

Already, the gift has endowed a faculty chair—the Nomellini & Olivier Professorship of Educational Technology, given to Schwartz before he was named dean—and it is supporting a new initiative focused on equity, led by Professors Brigid Barron and Janet Carlson—that launched this spring.

Technology as change agent

"Ken and I believe that if done right, technology can be a real force in moving education forward," said Nomellini, '75. "Stanford is the top education school and has Silicon Valley as its backyard. It's the perfect confluence of education and technology, and we believe, the perfect place for real achievement to be made."

Nomellini said she and her husband were inspired to invest in educational technology after watching their younger son learn to read by playing a computer game. "Right now, personalized learning is grabbing attention, but what do we know about it? And iPads are being used in nearly every school but to what effect? There is also so much to know about technology use out of school, and that needs to be explored."

Nomellini and Olivier, '74, have long been committed to education and to Stanford. Nomellini now chairs the GSE advisory council and is a member of the Stanford New Schools board. Olivier, the former CEO and chairman of Dodge & Cox, is currently serving on the boards of the Stanford Management Company, the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research and the Freeman Spogli Institute. He is also on the Stanford Board of Trustees.

Technology for equity

Nomellini said technology also holds promise to help close achievement gaps in education, and a focus on equity and diversity was central to any investment in educational technology.

Questions such as how technology can benefit traditionally underserved communities and how teachers can incorporate technology in the classroom are among those to be addressed by TELOS: Technology for Equity in Learning Opportunities, an innovation hub that was launched this spring thanks to the Nomellini and Olivier gift.

On March 28, the first night of a nine-week seminar series sponsored by TELOS in partnership with Digital Promise and Silicon Valley Education Fund, scholars from University of California, Berkeley and University of Texas, Austin gathered at Stanford. More than 100 people attended to hear about how media and technology is used by students across race and income, what challenges schools face and how curriculum designs can advance equity in the classroom.

Barron introduced the session by connecting the TELOS initiative to the broader national conversation about the intersection of equity and technology with a focus on opportunities for catalyzing learning across home, school and community settings.

"This is an exciting collaborative adventure because of the opportunity to examine equity and learning from multiple perspectives," said Carlson, who is the director of Stanford's Center to Support Excellence in Teaching.

Carlson explained that the word telos comes from the Greek and means an ultimate object or aim. "And that's how we are approaching this initiative - with the intention of creating more equitable learning opportunities for all as an ultimate aim," she said.

Although in its early stages, TELOS has outlined four goals that guide its work: to catalyze collaborative research efforts; shape discourse about technology, equity and learning; prepare K-12 education leaders and teachers to be wise consumers and implementers of technology; and facilitate the design, building, testing and scaling of technology for learning.

"We are creating a constellation of activities to inspire innovative activities that will advance the uses of technology for learning to support equity and excellence in education," Barron said.

The seminar series is one of the first efforts by the initiative. The program also plans to fund collaborative research projects proposed by students and faculty.


This article originally appeared in Stanford Graduate School of Education News