Remarks by Ed Ahnert, President of the ExxonMobil Foundation

Welcoming Remarks at the Banquet

Let me take this opportunity to welcome each of you to this gathering. It is a gathering for which the ExxonMobil Corporation and our sponsoring partner, the National Science Foundation, have high expectations. You have elected to attend, to participate in a summit, not a conference nor a meeting, but a summit. By its very definition summit suggests a gathering where the stakes are higher, the issues are notably complex, and the outcomes are increasingly critical. Choosing the term summit for this event was intentional, as the need to bring change to the mathematical education of teachers is and has been of the highest priority to the children, to the parents of those children, to the teachers and future teachers of those children, and to the long-term well being of this country.

A primary responsibility of a foundation president is to make good investments; I believe effective philanthropy is carefully focused and inevitably involves careful choices . Since my tenure as President of ExxonMobil Foundation, I have been committed to improving the level of mathematical and scientific literacy in this country and see it as a targeted area that does balance corporate and civic interests in very beneficial ways.

From the perspective of a corporation that is built on sound science, it takes a country of science savvy citizens who can make informed decisions as customers, voters, regulators, jury members and teachers of the next generation. To make good civic choices it takes a citizenry who can understand and interpret numbers, who can find the logic in those numbers, and most importantly who do not fear numbers. Moreover, the preparation of scientists, engineers and technically astute managers begins in the elementary grades and must be maintained throughout the course of a K-12 education. Preparing teachers and two and four-year college faculty for this task is the responsibility of everyone in this room and those at institutions across the country involved in the mathematical preparation of teachers.

The Mathematical Education of Teachers report is an important document for two reasons. First, it is a product based on extensive collaboration among all levels of the mathematics and mathematics education communities. Second, it addresses the special nature of the mathematical knowledge needed for teaching. In other words the MET report not only honors the need for partnerships in this work, but it specifies the special nature of the task to be undertaken in those partnerships. 

A primary reason for the ExxonMobil Innovation grants and why they came into being in the first place, is to provide an opportunity to bring critical partners to the same table. While they could have easily be called partnership grants, I believe more is going to be required than selecting good partners. The work of improving the quality of mathematics teaching in this country is going to require innovation - which is the process of introducing something new and original to a stubborn problem - new ideas, new partners, new ways of work together, and new conceptual frameworks to guide your work. The purpose of the Innovation Grants is to spend time building a thoughtful/creative plan among the right stakeholders.

I hope you have a productive time at this summit and I look forward to learning of the results of your projects as you and the members of your team work to make a difference in the mathematical preparation of teachers.

Remarks at the Executive Breakfast

Good morning. It is nice to look out on this assembly and recognize so many faces. It tells me that many of the same people have been laboring in the vineyards of mathematics and mathematics education for a number of years!

And perhaps, this situation of familiar faces makes clear a particular challenge to making realities out of the recommendations in the MET report. While the challenge is to forge alliances, build partnerships to implement the MET report we need to do these with those outside of our usual networks, with those who may not think about this problem in just the same way we do.

And perhaps what may be even more challenging in your leadership roles is to motivate, to energize those within your respective organizations to do the same. While the problem of educating teachers to be effective teachers of mathematics has been with us for some time, the call to fix the problem has often been fraught with angst and polarization. 

I mentioned in the my remarks of welcome last evening that one of the primary reasons for the ExxonMobil Innovation grants was to invest time in building plans of partnership for this work, including asking new partners to the table.

I encourage you to take this opportunity this morning to think about how your own organization can play a role, what role you can play as the leader of that organization to continue this attention to careful planning and getting all the right players at the table. I look forward to talking with you this morning.

Remarks prior to awarding the ExxonMobil Innovation Grants at the Closing Session

In support of the belief that the mathematics community can lead the way in providing good models for building the kinds of cooperative efforts needed for long term improvement of teacher education, the ExxonMobil Foundation will offer 12 planning grants ( 5 now and 7 on December 14) of $3,000 each to assist you, the National Summit participants, in developing plans for partnerships or other innovative cooperative efforts among groups involved in the mathematics education of teachers. Teacher education in this context includes both the preparation of future teachers and the on-going education of practicing teachers. These grants are intended to provide the participant teams with the resources needed to engage in thoughtful planning, with appropriate partners, to develop an action plan which will then be supported by the local institutions involved or which can be used to obtain external federal or private foundation funding. 

[Editor's note: It was possible to make 15 awards rather than the planned 12 since there were some funds remaining in the grant from ExxonMobil Foundation to CBMS which supported the National Summit.]