Providing access to quality education, especially in math and science, is the key to the future, former NASA astronaut Dr. Bonnie Dunbar told more than 500 people gathered Wednesday at in Kirkland.
“Education is a gift,” Dunbar told educators, donors and local dignitaries at the The Lake Washington Schools Foundation 6th annual benefit luncheon. “You have to treasure it.”
The veteran of five space shuttle missions and former CEO of Seattle's Museum of Flight was the keynote speaker at the luncheon, and spoke about the early days of space exploration and the launch of the Russian Sputnik satellite.
That event sparked something within her, she said, generating an immediate interest in science fiction and a desire to build spaceships and fly in them.
A teacher heard this and told her that she would need to know algebra, and that sent her on a lifelong quest to learn as much math and science as she could.
Dunbar eventually made her way to the University of Washington, then a job at Rockwell International helping to build the space shuttle Columbia. That experience led to a job with NASA at Mission Control, and finally into space on five shuttle missions.
“She is a compelling example of what happens when we invest in our children,” said Dr. Chip Kimball, superintendent of the , during his introduction of Dr. Dunbar.
Dunbar spoke of the people who had taught her, had encouraged her and had given her opportunities.
“It was the people around me that made a difference,” she said.
The Lake Washington Schools Foundation hopes to give district students the same kind of encouragement and opportunities through a variety of programs it funds.
One of the foundation’s most important programs is STEM, a focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The Lake Washington School District is planing to build a new in Redmond. The STEM program aims to teach critical thinking, problem solving and teamwork.
Those are all skills that Dr. Dunbar put to good use at NASA, and engineering is especially close to her heart.
“Engineers transform our world,” said Dunbar, adding that she believes they are the people who will solve the world’s problems and create prosperity.
Kim Fricke, principal at Ben Franklin Elementary School in Kirkland, is appreciative of the support the Lake Washington Schools Foundation provides.
“It gives us more opportunity to provide kids with what they need every day,” said Fricke.
Fricke also said that gatherings like the benefit luncheon help educators and donors understand the importance of such foundations.
“It’s really informative for people to learn about the power of what a foundation can do for a school district,” said Fricke.
Dr. Dunbar closed by saying that everyone has an obligation to the next generation, and that it is important that the next generation receive a quality education and have access to every learning and growth opportunity they desire.
“We cannot afford to fail,” she said.
Update: A Lake Washington Schools Foundation spokeswoman said the lunch raised $144,500 and drew more than 530 people.