Innovator Interview: Pendred Noyce

Dr. Pendred “Penny” Noyce served on Concord Consortium’s Board of Directors from 1997 to 2012. She was instrumental in launching the Virtual High School as an independent nonprofit and became chair of our board in 2008 to lead the presidential search committee. Penny is co-editor of New Frontiers in Formative Assessment (Harvard Education Press), which includes two chapters by Concord Consortium staff, and author of two children’s books, Lost in Lexicon: An Adventure in Words and Numbers and The Ice Castle: An Adventure in Music.

Pendred NoyceQ. How did you go from being a medical doctor to becoming involved in supporting education?

A. My father [Intel co-founder Robert Noyce] had decided to work on K-12 education at the time of his sudden death. When I lost him, I realized I wanted to take a new direction in my life. My stepmother, Ann Bowers, my uncle and I were the first trustees of the Noyce Foundation, created to honor his memory.

Q. What were the overarching problems to
be addressed?

A. My father believed in upward mobility through education as a foundation of our democracy. He wanted to increase opportunities for kids by making science and math exciting and effective. The foundation currently focuses on out-of-school science because we believe that kids with potential are not getting the inspiration to pursue technical fields. We’re also trying to figure out a more strategic solution for math education.

Q. What are you most proud of in your
foundation work?

A. I’m very proud of the systemic approach we’re taking to building a world of informal and after school science. We helped fund an NRC study to look at growth in interest and engagement over time. We’re also funding Click 2 Science, which will offer short, just-in-time online video learning experiences for after school personnel in delivering inquiry science instruction. We’re trying to strengthen after school networks with a science focus, while also addressing funding and policy.

Q. What were the influences of your father?

A. You’d think it was all about technology, but it wasn’t! He always believed and taught us to believe we could do and accomplish anything we wanted and that he would be behind us all the way. He had an essential optimism about people. He also loved adventure. He gave me gliding lessons for my 14th birthday and took me helicopter skiing in the Canadian Rockies when I was in residency. He was my ski buddy.

Q. Why did you decide to write children’s books a few years ago?

A. When I was six, I wanted to be a writer, mommy and candy store owner. I went back to writing when my older kids went off to college. I wrote Lost in Lexicon for my youngest, Damian. People said it was too old-fashioned and didactic (they meant it had too much math), so I initially published it myself. Scarletta Press is publishing the Lexicon series now. The second book [The Ice Castle: An Adventure in Music] came out in August.

Q. What’s next?

A. I’m working with a playwright and a math teacher who is also a composer to develop a Lexicon middle school musical. And I have launched a new company combining science activities with science mystery books!