Scientists at Sigma-Aldrich, a chemical-supply company in Midtown St. Louis, turned down the lights in a classroom-size laboratory, where about 50 K-8 school teachers stood around lab tables wearing white coats.
When the scientists combined two chemicals, the mixture glowed a magical turquoise blue in the dark.
“As the kids would say, that’s tight,” said Cardellia Brand, a 5th grade teacher in the Normandy School District.
The Sigma-Aldrich team members were teaching the teachers a few science experiments that they could do in their classrooms, as part of the STEM Teacher Quality (TQ) Institute.
“If we help a teacher get better at teaching, then we affect so many students,” said Deborah Patterson, recently retired as president of the Monsanto Fund and vice president of global contributions and employee engagement at Monsanto.
“And if they leave a district, they are taking that knowledge with them. A lot of our investment has been helping teachers improve their teaching methodology.”
Over the last four years, the Monsanto Fund contributed $850,000 to STEM TQ, one of the many education advocacy programs Patterson supported during her 17 years leading the Monsanto Fund.
In her 17 years as Monsanto Fund president, Patterson oversaw both corporate giving and that of the Monsanto Fund, which is the company’s philanthropic arm. Last year alone, Monsanto and the Monsanto Fund invested nearly $12 million in St. Louis, from helping develop science education for underserved youth to supporting the local arts scene to helping rebuild the community.
Patterson, who retired this spring, is currently a senior consultant for the company. She said in her tenure that she was able to expand the fund’s attention on education.
“It was a thread woven through everything that we did,” Patterson said. “If we invested in the arts, then we invested in arts education. What I did was take that education focus and integrate it across all of our focus areas.”
On Saturday, October 1, Patterson will receive the 2016 Education Advocacy award at the St. Louis American Foundation’s Salute to Excellence in Education Scholarship and Awards Gala. This is a new recognition award, in lieu of a Stellar Performer award, which almost always has been restricted to an education professional.
“Over the last 17 years, Deborah has played an instrumental role in expanding and strengthening Monsanto’s commitment to the communities we serve,” Jan Holloway and Nicole Ringenberg said in a statement. Holloway is Monsanto senior vice president and chief of staff and community relations, and Ringenberg is Monsanto vice president and controller and Monsanto Fund board president.
In 2010, Patterson gathered representatives from the area’s top STEM companies to work together on initiatives that get students excited about science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). This partnership – which now includes more than 15 funders – became the STEMpact.
“Deborah is a tremendous thought leader in the area of improved STEM quality education efforts across the St. Louis metropolitan area,” said Michelle Tucker, a senior vice president at Bank of America and one of the founding members of STEMpact.
“She served as the catalyst for STEMpact, leveraging her ability to influence key STEM companies to share one planning table while conceptualizing and executing improvement approaches using pooled funding and collaboration.”
The STEMpact leaders brainstormed about a number of possible programs, but they decided to focus on training teachers, Patterson said. Hence the STEM Teacher Quality Institute was born, and now more than 500 teachers throughout the area have participated in the program.
Patterson also is particularly proud of MySci, a professional-development program funded by Monsanto Fund and implemented by the Washington University Institute for School Partnerships.
To start, MySci organizers created mobile investigation stations and took them around to area schools for free. The stations included “woodlands” and bugs on microscopes.
“Then we would help the teachers make the connection between what the students were learning in the classroom and what they saw in the investigation station,” Patterson said.
The program has evolved into providing training and curriculum to schools at a sliding-scale rate. MySci reps first go into the participating school districts and assess where they are with STEM curriculum. Then they provide professional development and help the teachers tailor their lesson plans towards STEM.
Patterson recently learned that Pattonville’s elementary school teachers who have been using the curriculum have seen double-digit improvements on their students’ state-assessment test scores in the STEM test categories.
“Now, that’s impact,” Patterson said.
Aside from these programs, Patterson has also been a champion of the company’s employee-volunteer initiatives, said Ringenberg and Holloway. She led by example through her board and committee service for multiple organizations, such as the Pulitzer Arts Foundation, University of Missouri St. Louis Awards, St. Joseph Academy, United Way of Greater St. Louis, and the Design & Construction Oversight Committee for City Arch River.
Prior to joining Monsanto, she was CEO of the American Red Cross of Eastern Missouri. She also served in St. Louis city government, holding two cabinet positions concurrently: executive director of the St. Louis Agency on Employment and Training and director of the Community Development Agency. Patterson concluded her government service as director of development, the mayor’s top advisor for housing and economic development.
Patterson received her bachelor’s degree in administration of justice and her master’s degree in political science from the University of Missouri-St. Louis.
While personally Patterson is proud of the academic success of her two daughters, professionally she is happy that she was able to make a difference in students’ lives around the world. In 2015, Monsanto Fund awarded $22.5 million globally. In Vietnam, they are investing in literacy, Patterson said. In Africa, they are investing in school gardens.
“I have had the blessing to be able to be of service to people all around the world,” she said. “Not everyone gets that opportunity.”
The 2016 Salute to Excellence in Education Gala will be held at 6 p.m. Saturday, October 1, 2016 at the America's Center Ballroom, following a reception at 5 p.m. Tickets are on sale now. Individual tickets are $85 each/$850 table, and VIP/Corporate tickets are $1,500 table. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit www.stlamerican.com and click on Salute to Excellence, or call 314-533-8000.