Kilby Foundation Broadens its Stage

Chairwoman Leads Effort to Reach Out to Students Worldwide


By ROBERT MILLER / The Dallas Morning News

A panel of five Kilby Award winners answers questions from students in the audience during one of the foundation's four videoconferences this summer.

Victoria Smith Downing, founder and chairwoman of The Kilby Awards Foundation, personifies the vision required of Kilby Award winners themselves: "embracing the spirit of creativity for the benefit of humanity."

Through Ms. Downing's efforts, Kilby laureates are taking their message to students around the country • and the international stage is next.

Ms. Downing's pantheon of "heroes" begins with Jack St. Clair Kilby of Dallas, who won the Nobel laureate in physics in 2000 for inventing the monolithic integrated circuit in 1958.

She and a small group of philanthropic, civic and business leaders began the foundation in 1990 to honor Mr. Kilby, and there have been 50 Kilby Award winners to date.

Those winners • most of them in their 30s and 40s • are chosen for "significant contributions to society through science, technology, innovation, invention and education."

They come to Dallas from all over the world for an awards banquet and other ceremonial functions.

For the last five years, the Kilby laureates, as the winners are called, have participated in a symposium at Southern Methodist University that's attended by high school students. The laureates lecture and answer questions.

These symposia have been so successful that "three years ago we realized that we had a critical mass of laureates, probably 38 or 39 at the time, that we wanted to share on a broader stage," Ms. Downing said.

"We wanted to do what we had done here on a national and eventually an international scale." Videoconferencing

From the beginning, Kilby laureates were committed to sharing their knowledge with students. The foundation broadened the audience through videoconferencing. Part of Ms. Downing's mission was to involve areas "where we saw the most need."

"Our first experiment was in 1998 in Somerset in Eastern Kentucky in conjunction with the Center for Rural Development.

"That was our first broadcast, and that was pretty rough" because the foundation had to arrange for all the equipment and get it delivered to the Appalachian region.

Not surprisingly, financial and technological support proved to be the biggest obstacle.

Coming to Ms. Downing's aid was Lee Martin, "one of our own board members and onetime owner of Pyramid Productions in Dallas."

"He was the one who originally encouraged me to do this because videoconferencing was then in a pioneer state," she said.

Mr. Martin is now manager of Southeast Kentucky Business Development.

Naturally, Mr. Martin joined Ms. Downing's list of heroes, as did Jonathon Schlesinger, president of Connexus Inc. in Dallas, a videoconferencing company, "who came in at the beginning of the second year."

"He was extremely helpful in taking us to the next level and continues to push us to excel," she said. Summer sessions

The foundation presented four videoconferences this summer. The first was on July 17 with a broadcast originating from DEKA Research & Development offices in Manchester, N.H.

The Kilby laureate presenter was none other than Dean Kamen, a 1994 awardee who's an inventor, entrepreneur and advocate for science and technology who is also the president of DEKA.

In 1989, he founded FIRST, an organization that uses marketing and media techniques to motivate the next generation to learn about science and technology, so Mr. Kamen was a natural selection on all counts.

Session Two was broadcast from the Walt Disney-owned El Capitan Theatre in Los Angeles with about 500 inner-city students in attendance.

Five Kilby Award winners appeared:

• Dr. Susan Athey (Young Innovator 1997), an economics whiz at 24 and now tenured professor at Stanford University.

• Dr. France A. Cordova (Laureate 2000), a physicist and former NASA chief scientist who is now vice chancellor of research at University of California at Santa Barbara.

• Dr. Marc Hannah (Young Innovator 1995), a co-founder of Silicon Graphics whose revolutionary workstations created special effects for Jurassic Park and Terminator 2. • Dr. Daniel Kaufman (Laureate 1996), a professor of molecular and medical pharmacology at UCLA Medical School who helped produce a new generation of pre-diagnostic tests and potential therapeutics for insulin-dependent (juvenile) diabetes.

• Jennifer Harris Trosper (Young Innovator 1998), who served as flight director on the first Mars landing of the Sojourner Rover at age 29 and is now product systems engineer for the Mars Exploration Rover Spacecraft at NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab.

Ms. Downing said that Eric Haseltine, executive vice president of Walt Disney Imagineering R&D, and Dr. Jerome Walker, associate provost of the University of Southern California, "gave us the opportunity to hold live presentations with a live audience in more than one city • Los Angeles, Dallas, Grand Prairie and Somerset, Kentucky."

Dr. Sandy Maddox, associate director of Region 10 Education Service Center, handled the Dallas-area segment of the operation with help from Tamara Norfleet, Terisa O'Dowd and Patricia Williams , also of Region 10.

And VTEL Technologies of Austin sent a $3,500 machine and technician to facilitate the videoconferencing.

Session Three was broadcast on July 24 from the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md., and Session Four was on July 26 from Stanford University.

Going international is just around the corner.

The Kilby Awards Foundation was invited to do a similar broadcast to Nairobi, Kenya, from London in September 2002 by Lord David Putnam, chairman of the National Endowment for Science Technology and the Arts in collaboration with the John Kelly Technical School in London.

The foundation has already gained international recognition. What it needs is increased financial support.

You may call Ms. Downing at the foundation at 214-768-3355, fax 214-768-1262, visit the Web site at or e-mail .

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