Efforts to promote diversity at Caltech and in STEM overall gained a substantial boost thanks to a recent gift to fund the Donald Alstadt Workshop.
Part of the Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering’s Future Ignited program, the workshop will send Caltech faculty and students to local colleges, where they will provide undergraduates with insights about their work. The aim is to attract aspiring scholars from underrepresented and low-income backgrounds to careers in science and engineering.
The workshop honors the memory of former Lord Corporation chair and CEO Donald Alstadt, a staunch friend of the Institute who served on the Caltech Associates executive board. In addition to his leadership in the manufacturing and technology industries, he was an accomplished scientist who invented the adhesive Chemlok, a cornerstone product for Lord, and earned membership in the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. A $300,000 contribution endows the workshop. Donald Alstadt’s wife, retired teacher Judy Alstadt; attorney Mickey Pohl, a close friend; and the Thomas Lord Charitable Trust each contributed $100,000 as part of Break Through: The Caltech Campaign.
Alstadt and Pohl offered insights into Donald Alstadt’s legacy, his staunch belief in education, and his longtime friendship with Harry Gray, Caltech’s Arnold O. Beckman Professor of Chemistry.
Why did you choose to establish a workshop as a way of paying tribute to Donald Alstadt?
JUDY ALSTADT: Education was a burning issue for Don. He was constantly learning, and he thought he could learn something from just about everybody.
MICKEY POHL: Don and I attended the same high school, many years apart, on the factory side of Erie, Pennsylvania. The expectations were low. They didn’t offer calculus. Less than half of the kids went on to higher education.
Don overcame all of these obstacles, as evidenced by his many inventions and patents and his career as an industrialist. A lot of people are bright lights; he was a sparkler.
He knew that great minds don’t always come from high-income families. His view was that, with the right kind of intellect and the right opportunities, virtually anyone could move science forward and create good things for all of society.
In the future, when Professor Gray retires from Caltech, this initiative will be renamed the Donald Alstadt/Harry Gray Workshop. How were the two men connected?
MP: Don traveled a lot. He liked to visit classrooms and labs at top universities, including Caltech. I called them his “gadfly trips.”
JA: When he met Harry, they hit it off right away. I never saw anything like it.
They had so much in common. Like Don, Harry has the common touch. Both of them were also futurists. They were interested in motivating students, and inclusion was simply a given.
MP: They shared an enthusiasm not only for science and universities, but also for doing the right thing for the next generation.
Why is Caltech the right place to establish this workshop?
MP: Don had a lot of respect for Caltech and the standards it sets for itself. It embodies great research by great people in the most important hard sciences. It also has the right attitude about being open and inclusive.
JA: It doesn’t get any better. Caltech is like the North Star. It gives direction.
What are your hopes for the Donald Alstadt Workshop?
JA: This workshop is a chance for education to flourish; for people to communicate, build trust, establish goals, and work toward them.
MP: There’s a problem that this gift helps address. Right now, there is clearly a lack of opportunity for minorities, such as Blacks and Latinos, and students who don’t come from wealth, to get into the sciences.
JA: This is one way to help solve that problem. I taught in public schools for 37 years, and I saw so many gifted and creative young people who didn’t get opportunities because their creativity often didn’t show up on tests.
MP: It’s so important to create opportunity, not just for students to get to know Caltech, but also to get to know what science as a career looks like. If the workshop accomplishes what we hope and think it will, it will pull some really terrific kids into the sciences who otherwise might not have had that inclination or opportunity.