MAYA Co-Founder Seeds Fund to Promote Innovation in Education

November 5, 2012 in Notes from the Field

Last year, lifelong educators Joe and Sue Ballay made a generous and forward-looking philanthropic commitment to support innovation in education. The Ballay Family Fund, as it is called, has made its first distribution and the Ballays hope it will give new ideas and endeavors the financial boost they require to make a lasting and meaningful impact on how education is delivered.

Why education? And why now? The results of two pervasive shifts in human culture will be felt ever more deeply in the coming decades: the continuing information revolution is eliminating pockets of isolation in which people can live in ignorance of one another; and, consequently, we will interact with an increasingly diverse set of neighbors, sharing space, laws and energy with people from different cultures around the world. Education must and will adapt. The Ballay Family Fund, administered by The Pittsburgh Foundation, is dedicated to seeding the future-conscious developments that education will require to stay relevant and effective in this rapidly shifting landscape.

Prior to starting MAYA Design, Joe served as Director of Carnegie Mellon’s School of Design. At the same time, Sue founded and grew the Beulah Christian Preschool into one of the premier accredited preschools of the region. Though neither had particularly planned for a life dedicated to education, they both soon found it to be a life-long commitment. Together, they saw a convergence between the collaborative, interdisciplinary approach to problem solving that characterizes design work, and the challenges teachers and kids face in the classroom. Joe says, “We were both very lucky to find ourselves in educational environments that encouraged and rewarded fresh thinking about content and delivery, whether at the early childhood level or university level of education. A common feature was the importance of modeling those inquisitive and adventurous attitudes toward learning that we knew reaped continuing rewards in life.”

After over two decades with MAYA, Joe had accumulated a deep repertoire of interdisciplinary, human-centered strategies for innovation. What began as a commercial strategic design technique has become a fundamental way of integrating knowledge for business and industry. Is there a place for interdisciplinary methods in education? Joe thinks there might be, saying, “Good ideas come from unexpected places.”

Using $1 million in seed funds, the Ballays launched their philanthropic effort. According to the written directive of the Fund, grants will support “individuals, projects and organizations which promote and pursue education as a creative, progressive, and inclusive endeavor.” The Ballay Family Fund hopes to leverage its resources to catalyze reform and experimentation, particularly with respect to creative thinking, interdisciplinary problem solving, or the transformative potential of the arts.

The first allocation from the fund, about $11,000, will help support an upcoming symposium for K-12 teachers at the Henry Ford Academy in Dearborn, MI, where the topic will be design-based learning. Joe and Sue plan to attend the event and bring a similar symposium to Pittsburgh next year. Stay tuned!

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