By Jim Johnson
A leader, pioneer and a visionary, Lawrence A. Bock was also an enthusiast for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education. I am saddened by the loss of such an influential individual. I first met Larry in July of 2013. He always represented himself as a professional and a “let’s get the job done” type of person.
You may recognize the name from his entrepreneurship of many profound startups—but we at EPA know Larry best as founder of the San Diego Science Festival, which grew into the USA Science and Engineering Festival that is now held in Washington, D.C. biennially.
His purpose in creating these festivals was to promote STEM education. He told The San Diego Union-Tribune in 2014: “As a society, we get what we celebrate. We celebrate athletes, pop stars and Hollywood actors and actresses, but we don’t celebrate science and engineering. So why not have the largest celebration of science and engineering in the U.S., and that’s what we have endeavored to create.”
Larry believed STEM is an educational priority for our country, and his plan to deliver that message was quite successful. The success of the festival led to the U.S. Senate declaring in 2014 that a week in April be National Science Week in support of the USA Science and Engineering Festival.
I am grateful for his allegiance to STEM and his support of EPA’s People, Prosperity and the Plant (P3) design competition, a unique college competition for designing solutions for a sustainable future. P3 offers students quality hands-on experience that brings their classroom learning to life.
Early on he recognized the synergy between P3 and the USA Science and Engineering Festival. This past spring was the second time EPA’s P3 program was part of the nation’s largest science festival. With 365,000 people in attendance, the festival provided an excellent platform for the P3 program to highlight its mission. In 2014, he even supported the creation of an USA Science and Engineering Festival-sponsored elevator talk competition for P3 grantees to try and sell their ideas to potential investors.
Although this tremendous man is no longer with us, his lasting impact on STEM education will be felt for generations to come.
About the Author: Dr. James H. Johnson Jr. is the Director of EPA’s National Center for Environmental Research.