Nation Loses Leading STEM Policy Expert

Ellen Lettvin STEM Education Fund Established to Support Ellen’s Passion of Getting Kids across the Country Engaged in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Learning.

Ellen Elisabeth Lettvin (Photo: Business Wire)

SEATTLE--()--Ellen Elisabeth Lettvin, a leading national STEM policy expert, died peacefully in her home in Bellevue, Washington on Friday, April 13 less than a month following her 56th birthday after a long and valiant fight against cancer. The STEM Next Opportunity Fund is establishing an Ellen Lettvin STEM Education Fund. The resources of the fund will be dedicated to supporting Ellen’s passion of getting kids across the country engaged in science, technology, engineering and math learning.

Ellen was particularly focused on sparking young girls’ and women’s interest in STEM learning. The Fund will be guided by a collaboration between Ellen’s family and the STEM Next Opportunity Fund board and staff. It is anticipated that the Fund’s first initiative will be to provide financial support for a second Robert Noyce Fellow for Informal STEM Learning at the US Department of Education, which is in the process of being established. The second fellowship will also carry Ellen’s name. Donations to the fund will provide support to fulfill Ellen’s dream of providing STEM opportunities for all young people.

For those interested in giving to the Ellen Lettvin STEM Education Fund:

Ellen is survived by her mother Joan Lettvin, her husband Peter Grant, her son Alexander Ivanoff, her step children, Leigh, Ben and Peter Jr. and her brothers Rory and David Lettvin. She is preceded in death by her father Theodore Lettvin. Ellen was born on March 22, 1962 in Cleveland, Ohio to Joan and Theodore Lettvin. Her father was a noted concert pianist and teacher. Her mother managed the careers of her husband and other classical musicians.

Ellen was an extraordinary student. She graduated from Pioneer High School in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She received a BS in geology in 1989, a Masters in Applied Statistics in 1993 and a dual PhD in Electrical Engineering and Atmospheric, Oceanic and Space Sciences in 1998 from the University of Michigan. She participated in a post-doctoral program at the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Johns Hopkins University.

From 1989 to 1993 she served as a research engineer at the Applied Electromagnetics and Optics Laboratory, Stanford Research Institute in Palo Alto, CA prior to entering her PhD program. Upon the completion of her PhD she took a position at Applied Physics Laboratory at the University of Washington where she did research on satellite remote sensing of the propagation of waves in the sea. Soon she ascended to become the Assistant Director Education and Outreach at the Lab focusing in particular on Lab collaborations campus-wide and public engagement. There she initiated the UW Environmental Innovation Challenge.

In 2008 Ellen became the Vice President for Science and Education at the Pacific Science Center where she managed a variety of successful science education programs and public-private education partnerships. In 2012 Ellen founded and directed the highly successful Seattle Science Festival which was attended by over 45,000 annually, featured an integration of science and culture and incorporated such innovative programming as the Pacific Northwest Ballet performing on the same program with noted physicist Stephen Hawking. The Pacific Science Center is establishing an Ellen Lettvin Discovery Corps Student Recipient in honor of Ellen.

In 2014 Ellen was chosen to become the Robert Noyce Senior Fellow for Informal STEM Learning at the US Department of Education. The Fellowship was funded by the Noyce Foundation and the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation. At the Department Ellen led efforts focused on informal and out-of-school learning in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and served as a key senior advisor on STEM. During her tenure she personally developed multiple interagency collaborations to further the STEM agenda with NASA, NOAA, NPS and IMLS. She served as the Department’s liaison to the STEM Funders Network, a nationwide collaboration of corporate and philanthropic organizations that fund STEM education initiatives. She served on federal task forces to identify and leverage STEM assets as called for by the National Science and Technology Council. She co-wrote a Dear Colleague Letter (DCL) that provided non-regulatory guidance to states, districts and prospective grantees, unlocking billions of dollars of potential funding for STEM education from the Department. She was featured as a keynote speaker and panelist at numerous national events, including at SXSW, Ed Foo @ the Googleplex and at several events hosted by the National Academies and the White House.

Perhaps her crowning achievement as a fellow was to steward the STEM agenda across the transition from the Obama to the Trump administration. As the CEO of one of the funding foundations for her fellowship commented, “For many months in the administration's transition, she was the last person standing in the STEM unit. Not only we but many of our colleagues and field leaders owe Ellen such a debt of gratitude for her thoughtful leadership with the DoE and across agencies.” Former Education Secretaries Arnie Duncan and John King and current Secretary Betsy DeVos called Ellen at home during her illness to thank her for her contributions and to wish her a quick recovery.

Ellen believed passionately in the value of science, the importance of the world’s climate and the relevance of STEM, especially for young women. She crafted her career to address these issues. Her indomitable resolve arose from her paternal grandmother Fanny from Chicago who was said to have a whim of iron.

In addition to her extensive professional achievements, Ellen was known for her love of nature, history, current affairs, art and culture. As her family friends and colleagues know, first impressions of Ellen suggested that she might be a humanities professor, attorney or editor of a fashion magazine. She was elegant and almost always well-dressed. Ellen’s interest in and expertise about fashion arose from her stylish maternal grandmother Irene from Cleveland. Ellen was reading French Vogue by the age of 10. She had a special appreciation for Dior. One of her great joys was keeping up with sophisticated gossip, ranging for Page 6 to more obscure European publications about royalty, reading the New Yorker, going for hikes and traveling the world. Ellen had the unique ability to be both a refined professional and at the same time a person who could be the life of the party. Ellen loved her son Alexander with a burning intensity.

You can review a summary of social media posts on Ellen’s passing @ A memorial ceremony is scheduled for Sunday, May 6, 2018 at 2 pm at Temple Beth Am in Seattle. All are welcome to attend and celebrate Ellen's life.


Global Health Care, LLC
Peter Grant

Release Summary

Nation Loses Leading STEM Policy Expert, Ellen Elisabeth Lettvin. Ellen Lettvin STEM Education Fund established


Global Health Care, LLC
Peter Grant