Jon Whitmore, Ph.D.Chief Executive Officer, ACT
Jon Whitmore knows the value of education. A first-generation college graduate, Dr. Whitmore has dedicated his life to helping others achieve educational success. He continues to drive this mission at ACT.
Dr. Whitmore earned both his bachelor’s (1967) and master’s (1968) degrees in speech from Washington State University. In 1974, he completed a PhD in theater history at the University of California–Santa Barbara. He has authored two books, directed more than 60 plays, and written more than 160 scholarly articles.
Throughout his career, six universities have benefited from Dr. Whitmore’s leadership and vision: West Virginia University, State University of New York at Buffalo, The University of Texas at Austin, the University of Iowa, Texas Tech University, and San Jose State University.
Dr. Whitmore is an active member of dozens of community, civic, and educational boards and organizations. He also believes in offering opportunities for staff development, personal learning, and advancement.
Q&A with Jon Whitmore
Where do you see this Foundation going?
One of the unique features of the ACT Foundation is that while it is a separate 501(c)(3), it has ACT, as its parent organization. ACT has a long history of research and data collection that has provided answers to problems of improving education and workforce readiness. The ACT Foundation will allow us to connect to those core issues and strongly support programs that focus on underserved populations. The end goal is for the Foundation to conduct the research, analysis, and project development to discover more solutions that ensure that many more people who are working learners can embark on a path to learning and career success. After discovering these best practices, the Foundation will be in a great position to place them in a broader context and bring them to scale.
How do we make this work differently from other foundations and organizations?
We have gone through a thorough process to clearly define our mission, vision, and niche before we launched the operational elements of the Foundation. Before we start funding projects, we want to understand what kind of problems need to be solved from our unique focus of impacting working learners. Another differentiator is our leadership. Parminder Jassal brings a distinct amalgam of skills and experiences to her role as Executive Director.
What really excites you about this journey with the ACT Foundation? Why were you eager to join the ACT Foundation Board while there may have been other time/organizational responsibilities competing for priority?
Personally, I have dedicated my life to education, specifically higher education. I am a first-generation college graduate who knows the power and value of learning because it opened doors for me that weren’t available to my parents. My parents dedicated themselves to making sure that graduating from college was an opportunity for me. When I went into teaching in higher education, I watched hundreds of students come through the classroom who just needed to be given the opportunity to succeed well beyond high school. Part of ACT’s mission is to help people be successful. The Foundation will guide us to really focus on those people who need help.
What are some early insights you can share about the direction of programs, research, and communications?
We are action-driven. One core strategy of the Foundation is to be a think tank that focuses on issues for working learners by bringing scholars with disparate voices and minds into a dialogue with each other. As a new foundation, we have the opportunity to be bold about charting new territory but we must also adapt and learn from unsuccessful projects. With a clear rationale and criteria for choosing activities and individuals to fund, we will put in place a rigorous approach to making new discoveries and reinforcing proven tactics.
How do we let stakeholders better understand, access, interact with, and use our solutions?
This period of educational reform in America is primarily built on fixing failures with little focus on scaling up solutions. The Foundation will prioritize disseminating good information and tools on successful programs and practices so other people can learn from and implement them. In order to act as this information hub, we are creating aggressive research, communications, and convening strategies. Part of our work in scaling up solutions will entail partnering with other foundations.
Where do you hope we have the most impact? How do you define success?
The ultimate success will mean that many more working learners are navigating learning pathways for career and life success. Some interim goals include creating a comprehensive research agenda that looks at methods, technology, and theories that connect working learners to success; partnering with bigger foundations; and replicating, scaling, and ultimately systematizing pilots that work.
What does the “utopia” look like?
In my eyes, the perfect scenario is when a person not only has a good job, but has a good job that meets his or her innate personal interests, which have been cultivated through learning. A job should meet people’s passions in addition to their skills.