A shared vision

Lynn and Stacy Schusterman will be honored with the 2011 Vision in Education Leadership Award this month for their continuing contributions to education in Tulsa.



Lynn and Stacy Schusterman

When Stacy Schusterman’s family sits down for dinner, her children answer two questions: What did you learn today, and what was one nice thing you did?

Schusterman and her husband, Steven Dow, ask those questions to help their children understand that their Jewish faith teaches that the world rests on three pillars: the Torah and learning, service to God and acts of loving kindness.

“The Torah teaches the concept that we should be learning all the time,” Schusterman says.

Given this perspective, it is not surprising that the philanthropic foundation her parents established in 1987 — the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation — is dedicated to learning, leadership and issues affecting Israel and Jews. The funds it distributes annually are split between projects in the Schustermans’ hometown of Tulsa and Jewish causes locally, nationally and internationally.

In Tulsa, the foundation focuses on programs relating to child advocacy, education and youth development. Among the projects it supports are such educational programs as subsidizing textbooks at Tulsa Community College; providing school supplies for schools with a large number of students eligible for the free and reduced lunch program; and sponsoring Teach for America, which places well-qualified teachers in Tulsa to help low-income children succeed.

It is because of these philanthropic activities, and many more, that Stacy and her mother, Lynn Schusterman, chair of the foundation, will be honored for their commitment to education as the 2011 recipients of the Tulsa Community College Foundation’s Vision in Education Leadership Award later this month.

The family’s support of TCC dates back to 1992, when the Schustermans funded the traveling Smithsonian exhibit “Climbing Jacob’s Ladder,” TCC President Tom McKeon says. Since then, the family has been a tremendous supporter of the college — from making grants for the biotechnology program at the Southeast Campus to annual gifts that pay for textbooks for the Tulsa Achieves program.

TCC is an open-door institution, making itself accessible and affordable to all students, many of whom are low-income and first-generation college students, McKeon says. The Schustermans recognize the importance of helping those students prepare for 21st century careers, he says.

“Both Lynn and Stacy Schusterman have been tremendous friends of the college and our community,” McKeon says. “People like Lynn and Stacy help make Tulsa one of the great cities.”

Before they arrive in college, students need a solid foundation in high school. In Oklahoma, one in five children lives in poverty, and only 7 percent of students from Tulsa Public Schools graduate college-ready, according to statistics from Teach for America, with only 1 to 2 percent of African American and Latino students graduating college-ready.

In 2009, the Schustermans introduced TPS Superintendent Keith Ballard to Teach for America. The program asks for a two-year commitment from teachers, who are placed in one of 39 regions across the country in exchange for salary, benefits, money to repay student loans and scholarships for graduate school. In 2009, the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation pledged $2 million in financial support for the program, in addition to $1 million pledged by the George Kaiser Family Foundation and $300,000 by the Williams Foundation.

Today, there are 150 Teach for America corps members in Tulsa helping 12,000 students.

Additionally, Ballard says the Schustermans have helped to spearhead the Teacher Leader Effectiveness Initiative, a new evaluation system that holds teachers and leaders accountable for student performance on state tests. Stacy Schusterman volunteers on the initiative’s steering committee. TPS also receives vital guidance and funding from the Gates Foundation, the George Kaiser Family Foundation and other Tulsa foundations and companies for this initiative.

The Schustermans also connected Ballard with their educational contacts on a national level and paid for teacher leader effectiveness consultants, Ballard says.

“They are true heroes for education in Tulsa,” Ballard says. “And they do it without ever wanting any credit.”

Perhaps the educator who has known the Schustermans the longest is David Boren, president of The University of Oklahoma, who met his friend Charles Schusterman in the early 1960s when he was a young legislator and Schusterman was a recent OU graduate who was working with his brother in the oilfield salvage business.

In 1971, Schusterman founded Samson, an oil and gas company that Stacy now heads. During the past 40 years, Samson has grown to become one of the nation’s largest independent energy concerns and Boren has served as Oklahoma’s governor, a U.S. senator and university president.

While buildings across the country and around the world are named after the Schustermans, the best known in Tulsa is the OU-Tulsa Schusterman Center. Before the Schusterman Center opened, OU’s presence in Tulsa was spread across a dozen locations. Clinics were difficult for patients to find, Boren says, and collaboration among the disciplines was not easy.

In 1999, the BP Amoco Technology Center was for sale, and Boren was imagining the possibilities the space could offer OU, especially because the facility had been built to double as a hospital.

“One day, out of the blue, I got a call from Charles Schusterman,” Boren says. “He said, ‘David, don’t you think it would be a wonderful idea to purchase that Amoco building?’ He went through all of the arguments and I agreed with every one of them.”

Still, Boren asked, where would they come up with the money?

Boren was astounded when his friend offered to help pay for the property and said, “I was thinking in the eight figures.”

The Schustermans’ $10 million grant allowed all of OU’s Tulsa health programs to come under one roof, and not once did Boren have to ask.

“The Schusterman family is just exceptional in terms of the head and the heart brought together to help the community,” Boren says.

In 1983, at age 47, Charles Schusterman was diagnosed with chronic myelogenous leukemia and was told he would have an estimated three years to live. He underwent experimental treatment.

“While he suffered with this debilitating illness, he was thinking about what he could do to help others and to help the community,” Boren says. “He spent every waking hour thinking, and I’m not sure he didn’t dream a lot. His mind was always at work.”

The Schustermans launched their foundation during his battle with leukemia.

In 2000, Charles Schusterman died, and Lynn Schusterman assumed leadership of the foundation. Under her stewardship, the foundation has earned a reputation as a thoughtful, strategic and innovative organization that also reflects the passion and concern for others that Lynn embodies. Between her responsibilities as chair of the foundation and her numerous leadership roles in other organizations, Lynn travels continuously and devotes countless hours to the causes she holds most dear. And she does all this while spending as much time as possible with her granddaughters.

Lynn and Stacy Schusterman say they believe “education empowers people to reach their full and unique potential. Our family is pleased to support TCC as it continues to play a vital role in helping individuals across our community access educational opportunities that will allow them to live fuller lives.”

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