Regent Rick Myers inspired by science, education

Arizona Board of Regents member Rick Myers has focused his career around two things: science and education. And, occasionally, science education.

This commitment to education culminated in Gov. Jan Brewer appointing Myers to the board in 2010.

Science Foundation Arizona Chairman Don Budinger, his former colleague, said Myers is the perfect man for the job.

“In addition to the traditional role that the Board of Regents has, (Myers) is also an advocate that the board advocate for the success of the universities,” he said.

He said ASU’s funding structure has changed dramatically since Michael Crow took the position of president. This has been a focus of Myers and the rest of the board, he said.

Growing up in a middle-class family in Pittsburgh, Myers was the son of an assembly worker and a housekeeper.

Neither parent had attended college, but a high school science competition sponsored by the Westinghouse Electric Corp. — an electronics manufacturing company — put him on course to be the first in his family to do so.

After winning the competition, a Westinghouse engineering executive, who later became Myers’s mentor, took him to lunch.

“He said to me, ‘Engineers, they help design things that help make people’s lives better,’” Myers said. “I’ll never forget that.”

This mentorship played a vital role in Myers’s later entrance into the engineering program at the University of Alabama. In 1975, while working toward completing his degree, he met a young math major named Judy Braun. She would later become his wife.

“We had two classes together: differential equations and engineering economy,” Judy said, “and, he was on the rowing team. I found him very attractive.”

His engineering background put Myers on track for what would be a 25-year career at IBM. There, he helped develop technology such as the electric typewriter, and he eventually moved toward management positions that allowed him to travel the world to speak on the corporation’s behalf.

Even in management, Myers tended to the scientific and directed research and development teams until his 2003 retirement. He left IBM but continued to be heavily involved in the Tucson community.

“He’s not the kind of guy who just plays golf,” Judy said. “He knows how to get people from where they are to where they want to go. He motivates people.”

Within the year, Myers was chairman of a task force dedicated to restructuring Pima County’s procurement process.

“The focus was ‘How do we solve the problem?’ rather than, ‘Who do we blame?’” Myers said. “People were responsive to that.”

Word of his success spread, garnering national attention and making its way to Budinger, who in 2006 appointed Myers as one of the founding board members of Science Foundation Arizona.

Myers brought geographic diversity and an interesting perspective on business in education to the Science Foundation Arizona board, Budinger said.

“He brought his competency to each meeting,” Budinger said. “He’s a very important voice of reason.”

He said Myers’s commitment to collecting data on the long-term educational effects of half-day Kindergarten versus full-day schooling was notable.

Myers was offered a part-time faculty position at UA in 2002, which began as a guest lecture position and quickly turned into a recurring 15-week graduate course in management of technology.

It was a great integration of science and education, Myers said.

“Both topics draw me,” he said. “Science, because of my background, and education, (because) it is the vehicle that enables us to realize our potential.”

 

Reach the reporter at stephanie.habib@asu.edu