A Tribute to the Wade Institute’s Founder, EMILY “PADDY” VANDERBILT WADE

May 11, 1925 – February 29, 2024

Paddy was a true trailblazer, graduating from MIT as a chemistry student at a time when women did not usually go to college at all. She had a very clear vision of the need for more women in the sciences and worked tirelessly to promote her vision. After a conversation with the President of MIT about K-12 students’ loss of interest in science, she was the catalyst who brought together seven Boston area museum directors and challenged them to work together to find a solution; the result was the Museum Institute for Teaching Science (MITS), renamed the Wade Institute for Science Education in 2019. Originally funded by a significant grant from the National Science Foundation, the organization has been able to evolve and expand over the course of 40 years due to Paddy’s incredible commitment and generosity. She was an extraordinary person. The mission of MITS was to help inspire and engage elementary school teachers in inquiry-based science learning at a critical time when interest in technology and science was on the wane. The goal was simple: “get kids to like science.”

“You don’t want all the students to go into science and math, but you want everybody to be at least aware of science and math, so they can make logical decisions about what’s going on around them,” Paddy said. Yet even these priorities should be balanced by a conservation ethic. “Kids spend so much time on their computers, and they can see all sorts of things. But it’s not the same as going out into the back yard or the local park — even the street and seeing the weeds growing through the cracks.”

Over the years, Paddy and the Wade Board expanded the mission of the Wade Institute to providing both formal and informal teachers of all grades with hands-on, minds-on pedagogy and practical experiences that they could use to more effectively engage their students in science. The emphasis is on inquiry-based, hands-on methods, because “by keeping alive the curiosity and excitement that first graders bring to their world, there is a chance to develop an interest and understanding that will encourage greater numbers to continue to study in these fields,” Paddy explained.

Paddy received her Bachelor of Science degree in Chemistry from MIT in 1945. She was one of seven women in a class of 728 students.

Paddy’s contributions to furthering science research and science education are impressive. She continually engaged in activities that illustrated her lifelong commitment as a land conservationist and naturalist. Paddy created the Wade Tract Preserve in Georgia, which comprises 200 acres of old-growth forest and was the state’s first conservation easement. She also created the Greenwood Research Foundation to manage 4,000 acres of land in Georgia, of which 1,000 acres is old-growth forest, for research on the ecology of the longleaf yellow pine forest. She was a loyal supporter of Manomet, Inc., an international organization that uses science-driven solutions to improve ecosystem health and human well-being, for more than four decades. She served as Chair of their Board from 1993 to 2010, during which time she reinforced her unwavering focus on science. Paddy was a strong supporter of Mass Audubon throughout her life, beginning in 1949. It was there she developed her passion for birding alongside William Drury, a renowned ornithologist. She served on its board of directors for 23 years. She worked diligently to advance their mission in education, conservation, research and advocacy. In 2010 she was presented with the prestigious Allan Morgan Award for Lifetime Achievement. Paddy also had strong ties to Zoo New England, where she managed the Children’s Zoo concession stand and fostered a baby gorilla. Paddy was a wonderful and accomplished person who was part of the Whitehead Institute community for nearly two decades. She was a member of the Institute’s Directors Circle, recognizing her long-term philanthropic contributions to the organization. Paddy remained actively involved with her alma mater, MIT, serving on the Board of the MIT Corporation for over 30 years and as the second woman to serve as President of the Board.

In 2004 Paddy was inducted into the Massachusetts Hall of Fame for Science Educators for her many contributions to the field of science education and received the Massachusetts’s Educators Association’s Russell P. Stanhope Distinguished Friend of Science Award in 2018.

Paddy was an integral member of both the Wade Institute staff and Board, and her presence will be profoundly missed. Her unflagging commitment to the betterment of science education was matched only by the warmth of her personality, and her boundless kindness and generosity. It was a pleasure to work with her – no job was too small for her to roll up her sleeves and pitch in. Her stories about her amazing life kept us entertained and wondering how she was going to top the next one – but she always did. It was an honor and pleasure to work alongside Paddy.

Paddy’s tireless efforts to promote STEM education and empower classroom educators were instrumental in shaping the Wade Institute into the organization it is today. As we honor her memory, we are reminded of her selflessness, dedication, and vibrant spirit, which will continue to inspire us to carry on her legacy and further her vision.