In 1982, Michael Winn was a sophomore taking an anthropology class that offered extra credit for participating in USC Dornsife’s Joint Educational Project (JEP). Winn leapt at the chance.
“At first I did it for the extra credit, but JEP was so rewarding and so much fun, that quickly became a secondary motivation,” said the alumnus who earned his bachelor’s in geological sciences from USC Dornsife in 1985.
A geologist and venture capitalist, Michael Winn, president of Seabord Capital Corp., still retains fond memories of working as a teacher’s assistant in a third-grade class at 32nd Street Elementary School, a USC Magnet School, where he taught young students about Native American Indians.
“The real challenge was finding ways to keep the kids captivated,” Winn said.
“We went to a museum, borrowed Native American costumes and headdresses and brought them into class,” Winn recalled. “The kids were really excited and asked lots of questions, but mostly I remember they wanted to know about us as USC students. We were interested in asking about them, too. I learned as much from them as they did from us.”
At USC, Winn met his wife Cindy, also a JEP participant.
“When I met Michael and found out he’d done JEP I thought he must be a nice guy,” said Cindy Winn, who in 1985 earned a bachelor’s in business administration from USC Marshall School of Business.
“I opted for third graders but Cindy’s brave, she took on high school kids,” Winn added with a chuckle.
Last year, Cindy and Michael got re-involved in JEP during its 40th anniversary celebrations, which Cindy helped organize. “When we started listening to everyone talk about the 40th anniversary, it brought back just what an amazing program JEP is and what a good thing it is for USC and for the community,” said Michael Winn.
The Winns also made a donation to JEP’s Young Scientist Program (YSP), which is dedicated to inspiring diverse students to become leaders and innovators in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
“We need to produce more scientists in the United States,” Michael Winn said. “If you don’t get enthusiastic about science when you’re young, by the time you hit biology and physics and chemistry you may never understand it. YSP is a great bridge to creating that enthusiasm.”
“Cindy and Michael represent the best of our JEP alumni — those who share both their time and their financial support,” said Tammara Anderson, executive director of JEP. “Their generous contribution to our Young Scientist Program is opening a new world of STEM education to our local school children.”
Like her husband, Cindy Winn first signed up for JEP to earn extra credit. But the experience gave her a broader perspective.
“JEP helped me understand people are just people, whatever their background. That’s what so wonderful about JEP — it breaks down barriers,” she said.
“While we could give these students a little of what we knew, more importantly, we could encourage them to stay on track, to stay in school.”
Thirty years later, it’s their children’s turn. Kate Winn, a senior at USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, and Jack Winn, a sophomore at USC Marshall, got involved in JEP after hearing about their parents’ experiences.
Jack joined JEP in the Spring semester, teaching fifth-grade art at Lenicia B. Weemes Elementary School.
“It’s really fun because all the kids get so excited,” Jack Winn said. “When you walk into the class all the kids go, ‘Yay! JEP! JEP!’ That’s probably the most rewarding part of it, how excited they are to see us, how their faces light up. What we provide is different from their everyday learning. Plus the fact that college students are coming into their classroom gives them something to look up to, a role model.”
Kate Winn joined JEP in her first semester at USC when she earned extra credit by helping small groups of English as second-language students practice their reading at the Dr. Theodore T. Alexander Science Center.
Kate remembers one little boy from Ghana who made a particular impression on her.
“He was really sweet and shy,” she said. “He had trouble reading and getting him to break out of his shell and answer questions in front of a group was really fun. I helped him by talking to him one-on-one, and making sure he was paying attention and understood what we were doing.”
Like her brother, Kate felt JEP helped her become a role model for the children.
“They understand we’re in college and think that’s really cool,” she said. “The teacher introduced us by saying ‘She goes to USC, she’s in college, you can do that, too.’ Then kids would say to me, ‘I want to go to USC.’ ”