Wendell P. Weeks
is chairman and chief executive officer of Corning Incorporated
. He was named chief executive officer in April 2005 and chairman in April 2007. He has been a member of the company’s board of directors since December 2000.
Weeks began his career with Corning in 1983. In his 30 years with the company, he has held a variety of financial, business development, commercial, and general management roles, including strategic positions in the company’s television and specialty glass businesses.
Weeks was named vice president and general manager of the company’s optical fiber business in 1996. In early 2001, he became president of Corning’s optical communications businesses, where he led through both dynamic market growth and the subsequent challenges of market declines.
Weeks was named Corning’s president and chief operating officer in April 2002. In this role, he helped lead the company’s return to profitability following the telecom industry crash. Weeks was the chief architect of Corning’s Corporate Strategy Framework, which provides a foundation for mitigating the company’s inherent volatility and managing through good times and bad.
As CEO, he has focused on building a bigger, more balanced company. He was intimately involved in the development and launch of Corning® Gorilla® Glass, one of the fastest-growing products in Corning’s history. He has also expanded Corning’s international presence and overseen strategic acquisitions in Telecommunications and Life Sciences.
Weeks is a strong supporter of innovation and an enthusiastic ambassador for the technical and artistic properties of glass. He’s known for his close collaboration with customers to solve tough problems.
Weeks is a graduate of Lehigh University and earned a Master of Business Administration from Harvard University as a Baker Scholar. He serves on the board of directors at Merck & Co. Inc., the Corning Museum of Glass, and the Corning Incorporated Foundation.
Why do you believe STEM Education and Workforce Development are critical to our nation’s future?
We are competing in a global economy where technology innovation is the biggest differentiator. STEM skills are essential ingredients of innovation; they’re vital to ensuring America’s competitiveness; and they expand opportunities for job seekers in a challenging economic environment.
This is something that Corning experiences first hand. Our company has succeeded for 162 years through sustained investment in R&D and deep materials science and process engineering expertise. We have a highly technical workforce, and the majority of our hiring needs in recent years have been for manufacturing, engineering, R&D, Finance and IT jobs.
Our innovations have enabled us to succeed in industries (e.g. liquid-crystal display glass) that are dominated by other world regions. But to continue doing so, we need to make sure we can fill the pipeline with top talent.
How do we encourage students to continue their study of STEM subjects, particularly women and underrepresented minorities?
We need to identify those pivotal points where students are likely to lose interest. Middle school is a time when a lot of students who were previously high achievers start to struggle, and where girls are most likely to turn away from science and math. We need to make sure they have engaged teachers and dynamic programs that stimulate their scientific curiosity.
The Full Option Science System
(FOSS) program that Corning launched in collaboration with our local school district is a good example. FOSS takes an experiential approach to science, replacing textbooks with modules that require students to work in teams to understand concepts like chemical interactions. We first deployed FOSS in grades 6-8, and saw mastery rates on standardized tests improve by 42% after just one year with the program. FOSS is now fully deployed in K-8 in Corning-Painted Post schools and is being introduced in a number of schools in other districts.
There are also opportunities to engage students outside the classroom. Corning sponsors several teams for the FIRST robotics competition, which was started by Dean Kamen and now includes almost 100,000 middle and high school students worldwide. Corning provides funding and allows employees to volunteer their time in a coaching capacity.
Finally, our employee groups are very involved. Corning’s Society of Women Engineers
holds an annual egg drop contest that challenges kids to create a container that can protect a raw egg from breaking after a 32-foot fall. It really encourages the participants’ creativity. And because they interact with women engineers, it also helps inspire girls about career paths in science.
What is the STEM initiative that your company has support that you are most proud of?
This is actually very personal for me. In 2003, my wife Kim founded the Alternative School for Math and Science (ASMS)
because she and several other community leaders recognized that the public school system alone could not meet the needs of all our students. We wanted to provide a supportive environment for middle-school students and a challenging curriculum focused on skills that are becoming increasingly important in today’s world. Corning has strongly supported ASMS, including funding a 35,000 square foot expansion in 2011. Approximately 75% of ASMS graduates are pursuing STEM courses of study, which is well above the 15% national average.
What do we need in the U.S. to continue to be at the top of global innovation?
Most importantly, we need sustained investment in Research, Development, and Engineering. In a tough economy, organizations often cut back on the RD&E spending to focus on more immediate priorities. Yet, ongoing innovation is the key to our growth as a company and as a nation. We also need public policy that encourages innovation, such as tax credits for R&D and strong protection for intellectual property. And we need school systems that equip our students to succeed in a world that is becoming more global and high tech.
What is your advice on using private-public partnerships to tackle our most pressing education challenges in STEM?
At Corning, we’re firm believers that effective private-public partnerships are vital to building strong communities. But success depends on much more than financial investment. It requires real collaboration between partners -- and that begins with meaningful dialogue.
Our Corning Enterprises organization regularly meets with the local school superintendent and key staff members to identify and evaluate appropriate opportunities for Corning’s involvement. Based on their input, we’ve learned about valuable support we can provide that we may not have considered, such as benchmarking and analytical help. And these discussions have given us the opportunity to propose innovative strategies such as the FOSS program (described above).
Private-public partnerships can pool talent and resources to make a real difference, but participants need to communicate openly and candidly, make balanced contributions, and be committed to seeing the initiative through.