In the early years, the Germeshausens made numerous gifts to Ken's alma mater, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, while also supporting several major cultural institutions in the Boston area. After Ken's passing, in 1990, Polly continued to support cultural institutions and programs in the Boston area.
More recently, under the leadership of Ken and Polly's daughter, Nancy Klavans, the foundation has shifted its focus to smaller organizations involved in a range of endeavors including ethics and the environment, ecology, youth and higher education, and advocacy through film and video productions.
Throughout its history, the foundation has evolved in its grant-making priorities while remaining true to its original aim-to support and help drive new ideas and new, entrepreneurial leaders.
Ken Germeshausen (1907-1990) was born in Woodland, California and graduated from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1931 with a degree in electrical engineering. He joined Harold E. Edgerton in applying high-speed photographic and stroboscopic techniques to study and solve industrial problems. Together with Herbert E. Grier, the three formed a partnership, which later became EG&G, Inc. This innovative science-based company became a highly respected and successful international firm with an outstanding reputation for research and development.
Ken served as the CEO of EG&G during its formative and growth years. Throughout his professional life, Ken recruited scientific minds with new ideas and invested in the development of these ideas. In that sense, he operated much like a venture capitalist.
Ken was a prolific inventor himself. He held more than 50 patents covering electronic circuits, electronic tubes, flash lamps, which are basic to all stroboscopic lighting; and hydrogen thyratrons, which are basic to radar transmitters. His most noted inventions include two of the 34 basic electron tubes developed between 1930 and 1950, the strobotron and the hydrogen thyratron.
The recipient of many medals and awards, Ken was a life member emeritus of the MIT Corporation, a Fellow and life member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, and a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
As a philanthropist, Ken helped foster inventiveness and innovation in others.
Ken and Polly made numerous gifts to MIT. They endowed several scholarships at MIT and made substantial donations to help the university upgrade and build new facilities, including the EG&G Educational Center.
They also funded the creation of the Germeshausen Professorships to further MIT's interest in combining humanitarian advances with technological advances. Distinguished occupants of this chair have included John W. Gardner, Robert W. Mann, Jay W. Forrester and Robert S. Langer. To this day, the professorships continue to explore and develop new technologies and new ideas.
The Germeshausens also lent their support to numerous science and cultural institutions in the Boston area including the New England Aquarium and the DeCordova Museum. The DeCordova is now home to the Dr. Kenneth Germeshausen Art ExperienCenter, one of the first interactive experiences at a museum.
At the Museum of Science, the foundation funded the Eye Opener program, which gives Boston students a full-day, guided tour of the museum. Every year since 1986, about 3,000 second grade students from more than 40 Boston public schools participate in this hands-on educational program; for many of them, it is their first museum experience.
Also at the Museum of Science, the foundation supported the first phase of the “Science Is an Activity” permanent exhibit plan. This was co-funded with the Harold Edgerton Family Foundation.
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Pauline S. Germeshausen (1907-2005), known to everyone as Polly, was born in Lexington, Massachusetts and lived with her husband and daughter in the Boston area. She was an active member of her community, serving as a long-time leader and supporter of several civic and cultural organizations. Polly also served as an overseer of a number of Boston cultural institutions, including the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and was a key supporter and overseer of WGBH, the PBS affiliate in Boston.
Polly led the Germeshausen Foundation as president and trustee from the mid-1980s through 2003. She was particularly interested in organizations that gave voice to a younger generation, and she directed the foundation in its early funding of youth organizations including:
- City Year, a national program which provides a year of service for students graduating high school and unsure of their plans;
- Teen Empowerment, a program that provides leadership opportunities to students in inner-city high school; and
- Jumpstart, an after-school program for middle school students.
Polly also emphasized arts and cultural institutions in Boston, often providing strategic challenge grants that led to major fund-raising efforts.
Polly and Ken were both active supporters of WGBH. Their grant helped launch American Experience, the most watched and longest running history series on television.
The foundation also helped WBGH create a venture capital fund to develop new programming for children. Through this fund, and through direct grants, the foundation was a major and early funder of Arthur, Between the Lions, Peep and the Big Wide World, Where in the World is Carmen San Diego?, ZOOM and others.
For the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the foundation provided funding to support youth concerts and to endow the position of the youth concert conductor. The foundation also supported the Boston Music Education Collaborative, which brought together the Boston Symphony Orchestra, WGBH, The New England Conservatory of Music and the Boston Public Schools to strengthen music education and music programs in Boston.
The foundation made a number of grants to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, providing funds and endowment to enhance programs for children and families.
The foundation also provided a major challenge grant to the Boston Children's Museum, enabling it to purchase and significantly expand the building in which it is housed.
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Nancy Klavans has been actively involved in the Germeshausen Foundation since 1990, assuming leadership in 2001 and becoming president in 2003.
Under Nancy's leadership, the foundation has continued to support WGBH in the development of innovative programs including Arthur, Between the Lions, Loop, Martha Speaks, Misunderstood Minds, and Zoom.
At the same time, Nancy has broadened the foundation's areas of interest, providing early funding to the Center for Alternative Medicine Research and Education at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, in Boston, and to the University of Massachusetts Medical School for its work in mind/body medicine.
The foundation also helped advance the emerging field of religion and ecology, which explores the critical role that the world's religions play in shaping environmental ethics for a sustainable future for the planet. The foundation continues to provide substantial support for the Forum on Religion and Ecology, now based at Yale University, and the related work of the Thomas Berry Foundation, both under the leadership of Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Grim.
The foundation has also provided support to The Center of Rational Spirituality, which is dedicated to the betterment of humanity through the integration of ancient spiritual wisdom and modern rational thought.
Nancy has also developed collaborative relationships with dynamic leaders who are having a positive and lasting impact on society. Several of these initiatives help young people to fulfill their potential and become tomorrow's leaders.
Programs such as EcoHealth Alliance (formerly Wildlife Trust Alliance) are helping to develop new leaders in the environmental field in the United States and in developing nations.
Peace First (formerly Peace Games) teaches young children how to manage difficult issues such as schoolyard fighting and bullying.
Teen Empowerment provides leadership opportunities to students in inner city high schools and communities.
The NGK Fellowships of the Women and Public Policy Program at the Kennedy School at Harvard University provides opportunities for graduate students to work collaboratively with women peace builders in conflict regions of the world.
Humanity in Action sponsors cross-cultural experiences for students on the values of human dignity and moral responsibility for the protection of the rights of minorities.
Nancy has also led the foundation into film, video, and other media, supporting a number of projects with Bill Moyers including The Language of Life with Bill Moyers, a television special on the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival, and a Bill Moyers special on environmental issues called The Global Report Card.
The foundation has also provided funding for several documentary films:
Journey of the Universe, a documentary explaining the science of the creation of earth and the fragility of its existence featuring mathematical cosmologist Brian Swimme.
Run Granny Run, a documentary about Doris Haddock's dramatic fight for campaign finance reform and her campaign for U.S. senator from New Hampshire.
Coexist, a documentary about the efforts to achieve peace and reconciliation following the genocide in Rwanda.
Renewal, a film about efforts by religious and civic groups to fight environmental degradation and pollution.
Voice of the Valley, a film about women gaining access to media in Jordan.
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