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Generous Gift from Okhee Lee Supports STEM Education with Equity and Justice


Okhee Lee, professor of childhood education, has made a generous gift in her and her late husband’s names to support inclusive STEM education at NYU Steinhardt.

One of the major commitments that Steinhardt has received in recent years, Lee’s gift provides for the endowed Michael B. Salwen and Okhee Lee-Salwen Scholarship. This award will give funding to Steinhardt undergraduate and graduate students studying STEM education with a focus on equity and justice.     

Okhee Lee and her husband, Michael B. Salwen, hold hands and smile at the camera.

In addition to the scholarship, Lee’s gift will support the first five years of the Annual Symposium on STEM Education with Equity and Justice, hosted at Steinhardt to bring together professionals, students, and scholars from around the world to help advance the field. The first symposium is being planned for 2023.    

“The spirit of Dr. Lee’s gift represents the heart of what my office and Steinhardt strive for: to imagine and create a more equitable world,” says Hua-Yu Sebastian Cherng, vice dean for diversity, equity, and belonging at Steinhardt and associate professor of international education. “Her gift provides material support for students and creates a forum for real conversations about equity in STEM. These conversations must happen in order for scholars and stakeholders in the field to shift their perspective on what is success and who should be telling the story.”

Upholding Her Husband’s Legacy and Building Her Own

Lee’s gift to Steinhardt is the latest in several charitable contributions that Lee has made since the passing of her husband in 2007 after a long battle with cancer.

“We both grew up poor, Michael in the US and me in South Korea,” says Lee. “When Michael was alive, we discussed how to use our assets and how to honor his legacy. Our estate planning attorney set up a trust fund, and with that money we were able to endow scholarships in both education and communication first to the University of Miami, which was so generous to us both when Michael was ill, and to Michigan State, which is where we met.”

The spirit of Dr. Lee’s gift represents the heart of what my office and Steinhardt strive for: to imagine and create a more equitable world.

Hua-Yu Sebastian Cherng, Vice Dean for Diversity, Equity, and Belonging and Associate Professor of International Education

With encouragement from her financial advisor, Lee also determined that she was in a place to support Steinhardt, where her career as a leading education scholar committed to the reform of K-12 STEM education with equity and justice has grown for the last decade.

“My financial advisor knows that my biggest desire is to do good work and give back to others,” says Lee. “Since my husband and I did not have children, I can instead use our assets to educate other people’s children and the public about the work of STEM education with equity and justice. This is my legacy.”

“Okhee is a lifelong proponent of ensuring that we support the children who will become tomorrow’s technology and science leaders,” says Jack H. Knott, Gale and Ira Drukier Dean at Steinhardt. “We at Steinhardt thank her for her support and for being a strong advocate who continues to champion causes that are too often undervalued in educational systems and policymaking alike.”

An Inspiration to Others

While Lee’s generous contribution to Steinhardt will change the lives of many students and strengthen her legacy at NYU Steinhardt and in the field of STEM education, she emphasizes that everyone has the capability to make their own impact of this kind.

“If you’re interested in giving to a cause that you care about, do it,” says Lee. “Get an idea of what you can contribute within your financial means and then start. The reward of giving is priceless.”

Learn more about creating your legacy with a gift of any size to Steinhardt.

Related Interview

Watch Lee's interview with NYU Steinhardt Dean Jack H. Knott to hear about her contributions to the Next Generation Science Standards and hands-on work in the Elizabeth Public Schools in New Jersey.

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