Fired by Donald Trump, James Sun considers it a privilege to have stood before the real estate baron billionaire on the hit reality show “The Apprentice.”
But someone with less prestige has had the biggest impact on Sun’s life so far: his fifth grade math teacher.
“Growing up, I had bad, bad grades,” the Bellevue resident, CEO and founder of Zoodango.com told a room of more than 400 people during the Lake Washington Schools Foundation’s Fourth Annual Legacy for Learning Luncheon at Juanita High School last week. “I remember many teachers, many people giving up on me.”
But in fifth grade, he received his “spark of inspiration.” His math teacher sat him down, looked him in the eyes and told him he was very good at math.
Sun started believing it and soon his math grade went from a “D” to an “A.” He thought if he could get an “A” in math, maybe he could excel in other subjects as well.
He ended up graduating high school with a 4.0 grade point average and was recently selected as a top 100 University of Washington alumni.
“If I was given up on, I probably would’ve never become a CEO, got on a TV show with Donald Trump,” Sun said. “I would not have achieved these things if that teacher hadn’t spent that time with me and ignited that fire.
“Today, we have that chance to create that spark of inspiration for each child in the Lake Washington School District.”
Investing in students
During the event, approximately $123,000 was raised for the Lake Washington Schools Foundation, a nonprofit organization founded in 2005 that gathers resources and enhances opportunities for all students in the Lake Washington School District. The sixth largest District in the state, LWSD serves more than 24,000 students in grades k-12.
District Superintendent Dr. Chip Kimball said, “Today, you are going to hear stories about challenge and triumph and this is what (the Foundation is) about.”
As a young man, Kimball said he was a product of one of those stories, surrounded by “constraints and obstacles and lived in a family that reinforced my limitations.”
Now, he considers himself “one of the most fortunate people” to live in a community that “invests in the potential of our students.”
Leading students in science
During the event, keynote speaker Dr. George “Pinky” Nelson, a retired NASA astronaut who currently directs the Science, Mathematics and Technology Education program at Western Washington University, spoke about the Foundation’s role in leading students in science.
As a member of NASA’s Space Telescope Repair Mission Task Force, which oversees the Hubble Space Telescope repair missions, Nelson’s comrades have described the work as “similar to doing brain surgery in boxing gloves.”
“There is no human activity that returns a higher rate on investment than pure exploration and that’s the kind of work that the Hubble Space Telescope does,” he said.
When students learn about science, they “discover that science isn’t found under a rock, that all the scientific concepts that we have today were made up in response to their close, careful observations of the natural world,” Nelson said. “It’s this role that we have of helping to prepare our students who are going to become scientists and engineers – that’s the kind of support we can give through the Foundation.”
To donate, visit the Lake Washington Schools Foundation at www.lwsf.org or call (425) 702-3414