Redefining Success in Education
Dr. Kathy Fields and Dr. Garry Rayant, San Francisco Bay-Area entrepreneurs, philanthropists and TAU Governors, were instrumental in launching the University’s Center for Combating Pandemics and are core supporters of Minducate, a Learning Innovation Research Center at the Sagol School of Neuroscience. Both are Global Campaign Cabinet members and recently established the Fields-Rayant Scholarship Fund in honor of Global Campaign Cabinet Chair Dr. Anita Friedman. The fund provides scholarships to students from Israel’s periphery.
What drives your philanthropy?
Garry: Hillel said it best, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?” And as Kathy likes to say, we’re on the now plan. Health and education are among the central tenets of who we are, from which our philanthropy follows.
Kathy: It feels tremendous to make a difference, to matter, particularly at a time where many feel they are losing agency. Garry and I try to be part of the force actively involved in finding solutions to problems facing the Jewish people and the world.
How do your connections to Judaism and Israel play a role in your lives?
Garry: I grew up in London, the son of a refugee from the Holocaust. My father evaded arrest by the Gestapo in Vienna and fled to England where he joined the British army. The other part of his family escaped to Palestine—now Israel. Because of that, I have a large family in Israel and have been visiting for years. It’s home. I can’t overstate the impact of that background and the good fortune I have to live the dream that past generations did not. My parents never forgot who they were, their history and the fact that their values and morality came from their Jewish heritage.
Kathy and I were married at midnight in the Billy Rose Sculpture Garden atop the Israel Museum, the last event of the UJA Young Leadership Cabinet retreat that year. Not a dry eye in the house, me included! Israel is a central part of being Jewish for us. Thank G-d we have a land of our own; it’s central to our security.
Kathy: I grew up in a small Jewish community in Waukegan, Illinois. When we were singled out as Jews at school, my parents decided we’d better own our identity. My siblings and I were the first bnei mitzvah in our Conservative shul. I became cognizant of issues facing Israel with my first AIPAC meeting at age 26. I gave them my entire monthly paycheck that day! I learned I had a voice and could make a difference. When Garry and I met, we both found that our mutual interests and backgrounds propelled us to do more.
How does your support for TAU fit into your philanthropic vision?
Garry: Our feeling is that TAU epitomizes Judaism’s and Israel’s highest values––education and democracy. And the University has something for everyone, young and not so young—like us.
When we first got involved, it was through a fundraiser for the dental school. As we progressed, we were introduced to the “Minducate” program. It was a perfect fit, aligning with our goal of improving education through practical applications.
Furthermore, we like the democratic aspect of TAU. Of the 30,000 students, a significant proportion are from minority populations—Arab-Israeli, Palestinian, Druze, Ethiopian, and international students—who have vast potential to benefit their communities and society. If ever there is to be peace, it will come through education.
A Minducate project is presented to TAU President Prof. Ariel Porat
Was there a defining moment that inspired your passion for educational reform?
Garry: We have two wonderful, bright sons with very different learning profiles; neither of their needs were being met educationally [when they were at school]. They were loaded with so much homework, were not sleeping enough, and experienced stress about getting [good] grades. I have a master’s degree in behavioral science and was floored by how much of the teaching wasn’t based on scientific methods for effective learning or optimal growth, both physical and emotional. We found the problems were endemic, particularly in high school, due to the singular focus on academic achievement and college prep.
So, we started lobbying to change the system from K-12 through college. We began with Challenge Success, a Stanford University-based non-profit that provides families and schools with the practical, research-based tools they need to create more balanced and academically fulfilling lives. Our involvement in education has grown to include political advocacy and lobbying, in our state and nationally, for healthy research-based change.
Where do you want higher education to go from here?
Kathy: We got involved at the college level to address mental health. Too many students on college campuses today suffer from anxiety, depression, and drug and alcohol use—and tragically this too often ends in suicide. For us, the ultimate marker of success in global education is healthy, creative, curious, collaborative adults who are prepared for real-world tasks and to make the world a better place. We're putting our efforts into universities in the US and Israel to address these important issues.
What advice do you have for TAU’s large community of emerging innovators?
Kathy: Find the problem you want to fix and maintain the clarity and conviction to stay strong in your purpose. Money cannot be the primary motivator. Create a team through your trusted leadership and vision. Always do the right thing when faced with choices. Inventors may not succeed because they don’t practice these founding pillars. Judaism has taught me resilience to overcome adversity, responsibility, and the joy of collaboration.
Garry: I always find myself going back to our tradition:
“If you see what needs to be repaired and how to repair it, then you have found a piece of the world that G-d has left for you to complete.” - Lubavitcher Rebbe
To which we would add one thing—stay curious; there is so much in this wonderful world to learn.
Dr. Kathy Fields is a Stanford-trained dermatologist and the co-founder of the popular skincare lines Proactiv Solution and Rodan & Fields. Dr. Garry Rayant is a University of Pennsylvania-trained periodontist and co-founder of Dear Doctor Magazine Inc. and the newly created Center for Integrative Global Oral Health at UPenn.
- By Julie Steigerwald