A Legacy Set in Stone
With over two decades of time spent here, the Winn family’s gift to the school will create a new focal point at 10600 Preston Rd.
The first impression Steve Winn ’64 has of St. Mark’s was from a car on Preston Rd. Facing to the west was a large cylindrical brick tower topped with a large white dome.
Inside, a state-of-the-art planetarium and observatory, the newest feature of the nationally-renowned McDermott-Green Math Science Quadrangle. That building, he would learn after he joined the student body in 1962, represented the essence of the school, a desire to push the bounds of pre-collegiate education.
Eugene McDermott passed away in 1973, Cecil Green in 2003. But their legacy lives on at 10600 Preston Rd. And come next month, another name will join theirs, cementing its place in a short list of those who will make an unforgettable impact on every Marksmen for years to come. That name: Winn.
Spearheaded by a $10 million gift from the Winn Family Foundation, the Winn Science Center is scheduled to open for classes Jan. 9, 2019. Steve and his son Chris Winn ’99 are two of three in the family to graduate from the school, and they have both been heavily involved in the conception, planning and construction of the building.
Steve, a former member of the Board of Trustees, attended the school for 11th and 12th grade. However, as soon as his son was old enough to attend first grade, he applied. After 12 years here, Chris attended the University of Texas and worked as a legal assistant in Manhattan. But as soon as he returned, he again grew close to the community of current and former Marksmen.
“I moved off to New York for a couple of years,” Winn said, “so my engagement level dipped in my mid-twenties. But it kind of regained some steam in my later twenties just as I got more engaged with some of my high school buddies and wanted to give back to the school in some way.”
When the school approached the Winn family in the early 2010s about contributing to a project that would see the planetarium and observatory, hallmarks of the school’s Preston Rd.-facing facade since 1961, they countered with another offer.
“My dad really felt that that wasn’t enough, that it was a great opportunity to dream bigger,” Chris said. “So that’s what the school did. They dreamt bigger, and we thought, ‘What if you just tore down the entire older half of the science and mathematics quadrangle and gave that a completely new structure?’ So that’s what we did.”
The Winn family wanted to see to that there were no hurdles in terms of the resources in the new building, which they were hoping would allow the building to make as much of an impact on students as the new facility did in the 1960s.
During the development phase of the process, a group including Chris, Headmaster David Dini, Director of Development Jim Bob Womack, science instructor Doug Rummel and Science Department Chair Fletcher Carron had the opportunity to tour the science facilities of multiple top schools in the northeast. From these visits, they had the opportunity to pick what features of each of the buildings they wanted to see in the Winn Science Center.
“I stepped in as the point person for the family to communicate what we wanted to see as the structure,” Chris said. “And really it was just a matter of what does St. Mark’s need? Where is the future of science? And what are St. Mark’s’s views and position in the future of science? How do you incorporate things like a DNA lab, a heavier focus on computer science, robotics, and a real purposefully-designed makerspace.”
One of the most important features of the Winn Science Center, Chris believes, is not the building itself, but instead the teachers who will be able to utilize it in ways the older building did not allow.
“The faculty at St. Mark’s is so great,” Chris said. “They do such a good job of instructing and inspiring, so they’re going to capture young minds no matter what. But if we can make that job a little bit easier, if we can make that a little bit more impactful by providing a good space that just the space itself is inspiring, then that hopefully will, in the long term, accomplish the mission of getting young men into some field in science.”
The part of the half-decade-long process that Chris has found most exciting is observing the response of the school community, particularly the science department faculty, to the new building and all the pieces of it.
“Really getting to work with Doug Rummel and Fletch Carron about, ‘We have the utmost faith in your abilities to teach. We want to give you better tools with which to teach,’” Chris said. “And to see the excitement on their faces with the, ‘Oh my gosh, if I had this…’ and to see their minds project forward with how they could use these great new resources to inspire and to instruct. That’s been definitely for me the most appealing part of it.”
Chris said he’s excited to see the affect the building will have on not just on those who hope to pursue computer science or DNA science, but those who decide to go in another direction after their time at 10600 Preston Rd.
“It generated a lot of conversation and interest in the sciences, and I hope that that bears fruit in the form of more students wanting to be engaged in science and math,” Chris said. “If, at a minimum, even for the student who is going to go on to become a liberal arts major, for them to be more well-versed in the sciences and more aware of how technology is going to impact their day-to-day experience and their careers and their personal lives.”
He also hopes the space will allow for more exploration beyond the foundational sciences, even to how to expand beyond the sciences themselves.
“One of the things the school is going to do is figure out ways to cross-pollinate those ideas from one discipline to another and try to find that common ground,” Chris said. “Maybe it’s science and politics. There’s any number of combinations. We just wanted to have a really great place for that to happen.”
Even as the first part of the project nears its completion, there is still a lot he is looking forward to, not only in the renovations of the remaining portion of the building, but also in the impact of the Winn Science Center, an impact that may not be felt for decades.
“It will be cool to see the McDermott-Green [Math Science Quadrangle] get its refresh and see the whole building come together,” Chris said. “But, really now it’s just the process of seeing what the graduates from this point on, from St. Mark’s, what they do with it. That will be really satisfying, and it’s a great legacy for my dad to have left.”