Gayle Wilson has enjoyed a remarkable life and career, from serving as First Lady of California to establishing a merit-based summer math/science educational enrichment program in her state. But one of her first accomplishments was being named a Science Talent Search finalist. In high school, she gathered seeds from plants in her native Arizona as she worked with a hematologist to create a reagent made of plant instead of animal extraction.
“Being a finalist was a defining time in my life,” she says. It was that recognition that encouraged her to major in biology at Stanford. Twenty years later, she moved to Washington, D.C., with her husband, then-Senator Pete Wilson, and she reconnected with the Society for Science & the Public. After visiting the Society’s offices in Dupont Circle, she began to attend STS Public Days and some of the galas, she says, “reliving what had been a fantastic experience for me.”
It was at one of the Public Days, in the mid-1980s, when she met Admiral Hyman Rickover, who founded the Center for Excellence in Education (CEE), whose Research Science Institute has provided many Intel STS finalists and semifinalists with research opportunities. Soon afterwards, Wilson joined the CEE board, a position which inspired her to help found the San Diego chapter of Achievement Rewards for College Scientists (ARCS), and to create COSMOS, the California State Summer School for Math & Science.
Wilson has also given a lot of time to the Society, advocating for student research opportunities and improved science and math education, while serving as a member of the Society’s Board of Trustees and on its Executive Committee. She gives back to the organization that helped inspire her as a high school student and explains her dedication by saying, “My passion is to motivate high school kids to excel at math and science.”
To this day, Wilson and her high school mentor are “email buddies,” sharing their interest in science and science competitions.