We are pleased to announce we are now the Waters Center for Systems Thinking! Hover over the images below for details on our journey over the past 30 years.
1982-85: Mr. Waters Learns of System Dynamics
Jim Waters, founder of the Waters Corporation, a publicly-traded, analytical science solutions company, attended sessions on system dynamics led by Dr. Jay Forrester of MIT. This spurred Mr. Waters' interest in system dynamics as an important life skill. Mr. Waters and Dr. Forrester conversed about the importance of integrating these ideas into a K-12 environment. Mr. Waters became interested in the potential of investing in K-12 environments to foster learning about complex, dynamic systems.
1987: Systems Thinking Implemented in Tucson School District
Gordon Brown, a community member who was a retired Dean of Engineering from MIT, walked into the District Superintendent's office of Catalina Foothills School District (CFSD) in Tucson, Arizona. Encouraged by Dr. Jay Forrester, Dr. Brown was convinced that systems thinking and system dynamics could enhance the way K-12 students and their teachers engaged in learning. The superintendent and Orange Grove Middle School principal, Mary Scheetz, came to the same conclusion and facilitated the use of simulations and systems thinking tools by students. A buzz began to circulate around the district and the systems work in classrooms grew.
1989: Waters Foundation, Systems Thinking in Education is Born
Jim Waters learned about the systems work in Tucson. He and his wife, Faith, a former teacher, visited CFSD in Tucson, Arizona to see the work firsthand. They joined teachers in both team meetings and staff meetings and engaged with students in classrooms.
Mr. and Mrs. Waters decided to get involved and bring their vision of implementing systems thinking in schools to fruition. The Waters Foundation launched its Systems Thinking and Dynamic Modeling Partnerships in 1989. The first Waters Foundation grant had two goals: to build teachers' capacity for enhancing student thinking and to provide the staff with tools to improve the school's organization and culture.
1991-95: Scaling-Up: Waters Foundation Systems Thinking Work Spreads Across the Country
What started as one site in Tucson grew to 14 sites throughout the U.S. The Waters Foundation provided funding to these sites within a wide variety of geographic and educational settings (e.g. rural, urban, suburban, and public, private, charter).
2000: Continuing Growth through Collaborative-Action Research
During the summer of 2000, approximately 50 people representing all 14 sites travelled to Ann Arbor, Michigan for three days of action research training. During this meeting, the group established the expectation that each site would train and support teachers conducting action research around a question of significance and interest that focused on the impact of systems thinking integration.
Five years of collaborative-action research were conducted at each research, development, and dissemination site and each summer national gatherings were held to report findings, network, collaborate and provide opportunities for deeper learning.
2003: The Launch of Capacity Building Workshops
Level 1 and Level 2 systems thinking workshops were developed to build the capacity of educators to begin independently implementing systems thinking concepts, habits, and tools within their work with students and/or staff.
2004-07: The Establishment of Regional Project Centers
The 14 sites were consolidated into five project centers responsible for professional development and outreach in their local areas.
- Catalina Foothills, Tucson, AZ
- Greater Tucson, AZ
- Cedar Rapids, IA
- Brunswick, GA
- Portland, OR
After a few years, centers consolidated at three main geographical locations: Tucson, AZ; Portland, OR; and St. Louis, MO.
2006: Making Learning Accessible Through WebED
Realizing that many educators might not have available resources to attend in-person workshops, the Waters Foundation began creating free, online learning modules (the content of which is similar to what is found in the capacity-building workshops).
2009-Present: Taking Our Work on the Road! Regional and National Systems Thinking Events
St. Louis became the first location to host a Waters Foundation Systems Thinking Institute, a capacity-building structure that brings together experienced practitioners and those new to the work from the region. In 2011, The Waters Foundation also helped to launch Camp Snowball, a multi-faceted learning event that included a number of sessions highlighting systems thinking. The event was again hosted in Tucson in 2012. Multiple partners from throughout the United States collaborated to plan the event.
The Waters Foundation has also hosted multi-day Institutes in Milwaukee (2017 & 2018), Tucson (2017) and Indianapolis (2019), with plans to host in other cities in the future. These Institutes have welcomed participants from around the world.
2011-Present: Setting the Stage for Lasting Change
Based on experience, the Waters Foundation created a plan to assist schools and districts interested in adopting and integrating systems thinking into classroom instruction and organizational learning. The plan includes workshop opportunities and follow-up coaching for a minimum of three years, culminating in the local educators' capacity to provide future systems thinking workshops and coaching themselves. This is called the "facilitators in training" model.
2016-Present: Delivering Ongoing Benefits Worldwide
Schools (PK-20) and organizations across the U.S. and throughout the world are actively pursuing advantages of integrating systems thinking in classrooms, businesses and communities. The Waters Foundation Leadership Team and network has continued to grow and evolve. Take a look at the Leadership Team and Our Network pages on our website.
2019 and Beyond: The Waters Center for Systems Thinking
What began as a special project of the Waters Foundation over 30 years ago has grown to become its own entity: the Waters Center for Systems Thinking. We are a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization delivering benefits through systems thinking to schools, districts, organizations and communities around the world.
We have a leadership headquarters in Tucson, AZ and an operations headquarters in Pittsburgh, PA. We are committed to providing the tools necessary to make positive, lasting change to the many systems and teams that we have the pleasure of working with.
Jim Waters continues to be involved in our work, providing ongoing guidance and support, while also serving on our board.