In 2018, we welcomed Dr. Barbara Illowsky as the first OER & Innovation Fellow of the Michelson 20MM Foundation. Over the past two years, the open educational resources pioneer helped shape our textbook affordability strategy and priorities. Dr. Illowsky’s fellowship concludes this month and we’re reminded how fortunate we are to have had her leadership and expertise in advancing our mission of making college more affordable and accessible. 

“Having Dr. Illowsky join our team has been an immeasurable joy and we’re proud of the work we’ve accomplished together,” says Gary K. Michelson, M.D., Founder of Michelson 20MM. “Although her fellowship is ending, the work to accelerate the adoption of OER will continue.”

Dr. Illowsky was a natural choice for the role of our first fellow since we’ve been collaborating on projects for the better part of a decade. As a (now retired) mathematics and statistics professor at De Anza College, Dr. Illowsky co-authored Collaborative Statistics (later renamed Introductory Statistics), the first free and open textbook published by OpenStax College. She would go on to publish Introductory Business Statistics and serve as Chief Academic Affairs Officer for the California Community Colleges Online Education Initiative. Dr.Illowsky has been a prominent voice in the OER movement since its early days, and an invaluable thought partner in helping us craft and execute our OER initiatives.

During her fellowship, Dr. Illowsky expanded our network in the open education field and has been a trusted advisor around our grantmaking and impact investing work. She was instrumental in developing our partnership with the Institute for the Study of Knowledge Management in Education (ISKME) to launch the California Community College (CCC) Community Hub on OER Commons – a network for collaboration within the California community college system. The Hub is a place for academics to work independently, collaborate with group members before publishing, and import published open content into a project. Thanks to Dr. Illowsky’s efforts, the Hub has enlisted and supported over 300 members over the last year.

Dr. Illowsky also led efforts in creating an OER Student Advocate Toolkit to empower and support the advocacy efforts of students across California State University (CSU) and California Community College (CCC) campuses and beyond. The toolkit facilitates student involvement in the Open Education movement, and publicizes the cost savings students can achieve using free, open textbooks and instructional materials. OER student leaders from the CSU and CCC systems were recruited and selected as interns to lead the design and development of the toolkit, providing eight of our most promising student leaders with hands-on experience. Students also presented at various conferences alongside Dr. Illowsky and other mentors, reaching over 200 practitioners at the CSU/CCC Zero-Textbook Cost Summit, CCC Online Teaching Conference, and 2019 Open Education Conference, a leading annual conference in the OER field with over 850 attendees.

Dr. Illowsky also participated in over a dozen conferences throughout California and the country, provided technical assistance to numerous community colleges statewide, and presented to more than 2,000 faculty members on OER.  Her efforts in advancing textbook affordability measures have been instrumental in growing OER awareness and advancing policy solutions, including a Zero-Textbook-Cost Degrees appropriation in California’s 2020 fiscal budget, which was unfortunately cut at the 11th hour due to COVID-19’s impact on the state’s finances.

“I’m exceptionally proud of all we accomplished during my two years as the Michelson 20MM Foundation’s first OER & Innovation Fellow,” says Dr. Barbara Illowsky. “Our team greatly advanced OER awareness, adoption, training, and promotion in policy at all the college, state, national, and foundation levels. Thank you to Dr. Michelson and your terrific team for this honor and opportunity to make a difference.”

We thank Dr. Illowsky for her unwavering commitment  to helping students achieve their postsecondary educational goals, she is an exemplary leader in the OER field and it has been our great privilege to work with her.