Strike a pose: Local man profiled in Vogue

A seasoned camera crew and group of reporters swarmed the home of Federal Way residents Tom and Karen Vander Ark earlier this month.

Tom Vander Ark will be featured in the October issue of Vogue for Men as a man who is making a difference. News of this prestigious recognition was immediately followed by an interview and photo shoot inside the Vander Arks home near Redondo.

"The whole process was a bit embarrassing, but if it will help advance what he's doing, it's probably worth it," said Karen Vander Ark.

Tom Vander Ark is very humble in spite of his plethora of achievements in both education and innovation.

Vander Ark served as the Superintendent of the Federal Way School District from 1994-1999. During his time serving the school district, he was recognized for narrowing achievement gaps and reducing administrative costs.

"Education has always been important to Tom," Karen said.

This passion for children's learning has prompted Vander Ark, a prolific writer and speaker, to publish more than 100 articles and give thousands of presentations on the subject of education.

In December 2006, Newsweek readers voted Vander Ark the most influential baby boomer in education.

In 1999, Vander Ark was recruited by the CEO of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to begin the education division of the foundation. Although the program started out with a goal of expanding library availability and encouraging learning, Vander Ark helped ramp it up to being a nationwide program.

Under his supervision, the foundation awarded $3.5 billion in scholarship and grant money in the pursuit of a better educational environment for children. He also used this position as an avenue to provide mentoring and community service to help at-risk children and reduce drop-out rates.

In early 2007, Vander Ark left his position with the Gates Foundation.

"Tom had a belief that when you are in an organization for a long time, you begin to lose focus," Karen said. "Tom's always been one who likes new challenges, and was ready for a new one."

Vander Ark currently serves as the president of XPrize, a nonprofit group that awards prizes in the fields of automotive, space, health and educational innovation.

As president, he is responsible for the administrative planning and working with inventors from around the country. The organization supports such innovation as cancer research, eco-friendly automobiles, genomic mapping and space travel.

"XPrize is an opportunity for Tom to not only work in improving education, but to work in many areas that will enhance people's life on this earth," Karen said.

Vander Ark also recently accepted the position of board member on the National Communities in Schools Foundation. Vander Ark helped to recruit Shaun Alexander as the spokesperson for their organization, hoping to increase publicity and awareness for the organization.

"Tom's whole life has been about serving others and has never really been about him," Karen said. "His primary concern is helping children succeed no matter where they go, and making sure that adults play active roles in their communities."

Contact Lyndsey Wilson: or (253) 925-5565

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