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  • William L. Weaver

Hi. My Name is Bill.

Updated: Dec 5, 2019

It's Nice to Meet You.

Lots of folks my age have a similar story.


I was 3 years old and sitting on the floor of my family's living room in front of our console, black & white television. It is among my earliest memories. Humans first walked on the Moon.


Image by skeeze from Pixabay

My Grandfather was a member of the Business Faculty at our hometown college in rural, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, but we were not an academic family. I had much older second cousins that went on to be Medical Doctors and Engineers, but I did not speak with them about their careers. My father taught me how to operate a Printing Press at age 4 in the business he started in his parents' garage, but I did not realize that I was learning important first-hand lessons about electronics, mechanics, chemistry, and automation.


Soon afterward our growing family moved to a smaller, neighboring town, into a house with a detached workshop that would support the new business and its growing collection of used printing equipment. I walked to our small elementary school and started my formal education. Mostly the basics... Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic. Our school had vigorous music and theater programs but science was not a strong part of the curriculum.


Thankfully, our little elementary school had been the former high school of our district and still had a well stocked library - including much of the high school-level books. I read collections on Astronomy, our Solar System, Black Holes, and Theoretical Time Travel. Simultaneously, a member of our Church had donated their collection of Tom Swift books, a series of young adult science fiction and adventure tales that emphasized science, invention, and technology. [1]


On television, The Six Million Dollar Man had started in 1973 and episodes of the original series of Star Trek were played nightly in rerun. Next to the real world experiences of little league baseball, swimming at the community pool in the next town over, family dinners, sleep-away church camp, and playing with friends until sundown afforded by a small town with no traffic lights, was a growing fascination and excitement for the high-technology future that was right around the corner. My books and TV shows allowed me to be a part of that future but I had no sense of how I could join the effort in real life.


And then 1977 happened.


I was 11 and vacationing with my family in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. We learned of a new movie that was all the rage from the T-shirt shops on the boardwalk, an early version of what evolved into memes on social media. We saw STAR WARS at the Movies at Midway Theater in Rehoboth Beach and my two younger sisters and I were able to pick out our favorite scene or characters from the film to have ironed onto new T-shirts. Outer Space was now something that everyone talked about in casual conversation. Over that summer, I did something I had never done before - been allowed to watch the same movie twice in the theater. That was an expensive proposal for a young family a five being fed by an even younger family business. In addition to watching Close Encounters of the Third Kind, by the end of 1977 I had seen STAR WARS in the theater a total of Seven (7) times.


Junior High School added a 20-minute bus ride but still centered on Chorus, Orchestra, Theater, and now Marching Band. It also introduced the world to the concept of nuclear disasters as our school was closed for a bit due to an accident at the Three Mile Island Nuclear Generating Station, a few miles away. Science classes were still not "a thing" but popular media was ushering in a high-technology future that included VCRs, microwaves, pagers, car-phones, affordable color TVs, cable, and HBO.


My father's print shop moved to a storefront near our capital city of Harrisburg, making the additional 15-minute commute along small roads to our small town a nuisance, especially during the snowy, unplowed winter months. We moved back to our "hometown" and I began 9th grade in a new district. Electronic records where not yet a thing in the late 1970s so I signed up for classes by filling out a form before any school records were transferred. In Junior High, there was no such thing as academic shaming and I proudly completed school with my friends in section 7B and 8B. And yes, you guessed it, the smart kids were assigned to section "A" and we had sections "C" and "D" for those students who performed well with lots of academic support.


In 9th grade, my high school taught "Earth Science". The water cycle, the weather, types of clouds, tectonic plates, soil types, the sedimentary formation of coal and petroleum. It was a solid introduction to Systems. I wasn't particularly excited about the subject, but studying our planet was at least studying a planet. It satisfied my interest in astronauts and outer space. I had studied pre-algebra [2] in grade 8B so I was signed up to take Algebra I. Algebra was a unique animal. It was taught as an isolated collection of specific rules with few real-world applications. I struggled mightily and earned a final grade a "D", passing but barely. My parents had both taken a business curriculum in the same school district, 20-years earlier, and were unable to help with Algebra problems at home. The Internet was two decades in the future, so the only course of action was to plug away. I still considered a possible career in the sciences as a hobby. I was a giant fanboy of space exploration with my only connection to the subject through books and movies. My high school advisor strongly suggested a career in business. I agreed and planned to work for my father's printshop after graduation. But thankfully, I was permitted to try Algebra II.


In 10th grade we studied the Biological Sciences, including genetics, cellular reproduction, classification, various kingdoms, and cell structure. It wasn't hands-on experimental, but all of the different forms of life met by the crew of the Enterprise and featured in Star Wars, let me know that learning about different life forms was important. Algebra II consisted of more real-world applications and I was able to earn a solid "C".


11th grade introduced Business Typing (where I learned to touch-type on a manual typewriter) and Accounting I. In additional to managing debit and credit entries into the General Ledger, Accounting also included learning how to write business computer programs in COBOL [3] and to run them on the local college's business mainframe after translating the code into a stack of punch cards for the computer to read. I also took Chemistry. Our school had a plus/minus grading system, but the scale did not contain a mark of A+. To recognize those students who performed at a level of 97 % and above, the system recorded the grade of "H" for "Honors". Chemistry was my first experiment-based class. After years of adjusting the amount of water flowing to an offset printing press to control the hydrophobic non-polar ink that adhered to the printing plate, precisely weighing out quantities of dyed ink to produce a desired color, and using oil, paperclips, and rubber bands to make parts slip, stick, and return, Chemistry just made sense. My homework, quizzes, exams, laboratory reports, and marking period grades all came back "H". My laboratory partner only wanted to mix all of the components to make things smoke, leaving me alone to perform each experiment with high accuracy and precision, as long as I included his name on the report. This year also introduced Geometry - a visual subject of patterns that had self evident applications. My math grade rose to a "B" [and that is where it stayed through Trigonometry in 12th grade and Calculus I, II, III, and Differential Equations in college].


The summer between my Junior and Senior years in high school brought a decision. I was now officially on the payroll at my father's printing company, working summers and holidays, and had apprenticed in the printing, finishing, darkroom, typesetting, and accounting departments. My surprise performance in Chemistry had let me know that a career as a scientist was possible. I also had a chance to take Physics in my senior year, but it was offered at the same time as Accounting II. Students who took the Business track were not expected to take classes in the Academic track.


And then came the ask.


I remember riding in the passenger seat of our family work van, returning back from a long day of printing with my father when I launched the topic. "I think I would like to go to college to become a scientist instead of working at the family printing business."


Being a nieve 17-year old, I didn't appreciate that my Grandparents had met in college, my Grandfather had his MBA, and was well into a 28-year career at our local College. He had also served as Superintendent of our local High School. My father's older and younger brother had graduated from college, becoming an accountant and a teacher. I thought college would be something out of the ordinary.


But instead, to his credit, my Father said that he would support my pursuit 100% and that I should take advantage of the courses offered in High School.


In 12th grade, I took Physics and did as well in it as I had done in Chemistry. In addition to Trigonometry, I took an elective in "Computer Math" that taught FORTRAN [4] and BASIC [5] and afforded the opportunity to take part in national high school computing competitions. By graduation, I had planned to attend college and major in Chemistry with an emphasis toward space applications.


I may reflect on my four (4) years of undergraduate and four (4) years of graduate studies in a future post. But for lessons learned here, my introduction to a career in STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics) was directly buoyed by real events and science fiction. The Apollo Program and later the Space Shuttle Program in high school, Star Trek, Star Wars, and Tom Swift are what ignited an excitement and interest in STEAM.


What I hope to accomplish with Rehobots is to create a place where learning, excitement, and real-world applications in STEAM subjects are combined in a fun, integrated atmosphere that purposefully promotes the possibility of realizing this excitement through careers in STEAM.


Our popular culture does a great job of promoting Doctors, Lawers, Athletes, Musicians, and Influencers. It does a poor job of promoting Scientists, Technologists, Engineers, Artists, and Mathematicians. Rehobots aims to fill that void.


What influenced you to choose your current career? I would love to learn more in the comments below...

References


[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tom_Swift

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pre-algebra

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/COBOL

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fortran

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BASIC




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