How did you get interested in teaching?
I was working at an engineering company and was very happy with my work. I liked the challenge, coming in and solving problems every day. One day an email came into the company soliciting volunteers to join a mentoring program for the middle school just down the road. I thought, ‘Oh, that might be kind of fun working with younger kids,’ so I signed up.
When we went to the school and met these kids for the first time, I realized I was called to work with younger people, and although I loved what I did in engineering, I kept feeling this pull to work with the kids because I realized I could teach what I was doing in real life, and that eventually got me into the teaching world.
What kind of engineering job did you have when you started mentoring?
At that point, I was working on theme park rides, so we were designing rollercoasters and big robotic dinosaurs for Universal Studios. Every Wednesday, these students were dropped off at our company, and all the mentors would bring them up to the office.
The idea of the program was to give these kids, who were at-risk students, a chance to talk about their everyday life with an adult, but not necessarily an authority figure, so we could share our life experiences with them. As it turned out, these kids were really interested in what I was doing. They came into work and wanted to see everything on the computer. They wanted to go down to the assembly area and see the half-built animatronic dinosaurs. And I saw that there was a real spark with what I was doing with these groups of kids. And I thought, ‘Boy, if I could bring this into a classroom, that would be really fun,’ and that’s what I’m trying to do now at Stevenson.
Can you tell us a little more about these dinosaurs?
Yeah, we had designed and built several of the animatronic dinosaurs for the Jurassic Park ride at Universal Studios. We had built a giant T-Rex, but our warehouse was full at the time, so they plopped the head of this giant T-Rex in the cubicle right next to me. Sometimes I would be working, and in the corner of my eye I would see this giant dinosaur looking right down at me.
How did you choose Stevenson?
There were a variety of factors. Obviously, one was just to be on the West Coast. My family and I are from the Midwest, in Minnesota, and we spent four years on the East Coast, and we just thought what an amazing adventure it would be. I’ve got two children in the Middle Division now: Jameson is in Grade 7, and Lila is in Grade 5. When we came out for our interview, the whole family was here, and my kids just fell in love with this place right away. They were all in from the beginning, so it was an easy sell for our family.
It was also a unique opportunity to be part of the new Math, Science, and Engineering Center build, and to work with Chris Madill [Stevenson’s Director of Facilities and Capital Projects] and the architects and all the people who are planning it. It’s an opportunity that teachers don’t get very often—to help design and build a space like this. I have worked on large engineering projects, but I’ve never worked on a building before. Some of my experience translates, but some of it is really new to me, so it’s been a very fun and interesting experience. Luckily for me, Mr. Madill and the architects have just been great to work with, and they have done a terrific job of bringing me up to speed and introducing me to some new things I’ve never done before.
What is your vision for Engineering and Applied Science at Stevenson?
I want to help students who are interested in engineering and technology here at Stevenson get prepared not only for what’s next at the college level, but also for what’s beyond that. When I’ve designed engineering programs at previous schools, I’ve designed them with three main goals in mind.
The first goal is to help students learn how to build real hands-on projects: how things work, how to design something, and how to put it together. It typically won’t work the first time, so how do you change it in order to do what you want it to do? That hands-on experience is very important for students going into this field.
The second goal is to help prepare them for college. These majors are difficult, so when I can add higher-level academics in their projects, they have more buy-in. For example, when they see how thermodynamics or fluid dynamics can be used on a real engineering project when they’re sitting through these tough classes, they will know why they’re doing it, so it’s a very important goal to give them a head start on what they will face in college.
The third goal is to introduce them to what’s going on in the real engineering world. One of my responsibilities is to open up opportunities for students on the Monterey Peninsula and beyond to meet real engineers, see projects they’re working on, and potentially partnering with them so students can work on some projects themselves and get an insider’s view of what’s going on in the real world.
Do you have any passions outside the classroom?
I really love cars. When I first moved to the Twin Cities after college and was working my first engineering job, I moved in with a couple guys, and one of them worked in a Ferrari garage. Every weekend he had to work because they were swamped, and I would volunteer my time there because it was so exciting to work on them. Later on, I had a friend who introduced me to older cars from the ‘30s, ‘40s and ‘50s. I started doing restoration and working on old-type vehicles, so I’ve got a little background in that, too.
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