On the road, I approach virtually every meeting, handshake or hello with
a thought in the back of my mind: We're doing great things out here, but is it
enough? Will the enormous contributions Baby Boom engineers have made to
humanity carry forward to new generations?
To paraphrase Don Morgan, "heck yes!"
Who's Don Morgan? Don emailed me our first week back on the
road. He knew we were headed up Interstate 75 toward Huntsville from Florida.
He said we needed to take exit 16 and head a half-hour west into Georgia farmland,
pass a couple of local landmarks and we'd find him. Why would we do this?
Because his students are making their own biodiesel, solar
panels and robotic vehicles. Well the good news, I replied, is you're right.
The bad news is we're coming through there on a Saturday. Would he be willing
to come out on Saturday and show us around with some students?
"Heck yes," was the response.
Brooks County High School sits on a little knoll a couple of
miles outside of a small town called Quitman, Ga. Made of new brick and steel, it looks like it could hold
its own again the worst twister. Outside, on a squinting-bright blue day, it's
so quiet the loudest noise are the birds.
Six-hundred students attend Brooks County High from a
community staggered by the loss of textile manufacturing in recent years. Don's
wife, a retired teacher herself, says, with tears in her eyes, that a small
percentage of graduates are always OK, but for many, there's hardship,
unemployment and drugs. Anti-meth billboards around town reinforce that tale.
Georgia has adopted the Pathways educational system in
which students as freshman pick a pathway toward a career, be it technology,
agriculture, business, medicine, or other fields.
Don runs the tech and engineering program. And that's a good
thing for the kids. They are indeed making biodiesel with an eye toward fueling
the local school buses. They're competed in robotics contests. They're making
solar arrays. It's a small school, and often Don has to charm distant suppliers
into getting free or discounted gear to use with his classes. He usually
I'll tell you more about Don on the DFI site in the next few
weeks, but the point here is among technical educators and engineers we've seen
since July, there's a needle-bending passion about not just the work they do
but the extra-curricular activities.
A little night music
At a nighttime meeting in a warehouse in Huntsville, we hung
out with Makers Local 256,
a grassroots group in a 4,000-square-foot space packed with tools, work benches, electronics--a playground for the maker set. They were hosting an open house for the public, and three young boys
brought by their dads stood on stools watching one member show off their laser
etcher, the smell wafting into the chilly air as if a campfire were crackling
nearby. They were bug-eyed, as if a man in tuxedo and a top hat was
pulling dollar bills out of a lemon.
More on that night later as well. But the members who showed
up came from far and wide, probably after grueling days at work. They couldn't
look happier, more energized.
Increasingly we understand the need to hook kids with the
sensory, to demonstrate the notion that with your own hands and brains you can make something.
But it doesn't work without the Don Morgans and Makers Local
256 of the world. Rebuilding America, doesn't work without it. It doesn't work without the passion.