For most people, middle school didnâ''t exactly represent the best years of their lives. But for the folks at RE-SEED, middle school is prime time to capture a childâ''s interest in engineering and science. All it takes is a few good engineers and scientists willing to get back into an eighth grade classroom.
RE-SEED, or Retirees Enhancing Science Education through Experiments and Demonstrations, began with a program working out of Northeastern University in 1991, expanding to include engineers and scientists in Decatur, Alabama; Palo Alto California; Denver, Colorado; Montgomery County, Maryland; Biddeford, Maine; Charlottesville and Fairfax County, Virginia; and Greenville, South Carolina. Itâ''s supported by the IEEE Life Member Foundation, and a handful of corporate and nonprofit sponsors. Silicon Valley engineers have been participating for about a decade.
IEEE Member Steve Fields, a former engineer with National Semiconductor who is now vice president of business development for Vasucorp, brought his engineering skills last year to Jordan Middle School in Palo Alto. At first, he says, he simply helped solve problems for the teacher; he changed batteries in timers, he ran to the store for replacement flints for propane lighters, he passed out papers. Even passing out papers, he says, felt good, because it was an opportunity to contribute. Once the students felt comfortable enough with him to ask questions, he could do more.
â''We were studying the periodic chart,â'' he says. â''When we got to silicon, a kid asked why this is called Silicon Valley, given thereâ''s no sand here. I told them about when I came here in the 60s, and how the semiconductor industry grew, and how a chip is made. I drew a transistor on the board, and talked about chemistry and etching. A regular teacher couldnâ''t do that.â''
When the students got to talking about uranium, Fields taught another brief lesson. â''This was about the time that the Russian spy was poisoned, we talked about that. And a kid asked how you create an atomic bomb, I told them enough so they could understand how an atomic bomb works.â''
Fields focused, in particular, on encouraging the girls to jump in. â''A couple of the girls were interested, you could see it in their faces, but were afraid to ask questions. I would go over to one of them and say, â''Whatâ''s on your mind?â'' And sheâ''d ask a question, and then Iâ''d see the sparkle in her eye when she really got it.â''
Being a RESEED volunteer requires making a weekly commitment for the school year and attending a training class. Silicon Valley RESEED volunteers are scheduled to be trained in late November. Theyâ''ve got 31 recruits so far for the 2007-2008 school year but are looking for more. It is not too late to go back to middle school.
For those interested in working with the program, contact Peter K. Mueller, RE-SEED coordinator, pklausmATmac.com