Tuesday, June 6, 2006

Letter to my favorite middle school science teacher, Mr. Speer

Mr. Speer,

I'm not sure if you remember me, but you were my 8th grade science teacher at Peter Kiewit Middle School. I think that was the 1999-2000 school year. Anyway, you were probably one of the most influential teachers I've ever had, and I hadn't talked to you in a while. So, I checked to see if you were still teaching (that Google thing sure comes in handy), and found your e-mail address at Beadle Middle School.

I am 20 years old and currently finishing up my sophomore year of college. I have spent this semester in Budapest, Hungary as an exchange student at Budapesti Muszaki Egyetem (Budapest University of Technology and Economics, in English). It has been the experience of a lifetime. In the 5 short months that I have been here, I have visited all 5 countries that my ancestors hail from, in addition to about 8 other countries that were either close by or seemed interesting enough to visit. I had never even been to Mexico before February, so this has been a very novel thing for me. It was also kind of crazy for me to come over here and find out that my roommate was a guy from NE Wesleyan who graduated from Millard South! Small world.

My family moved from Omaha to a suburb of Louisville, KY following my Eighth Grade year. The area we live in reminds me a lot of Omaha. There was even a corn field across the street from us, but it has since succumbed to residential development. I attended South Oldham high school, played baseball and football for 4 years. I graduated 3rd in a class of 273, and maintained a 4.0 GPA. I think I decided somewhere between my 7th and 8th grade years that I wanted to study engineering. I remember doing one of those career aptitude tests, and I was quite pleased to see that "Aerospace Engineer" came up for me. I think your science class had a lot to do with it also. I remember you bringing us news clips of technological developments, introducing us to neodymium magnets, and of course our activities related to NASA. Throughout high school, I took courses that would prepare me for a future as an engineer. AP Calculus, Statistics, Physics, etc. I tried to counterbalance that overly technical load with more subjective courses and activities, also.

This brings me right up to college. I started off looking at schools like Notre Dame (too elitist), Purdue (too expensive out of state), Illinois (too gigantic), and Missouri-Rolla (too engineer-y). The university I chose was initially my fall back school, but I would consider it anything but that now. The two years I have spent at the University of Kentucky have been two of the best years of my life. I have had a chance to explore the natural beauty of the state of Kentucky. It's amazing how beautiful the landscape is in the Eastern part of the state is; too bad they got stuck with the Appalachia/Redneck stereotype. Looks just like Transylvania in Romania. I have made lots of new friends, and gotten to try many new things. I met my girlfriend at the Catholic Church (Newman Center) on our campus. She led the "Outdoor Adventures", and would take groups of students to hike and camp at KY's state parks. She had actually spent a semester in Linz, Austria before I came over here. We both come home in a couple weeks. Mechanical Engineering has so far proved to be everything that I hoped it would be. I joined the Solar Car team at the end of my Freshman year. We traveled to Austin, TX last summer to compete in the North American Solar Challenge. This cross-country "rayce" departs from Austin and goes 2500 miles to Calgary, Alberta, Canada. We passed all the inspections, and were on our final 1/3 of the day of qualifying laps when the "Gato del Sol II" decided to blow 4 capacitors and end our hopes of racing. We were kind of heart-broken, and are still trying to repair and improve the car.

This fall semester, I will be working at General Electric's Consumer and Industrial division in Louisville. Another great thing about studying engineering is the chance to do co-ops/internships. I get to do real engineering work, without yet having a degree, I get college credit for it, and they even pay me! I'm pretty excited about this opportunity.

So, that about sums up my life since I last saw you. I have actually had this letter as a point in my to-do list for about the past 3 years. When I got a Palm Pilot, it was one of the first things I wrote down. I just wanted to let you know how much I appreciated what you did for me. You were given the task shoving a necessary set of skills down the throats of a group of 8th graders. You, however, saw that there was a much better opportunity at hand. That was about the last time in our lives that we would be openly receptive to the influences of our teachers, and you seized the chance. You instilled me with a curiosity that still steers my thoughts today. You showed us that the world was far too interesting to ever be bored. But most of all, you helped us transition toward adulthood by treating us like young adults, not just a bunch of kids. You showed us that we could be anyone we wanted to, if we worked for it. The world needs more people like you.

All of this has so far been about me, now I'd like to find out how you've been for the past 6 years. I see that you are no longer at Kiewit, so how is Beadle? How is your family doing? Did I read correctly that you still take students to science competitions? How about the EarthKam?

It would be great to hear back from you, and thank you again for all you do.

Nick Such
University of Kentucky
Mechanical Engineering