Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Value of Technology Education

I graduated from high school over 35yrs ago. All these years I never came back to visit. Granted, there were logistical reasons, such as living over 7000 miles away for the past 20yrs. But let’s face it, there were emotional reasons as well. High school wasn’t much fun for me. It involved long days, tons of homework, strict discipline, and hardly any social life. Today I returned to my high school to give a talk about: “The value of technology education”.  It was an interesting experience, to say the least, kind of "back to the Future".

Ort Yad Singalovski - my old high school
The name of my high school is “Ort Yad Singalovski”. At the time, it combined vocational studies with general education. I graduated from its “Electronics” department, taking classes in electrical engineering and principles of electronics, along with classes in history, literature, chemistry, physics, etc.  The goal was to obtain a high school diploma, along with technical skills that would allow me to find a job as an electronic technician.

There’s no free lunch. Obtaining a high school diploma and learning a vocation required a lot of extra work. School days started at 8am, with an occasional 7am class, and usually ended around 4pm. We received a ton of homework which took hours to finish each night. Since my house was 15 miles away, I had an extra 45min bus ride each way. The vast majority of the students at Ort Singalovski were males, with just a couple of girls around. Add the long hours and the physical distance and you get virtually no high school social life.

After graduating from Ort Singalovski, I proceeded to obtain a bachelor degree in Electrical Engineering, served in the army as a ‘technical officer’ and eventually embarked on a successful hi-tech career.  I’ve known many good engineers who never went to a vocational school. Their high school studies were much easier and afforded them active social life. For years I wondered whether the long hours and hard work at Ort Singalovski were really worth it.

And here I was: back at Ort Singalovski, facing 10th and 11th grade students, and talking to them about the value of technology education.

It started when I volunteered to assist with the “Global Entrepreneur Week”. One of their activities is named “back to your roots”:  an entrepreneur visits his old school and talks to students about his/her personal journey.   The goal is to inspire students to pursue a technological path and eventually become entrepreneurs themselves. “Sounds like fun” I thought and put my name down for a talk.

A couple of weeks later, a vice principle from Ort Singalovski contacted me. She explained they could use help with inspiring students to “stick to it” and finish the arduous program. She mentioned that many of the students question the value of all the extra work and long hours. I found the opportunity intriguing and said “yes, of course”.  We set a date and a time for me to present and discuss my “story” with the students.

Shortly before the designated date I started thinking about the message I want to deliver. “Oh no” I thought. “What do I tell these poor kids?” My first instinct was to tell them “Run for the exits! Get a life and enjoy it while you can!” It took several hours of PowerPoint craftsmanship before the “story” came together.

There are many “what ifs” I could have dwelled on. “What if I went to a regular high school, close to home with lots of girls in it?” “What if I didn’t get an engineering degree before my military service, and served in a combat unit instead?” But you only live once, and the choices you have made shape your path. So rather than talk about what I could/should have done, I decided to focus on the choices I made.

Indeed, Ort Singalovski was hard work. But I learned how to deal with challenges and acquired some hands-on skills (like electronic welding…) that served me later in life. Graduating from the electronic department set me on a course to become an Electronics engineer, which in turn helped me embark on a hi-tech career.

It is in your moments of decision that your destiny is shaped”, said Tony Robbins, an inspirational speaker. Good, bad or otherwise, attending Ort Singalovski was my own choice. That choice put me on a path that when I look back - I do not regret.

I told the students about my personal journey and the role that technology education played in it. “We live in a world of technology”, I said at the end of my talk. “Technical education is accessible and opportunities are open to all – regardless of race, gender or social background. If you commit yourself to technology education, you might be standing here 30 years from now and tell other kids what a great journey you had.”

I don’t know what impact my talk had on these kids. Judging from the interaction, they seemed to have enjoyed the talk. I hope some of them do end up giving a similar talk 30 years from now...

1 comment:

  1. Nice public service Baruch, I am sure they will remember your talk. I still remember some of the people that came to talk to us. Do you remember Lutz, the ex spy?