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The Rocket Scientist Next Door

8 May

A few weeks ago, I interviewed Charlie Bradshaw, a man who lives down the street. This is what I wrote about him.

Charlie Bradshaw walked into his professor’s office without knowing what to expect. He had enlisted in the Navy and entered the V-12 program for training, which was why he was taking Calculus at Sewanee and was facing the uncertainty of this meeting.

The professor began by going over the details of Charlie’s C average but quickly put his grade book aside. This was not a meeting of condemnation. Rather, it was a meeting of encouragement. He saw Charlie’s talent and encouraged him to think about Mathematics as a career. About this meeting, Charlie said, “I didn’t know how important it was to concentrate on what you’re good at.” With that, a lifelong love of Mathematics began.

Charlie finished the V-12 program and was shipped to the Pacific Theater of World War II to prepare for the invasion of Japan. He saw action at Okinawa but, like thousands of America’s enlisted men, was spared the dangers of invasion when President Harry Truman ordered the use of two atomic bombs. Six weeks later, Charlie found himself walking through Hiroshima, the first city hit with an atomic bomb. When asked what he thought as he took pictures of the carnage, Charlie stated that “we can’t have another war with these weapons.”

After the war, Charlie completed school; joined the faculty at Tennessee Polytechnic Institute; and settled his family in Cookeville. In 1951, a new opportunity arose when he heard about recruiters at a local hotel interviewing people for positions at a new government facility in Huntsville, Alabama. Charlie got a new job but had to delay his departure for two weeks. His wife was about to have a baby. Charlie said, “I always knew I didn’t want to spend a career in teaching, in the classroom, but I loved Cookeville. It had good fishing, and I sort of didn’t want to leave, but it was such a big opportunity.”

That opportunity took Charlie into the world of Wernher von Braun, the German rocket scientist who surrendered to American forces at the end of World War II. While von Braun and his German colleagues built rockets, Charlie’s team calculated their flight times and trajectories with a “slide rule and desk calculator.” Each second of the flight had to be computed, which took two weeks and numerous chalkboards. To complete this job, women were hired. Charlie said:

We eventually hired math aides who were women. They were better at it than men. They were more patient. But, Washington didn’t have a civil service classification for them. We had to get Washington to figure out what to call the job, and they decided on Computers.

In 1953, they launched Redstone, America’s first guided missile, and it followed the path that Charlie’s team had calculated. However, the days of the “slide rule and desk calculator” were coming to an end. The Oak Ridge National Laboratory received the first computer in the South, and Charlie transferred to east Tennessee to oversee its installation. This meant that he was the resident expert on computers – the nonhuman kind.

In 1955, Charlie returned to Huntsville as the Deputy Director of Computation and installed the first computer at that location. By this time, there was an international competition to put something into orbit. Charlie remembered:

We had the capability to put the Redstone in orbit, but Eisenhower didn’t want to use a military missile. That’s when they started Vanguard, and it was a tremendous failure. Vanguard never made it. The Russians beat us. Then 85 days later, we were in orbit. Redstone was ready, and the calculations were all done. We could have beaten them, but we weren’t allowed to.

With a string of successful launches, the Mercury program was established to take people into space. Now, Charlie’s calculations did more than determine the trajectory of a rocket. They determined where to have ships waiting to pick up returning astronauts.

In 1962, the stakes were raised when John F. Kennedy announced the goal of putting a person on the moon. According to Charlie, this had always been von Braun’s goal, but concerns remained. Charlie explained, “We always knew sending people to space would happen, but we still had questions about whether man could survive on the moon.”

At one point, President Kennedy toured the Huntsville facility and met the administrative staff. He was introduced to von Braun and other German scientists. After meeting a line of people with German names, he was introduced to someone named Charlie Bradshaw. The president immediately responded, “How did you get in here?” Charlie remembered, “I thought since he was president I better not laugh, but everyone else did.”

Charlie got in there by being one of the best mathematicians in the nation and stayed through the Apollo 11 mission that put the first men on the moon. Looking back at that event, Charlie could not help but think about the president who set the goal and the tragedy that befell him. In Charlie’s mind, the assassination of President Kennedy inspired the space community to make his dream a reality. Charlie reflected, “John F. Kennedy’s death made it happen.”

In 1970, Charlie left the space program to direct the installation of the first computer at Vanderbilt University and oversee its operation. He immediately had trouble with the faculty. Charlie stated:

Physics got into the nuclear business, and they thought they owned the computers. That was one of the big battles we had. They didn’t think computers ought to be used for other things. But then the divinity school started using it and eventually they let students use them to do their theses. But at one point, the Faculty Senate prohibited computers on the campus from being used for word processing.

Charlie remained at Vanderbilt until his retirement, then he taught classes at Cumberland University. Looking back on his career, Charlie said that sending rockets into space made him more interested in the universe, and that interest led him to become a stronger believer in God. In fact, he stated, “I become more of a believer the more I learn.” Without a doubt, Charlie has learned a great deal.

 

 

 

 

 

The Story of Graduation

6 May

Another academic year has come to an end. Some students have packed up to go home for the summer. Other students have packed up to go on with their lives. They will take their degrees into the world and use the information that they have learned.

Graduation is always a day of excitement and pride. However, it is also a day of sadness because people who have been together for a couple of years leave campus and walk with their families in different directions.

Their lives will also take them in different directions. Some will follow the path of which they planned. Others will take detours along the way. Some of them will stay in contact with their former classmates. Others will disappear from view.

In high school, I had a good friend with whom I used to hang out. Heck, we knew each other before high school. After the high school graduation ceremony, we stood around in our regalia and talked. My mom took a picture of us. That was the last time I ever talked to him or saw him.

That is the story of graduation. It is a time to look to the future. Graduates tell each other that they will stay in contact and talk. Then, they leave campus to go to their family celebration. They busy themselves with getting jobs. Days turn into weeks. Weeks turn into months. Months turn into years. With all of that going on, it is difficult to stay in contact and talk.

Many of them will stay friends forever. Many of them will move on down the road and never look back.

Yes, that is what graduation is all about.

From Hong Kong to Wall Street With Some College in Between

12 Dec

This has been a great weekend in the history of our family. My nephew graduated from the University of Tennessee. I have sat through many graduations, but this was by far the best. The arena was full of people ready to watch their people walk across the stage, and there he was sitting on the front row.

He graduated from the Honors College with a double major in Finance and Chemistry. He did all of that and graduated Magna Cum Laude. That was definitely a first for our family.img_2183

On top of all that, he had some great experiences. During one semester, he studied in Hong Kong and spent a lot of that time traveling around Asia. He went from the temples of Angkor Wat to the casinos of Singapore. He also spent a summer as an intern on Wall Street. As if that was not enough, he worked as an intern at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, where his name was included in an article published in a prestigious scientific journal.

I could not be more proud of him if he was my own. He had a great college experience, and I know it is just the first step toward great things to come.

From Dancing With the Stars to Highlander

28 Sep

A glass of Pappy Van Winkle is sitting by my computer. Dancing With the Stars is on in the background. Is it any wonder that politics has taken the form of a reality show? We have been watching reality shows for over two decades.

The breakfast room table is covered with things that have nothing to do with breakfast. There are two laptops, including the one that I am using. There is a bottle of Ranch dressing. I guess that could be used for breakfast if you are into that sort of thing.

My stepdaughter and I went to a bookstore this afternoon. I always find comfort in a bookstore even when I cannot find a book. We have to drive to the next town to go to a bookstore. That is one of the things I want to fix about our town. Every town should have a good bookstore even at a time when bookstores are being killed off by this Internet thing that you are reading.

I am trying to think of what cannot be bought on the Internet. Is there anything that cannot be bought on the Internet?campus

This year, Cumberland University, where I teach, reached record enrollment. We are in our 175th year and have a rich history. However, 2016 may be the best year ever. That is pretty good when your alumni includes Cordell Hull, Father of the United Nations, and two Justices of the United States Supreme Court. It is a good reason to celebrate with a glass of Pappy Van Winkle.

Some people think you can buy a college education on the Internet. It is a fad that has made a lot of money for a lot of universities. However, it is a plan that I believe is not educationally effective. I could be old-fashioned, but I am a History teacher. There are times when old-fashioned is the better way.

I guess that is all I have to say. I will finish with a quote from the Kurgan in Highlander.

“It’s better to burn out than to fade away.”

 

 

A Great Day to Be a Teacher

14 Sep

There are days when teaching can be a drag. Those are the days when students are falling asleep, looking at their phones or staring out the windows. Those are also the days when we are covered up in meetings, bogged down in assessment or listening to other teachers talk about how much of a drag their day has been.

Today is not one of those days. Today is a great day because of a student who stopped by my office to ask a question.

Last semester, he was in one of my classes and remembered something that I said. In fact, he did not just remember it. He thought about it all summer and wanted to talk about it more. He wanted a deeper understanding of the topic but could not come up with the right words to explain what was on his mind. However, it did not take long for me to realize what it was about.

I spent a day talking about the Scopes Monkey Trial. It is one of my favorite subjects for several reasons. First, it was an international story. Second, it happened in Tennessee. Third, it has been 90 years, and we still argue over the same issues. I go into a lot of detail to weave the story and make it interesting. However, it was not the trial that made this student think. It was what I said after the lecture.

By the way, this is John Scopes.john-scopes

On Scopes Trial day, I take the opportunity to say that we should learn as much as possible about our world even if we do not like what we learn. For example, the politics of today require conservative-minded people to think of liberal-minded people as tree-hugging communists. It also requires liberal-minded people to think of conservative-minded people as, according to one of our presidential candidates, a basket of deplorables. We do this because televisions tell us to do it. We do this because the people around us tell us to do it. We do this because our leaders tell us to do it.

Instead of letting those forces tell us how to think, we should learn about both sides and make the decision for ourselves. A liberal-minded person should research what conservative-minded people see for the world. A conservative-minded person should research what liberal-minded people see for the world. It does not mean that minds will be changed or that they will agree on anything. However, it means that they will have an understanding of what they are arguing against instead of wailing about something they do not know anything about. Who knows? Somebody might say, “You know, I do not agree with that other side, but that one idea is not half bad.”

In my mind, this is what a college education is all about. Obviously, students obtain the skills to get a job. However, they also learn that there are a lot of different aspects to the world, and we should understand as many of them as possible.

They should go to Biology and learn about evolution.

They should take a Religion class and learn about faith.

They should talk to that kid with a different background and learn about their life.

They should take Art and realize there is more to it than paint.

They should take History and learn about how we got to where we are.

Once they take those classes, they can decide if they think evolution happened or if the Bible is correct. They can decide if they like a painting or wonder why someone would pay money for it.

That is what the student who came to my office wanted to talk about. A few words at the end of a class made him think all summer and realize that there is more to this world than what is in our heads. Other people have ideas in their heads, and, before we talk about how stupid they are, we should learn why they think that way. If more people were like this student, then maybe we would not be so divided.

Yep, today is a great day to be a teacher.

The Evolution of a Room

5 May

The building in which I work was built in 2004. Actually, it was a gymnasium built during the New Deal and was remodeled into an academic building in 2004. Therefore, it has some old, and it has some new. It also has a room that has constantly evolved over time. As it happens, that room is directly across from my office door.image-13

In the early days, it was a classroom. In fact, I taught in that room a couple of times. As a classroom, it was a disaster. There were no windows, and it was like going to school in a cave. I do not suffer from claustrophobia, but this room gave me the feeling I was trapped. I cannot imagine how trapped students felt when they had to sit there and learn how properly cite a source. It must have resembled something in the mind of Dante.

We stopped scheduling classes in the room, and someone must have noticed. It was not long before it became a storage room for the bookstore. A massive lock was placed on the door because, as all students know, books are worth their weight in gold. People came in and out with boxes of books, stacks of books and dollies of books. There were times when I could hear people working hard. The sounds of those books being moved around could not be mistaken.

However, there were also times when I could hear people watching television. When the classroom was abandoned, no one thought about taking out the television. We may have been the only campus in the country that had a television in the book storage room.

At some point, someone decided to change how our bookstore operates. Instead of selling books in the same place where we sell t-shirts, caps, hoodies, license plates and other things that have our school’s name and logo, we split that up. Now, we have a spirit shop for that stuff and a bookstore for books. Yep, the room across from my office door became the bookstore.

It is like working in the El Paso train station.

In the first weeks of each semester, people are lined up out the door to buy books. This means they are lined up outside my office door. Of course, bored people standing in a line are going to talk. This means they are talking outside my office door. When there is a long wait, the talking turns into complaining. This means they are complaining outside my office door.

However, that does not compare to when the bookstore is closed. Like all good stores, the hours of operation are posted, but that does not stop people from trying.

Do you realize how many people will stare at a locked door?

Do you realize how many people will pull on a locked door a couple of times just to make sure?

Do you realize how many people think the teacher in the office next to the bookstore is also the receptionist for the bookstore?

I cannot count the number of people who have pulled on the locked door and asked me if the bookstore is closed. Of course, some people ask me if it is open.

I have been thinking about this because the bookstore is now open for book returns. It is the end of the semester, and students want to get some of their money back. As a side note, I have never sold back a book. You never know when you might need it.

The end of the semester does not have the long lines. However, it has people pulling on a locked door and sighing with disgust because the bookstore may not be open at the exact time they decided to show up. What do they expect? Bookstore workers are like book storage room workers. They need time to shut the door and watch television, too.

Steve Harvey and Me

12 Apr

A few months ago, Steve Harvey made headlines for all of the wrong reasons. As host of the Miss Universe pageant, it was his job to announce the winner, and he announced the wrong person. They put the crown on her head. They put the sash around on her shoulder. She was making her victory walk. Then, Steve Harvey came out and said he had made a mistake.

(Sidenote: I do not know how you can hold a Miss Universe pageant without including the green women from Star Trek. They would win all of the time.)Green Girl

It was a huge mistake that will follow Steve Harvey for the rest of his career.

Tonight, we held the awards banquet for the School of Humanities, Education and the Arts, which we affectionately call SHEA. This meant that it was time to pass out the awards for the best students of History.

This morning, I went to my cohort’s office to confirm what awards I would be presenting. He explained that I would present two awards. I heard what he said, but, apparently, that is not what he really said.

As the day progressed, I prepared for my presentation. I listed the awards and what they signified. I wrote down a few things about the recipients. In other words, I was ready to go.

The first award went smoothly except for the fact that the kid did not show up to receive it. I have often wondered why that happens. If you are honored with an award, then you should make an appearance. After all, they are not Marlon Brando or George C. Scott turning down an Oscar.

The second award also went smoothly. I talked about the award. I talked about the recipient in glowing terms. Then, the award was handed to me, and I saw that it was a different one. I called out the right name, but I tried to give the wrong award to him. He was supposed to get something else.

This meant that my cohort had to ad-lib and announce the wrong award to give to the next student. In other words, it was a mess. Luckily, we were all smooth enough that the audience did not realize what had happened. The only people wise to the situation were me, my cohort, the two students and the lady handed the awards to us. Well, I guess you all know it since I have written to post about the entire thing.

I am just glad that we did not have to go out and rip off their crowns and sashes.