February 2002

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Towards a Scientifically Literate Society
Richard Hall, P.Eng., Says Outreach Helps Build a Better Tomorrow

Public Relations Coordinator

"Richard is fabulous. He kept the students captivated by all the wonderful toys he brought."
"This was one time when the students couldn't wait to write their thank-you cards."
"He has such a way with students. He presented to their level with a lovely voice and smile."

-Praise by teachers for Outreach volunteer Mr. Richard Hall, P.Eng.

Richard Hall, P.Eng., has been a volunteer with APEGGA's Outreach Program for four years. Richard completed his bachelor of science degree in electrical and computer engineering at the University of Calgary in 1994. At the age of 32, he has worked as a software consultant and systems engineer for local companies, as well as on his own entrepreneurial ventures.

Richard and his wife Doris recently moved to Toronto. We at APEGGA thank Richard for the generous gift of his time and energy to the engineering and scholastic community.

In this volunteer profile, he discusses his prime reasons for his involvement in the APEGGA Outreach Program, which puts engineers in schools and classrooms for subject presentations and career advice.

1) What do engineers possess that they can contribute to students and their education?

Engineering, presented as real-world, useful knowledge, illustrates how knowledge can be directly applicable to society's continuing operation, advancement and ultimately its survival. Our knowledge is not just a dry piece of paper with calculations on it -- it goes through a second creation that ends up with computers, bridges, fuels and more. Our presence in the classroom gives students a glimpse of how they might actually use the knowledge they acquire for the 12 prime years of their youth. Our influence makes science related classes an exciting journey of exploration in the real world rather than a torturous set of homework assignments. This, we hope, produces a lot more scientifically informed and investigative young minds, and a better likelihood of creating a few more engineers and scientists to carry on the profession.

2) Why is it important for the public's understanding of science to grow?

A democratic society relies on an informed and politically active public. A democracy that is not scientifically literate (or is uninvolved) will not make rational decisions for technical matters; no matter how advanced its scientific circles. Instead it will make its decisions based on popular emotional, short-sighted agendas and not by reason. As individuals and a society, many of our actions and much of our neglect, affecting our integraged human and ecological communities, are irreversible.

3) What does professional accountability mean to you?

Engineers have a foot in theory and a foot in reality -- engineers are the ones who know not only what could be but also how to make it happen and what the likely effects will be. We understand at least as well as anyone what "the numbers" mean to the real world, and this intellectual vision institutes a special contract with humanity. Engineering, like all other professions, ultimately services humanity and is always subject to human agendas and goals. The engineering profession absolutely needs to have not only a theoretical and practical aspect, but a humane one as well -- engineers represent the vortex of science and its application towards a human agenda in the same way doctors apply medical science to patients. I believe that it's important to instill, cultivate and exemplify this crucial character trait early on in the life of the students I present to -- I think it has much more impact and gives the profession a more exciting, humane look.

4) Do you recall a particularly memorable volunteer experience?

In one of my presentations, a student accidentally broke a fragile glass toy. She dashed from the room in tears. After cleaning up the glass, I went to talk to her, and reassure her that as long as she was all right, everything else could be fixed. I told her that engineers believe that people are much more important than machines, and that it's part of the engineers oath to make sure that the people are OK first, and then to look after the machines. Her reply was that she wanted to be "an engineer like that."

5) Who is the one person in the world you admire the most and why?

My grandfather, Les Hall: He never stopped being interested in the world. He lived a very diverse life, and between him and his wife, always enjoyed that diverse life and never had any regrets. He worked the railroad as a locomotive engineer (the kind that all small kids seem to identify engineering with), then driving buses, then at Calgary's General hospital. He didn't take jobs that he didn't enjoy and never regretted or wasted any of his life. He was very bright and open-minded, and just devious enough to make sure no one took advantage of him. He was a lifelong learner, and always stretched past his comfort zone - he once even took a gourmet cooking for camping course (wilderness entertaining?). I once gave him the same electricity and magnetism presentation that I give in schools, and he got so excited about one of the toys that he had me buy it for him. At 93, and stricken with Parkinson's disease, he decided he had the time to start learning how to use the Internet. He made me realize that the world has so much to explore if you're just curious about it, and that no one in their own lifetime could possibly fit it all in. He used every day of his life to make things around himself better for both himself and others.

6) What is your motto?

"We never are, we are always becoming."


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