Richard Downey


Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Oscar, a lab technician, records the speed of hundreds of baseballs as he hits each one with a newly-designed bat. He bends his company’s wood, aluminum, and composite bats until they break, measuring the maximum force they can sustain. His boss remarks, “To work in this industry, I recommend a strong interest in sports, along with mathematics and science.” 


Robert, a biologist at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, calculates the rate at which populations of bald eagles are increasing. He has been instrumental in freeing the bald eagle from endangered status. 


Jackie and Sarah, statisticians with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, take pride in providing analyses of production and sales that enable farmers to make rational economic decisions about what to plant and where to invest their resources. 


Students in my math classes hear similar stories once each week in four-minute videos about occupations involving mathematics. Entrepreneurs and employees relate how their personal interests evolved into their current careers. Their stories allow glimpses into space exploration, arts and entertainment, transportation, agriculture, animal care, architecture, design, environmental science, and business. 


As a child, Pamela observed a female veterinarian and said to herself, “I’ll bet I can do that.” Pamela is now a vet herself. She says, “Don’t get slammed by how many years it takes. The time flies when you’re having fun.” 


Ayanna was given a radio kit when she was eight years old. She recalls, “I learned how to solder and how to build a radio. When I got older, I wanted to build mechanical arms and legs.” Ayanna earned her doctorate in robotics and now designs NASA rovers that survey the surface of Mars. 


When successful people express their vocational passions to the young, they provide gifts of knowledge, inspiration, and hope. In a more immediate context, the personal account at the beginning of class lends a subtle direction to the lesson of the day. I sense that my students work as if there is a purpose to the day’s math lesson that transcends the next test. 


Richard Downey

Upper School Math Teacher