Engineering student recognizes his English teacher’s influence
Updated: May 27, 2012 8:21AM
Just about the last place you may expect to find an English teacher would be a Silicon Valley luncheon with an elite group of engineers whose main study, obsession even, is math and science.
But that is exactly where Hinsdale Central English teacher and drama club coach Christine Hicks found herself on April 14. She was the lunch guest of Kevin Mori, a 2008 Hinsdale Central graduate, former student and former backstage drama club member, who is a senior at Stanford University’s engineering school.
Mori is not just a former stand-out student. He has become a stand-out Stanford student, majoring in mechanical engineering and earning a spot in the top 5 percent of engineering students, which is why he was one of 26 students recognized at the Frederick Emmons Terman Engineering Scholastic Awards given to Stanford engineering seniors. As part of the recognition, these students are asked to nominate a high school teacher who has been most influential in their academic career, and those teachers are flown out for the luncheon, which is how Hicks found herself out in Palo Alto the weekend before last.
“It was an absolutely humbling experience,” Hicks said.
The other high school teachers came from all over the United States as well as Thailand, Singapore and South Korea. At least three others were English teachers.
For Mori, picking just one high school teacher who was influential was so difficult, he was late turning in his paperwork for the award.
“It was a hard choice. I would have happily invited most of the teachers I’ve had through the years,” he said.
In the end, he chose based on “gut instinct,” selecting Hicks, having had her for Honors English and Advanced Placement Composition classes as well as working for her behind-the-scenes in several drama productions, where he found the hands-on work of set design, stage production and tech fired the artistic side of his imagination.
Hick’s described Mori as “an engineer on a poet’s journey.” She said, “He’s a perfect example of a ‘what if’ kid, a kid who says, ‘I already knew I was good at math and science. English opened up a whole new world for me.’”
Mori credits Hicks with helping him find his voice, but his former teacher said, “He already came with a voice. I helped him refine it.” While she was in Palo Alto, her former student showed her some of the things he has worked on as a mechanical engineering major, including a portable stage light with remote control switches.
Frederick Emmons Terman is considered one of the founding fathers of Silicon Valley. He was a Stanford University engineering professor, and among his students were Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard.
Hicks was also impressed with Mori’s Stanford peers. She called them “kids” but then started laughing saying that these “kids” were heading to high tech, high paying jobs for Apple or Google or Facebook, but that didn’t prevent them from being the sorts of people who were interested in subjects beyond simply math and science.
Mori will continue on at Stanford after graduation to earn a master’s degree next year. English and humanities studies have helped give him more perspective and balance.
“I appreciate the more lyrical things that English has shown us,” he said.
Vindication and validation for English teachers and English majors everywhere
Here’s a talk worth squeezing into your spring calendar for it promises a little levity and perhaps a few interesting lessons for parents and teens. Harlan Cohen, author of The Naked Roommate: And 107 Other Issues You Might Run Into in College, will speak at Hinsdale Central High School at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, May 2 ath the Hinsdale Central auditorium, 55th and Grant streets.
Cohen is a syndicated columnist, author and speaker. He has also written The Happiest Kid On Campus: A Parent’s Guide To The Very Best College Experience (for you and your child.) The evening is meant to be more fun than anything else. Cohen has also written Dad’s Pregnant Too! — and this is such an intriguing premise that we can’t help but hope he will touch on that topic as well.
Once you start looking into books like The Naked Roommate, you realize there is a veritable publishing cornucopia advising parents and their college-bound teens. A smattering of other titles with other authors includes Don’t Tell Me What to Do, Just Send Money; The iConnected Parent; When Parents Text: So Much Said…So Little Understood. These could easily be punch lines, too. Back in the day, I was handed stamps, packets of stationery and the promise of a Sunday afternoon long distance phone call.