Katherine Johnson photo by NASA; restored by Adam Cuerden

When she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015 for her role in sending the first Americans into space, Katherine Johnson declared, “It was just another day’s work.”

Johnson was a human computer whose expertise supported historic space flights including the first American in space (Alan Shepard in 1961), John Glenn’s orbit of the earth the following year and the 1969 moon landing.

I am part of the Kennedy-influenced generation that grew up watching Apollo missions on television, yet I had no idea that NASA’s early success was guided, in part, by a group of young women doing complicated mathematical calculations. They were the computers, before there were computers.

It took an Academy Award-nominated film, Hidden Figures, based on a book by Margot Lee Shetterly, to bring the stories of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson to our awareness. I am grateful to the storytellers who did so, because these stories truly matter.

I loved the movie and I left the theatre wanting to know more. What had inspired these women – these young, African-American women who studied and worked during the dark ages of segregation – to pursue complicated careers in a workplace system that openly discriminated against them?

Biographies on the NASA website reveal that Katherine Johnson’s “intense curiosity and brilliance with numbers vaulted her ahead several grades in school,” and “for Mary Winston Jackson, a love of science and a commitment to improving the lives of the people around her were one and the same.”

A New York magazine article states that Dorothy Vaughan was “possessed of an inner confidence that attributed no shortcoming either to her race or her gender” and “welcomed the chance to prove herself in a competitive academic arena.”

Curiosity, commitment, confidence – words used to describe the Hidden Figures heroines – are attributes we should encourage in every student, every child. There is no way to predict where their futures might lead. It is our responsibility to guide them in the discovery of their own potential.

To inspire a new generation, we must share stories of women and men who pursue excellence and persist through the rigors of academics and the challenges of society and the workplace. We also must connect the attitudes these remarkable individuals hold throughout their lives – from childhood through career – to their successes, in order to motivate all students to dream big and do the work required to achieve their aspirations.

Books and films like Hidden Figures and October Sky – based on Rocket Boys, a book by Homer Hickam that describes his experience as a coalminer’s son who became a NASA engineer – depict real-life adventures of exceptional, “ordinary” men and women who make history. Sharing them with your family members and with students in your classrooms can be truly inspirational.

I think it is important to note that all three of the women featured in Hidden Figures began their careers as teachers. Before they earned the respect of astronauts like John Glenn, they set the standards for students in their classrooms. The ripple effect of their contributions have, no doubt, passed through several generations.

“I loved going to work every single day,” Katherine Johnson told her colleagues at NASA when she retired in 1986. What more can any of us aspire to – and what more can we seek for our children – than the opportunity to say we love our work, every day?


Henry Cole presents On Meadowview Street at Longwood Gardens

“It’s one kid making a difference.”

Henry Cole’s description of his book On Meadowview Street, speaks to his passion for educating children about the environment.

I had the pleasure of meeting the author/illustrator at Longwood Gardens, where he was taking part in a family/community read day. He was kind enough to allow me to interview him while he signed books, greeted fans, and raved about the beauty of the “special, special place” that is Longwood Gardens.

Earlier that day,  I’d conducted interviews – for Working Class: Build & Grow Green – with two of Longwood’s senior gardeners who studied horticulture at Pennsylvania College of Technology.

At the moment I introduced myself to Henry, I was intoxicated by the beauty of Longwood’s conservatory and relaxed by the sound of water, flowing from ornate fountains dearly loved by founder Pierre du Pont. In my hands were my copy of On Meadowview Street, as well as two of Henry’s other books: I Took a Walk and Jack’s Garden.

Readers of these three books – and dozens of others Henry has illustrated, written or both – will not be surprised to learn that Henry is a former teacher. After studying forestry at Virginia Tech, he taught science at the Langley School in Northern Virginia for 17 years. The first book that featured his illustrations was Zipping, Zapping, Zooming Bats, published in 1995.

Jack’s Garden

Jack’s Garden, written and illustrated by Henry, also was published in 1995. It features full color art created with colored pencils on papers of different colors. It teaches youngsters everything they need to know about planting a garden – from the names of tools (trowels to pruning shears) to creatures (in various stages of development from larva to full grown) that live in soil.

Henry gives readers the most accurate details in his illustrations of seeds (from miniscule lupine and poppy to larger, more familiar sunflower) and birds’ eggs (from the obvious blue of the robin to the spotted, speckled eggs of the vireo, warbler, and barn swallow).

The book concludes with suggestions for kids who want to start their own gardens — including good advice to visit their local library and county extension office.

In autographing my copy of Jack’s Garden, Henry wrote, “For Elaine, wishing you lots of flowers in your gardens.” I love that!

I Took a Walk

As someone who cherishes time spent walking in fields and forests around my home, I also love that Henry inscribed my copy of I Took a Walk with a very relevant “Happy Trails to You.”

As readers open the folded pages of I Took a Walk, they reveal natural treasures in a variety of illustrated landscapes. Hidden in the cool shade of a green forest, across a clover-covered meadow, along a stream, and at the edge of the pond, are 54 different animals, insects and plants that Henry identifies on the final page of the book.

I really enjoy the interactive aspect of reading I Took a Walk with children and helping them discover the hidden images on the pages.

My personal copies of Henry’s books are made priceless by his inscriptions.

On Meadowview Street

Henry’s book On Meadowview Street was the star attraction on the day I visited with him at Longwood Gardens.  His heroine Caroline moves into a new house on a street that doesn’t quite live up to its name. So, when she finds flowers blooming in her overgrown yard, she decides to create her own nature preserve.

Soon, Caroline has parents and neighbors on board with her ideas for replacing traditional lawns with trees, plants, birdhouses, and water features that attract insects, birds and other wildlife. Like the previous books I mentioned, the book features detailed illustrations that Henry labels with appropriate text to encourage learning.

The story’s ending — “Now there really was a meadow on Meadowview Street … and a home for everyone.” — allows readers of all ages to see how simple acts can make a difference in the future of the planet on which we all live.

Everything we do on Planet Earth makes an impact. That includes our choice of career. Tune in to Working Class: Build & Grow Green to learn more about career opportunities that can positively influence our future.

Thank you, Henry Cole, for sharing stories that encourage kids and adult readers to make a difference by understanding, respecting, and celebrating nature. You make a difference!





Make your career part of your bucket list.

Bucket lists – filled with ideas for do-before-you-die adventures – can inspire us to live more rich and rewarding lives. Here’s the challenge: Don’t just make a list, fill your bucket!

Men and women who make a living doing what they love have regular opportunities to fill their buckets with activities, projects, and contacts that provide real satisfaction.

They do more than complete assigned tasks. They earn more than paychecks. People who love their jobs can be working on their bucket lists every day.

Last week, my blog featured wise advice from a talented, young, professional gardener, Lauren Hoderny-Hill. The Pennsylvania College of Technology graduate shared her thoughts about finding a perfect career match.

“When you’re in high school and you’re thinking about a career, you could think about what’s just going to make you a lot of money or you could think about something that you’re going to be happy doing for the rest of your life.”

5-45-lauren“Every day when I get up and I come to work here, it’s something I really love and enjoy doing,” she continued. “If you don’t find a career that you love and enjoy doing it’s just going to be watching the clock. How fast can I go home and end my day?”

“So, it’s really important to follow how you feel and to find something that is true to who you are,” she concluded. “I am comfortable with who I am. This is my perfect fit. I am meant to be here.”

For Lauren and fellow Penn College graduate April Bevans the perfect fit is one of the world’s great public gardens, Longwood Gardens, where they work as senior gardeners.

Earlier this year, I, along with Working Class director/editor Chris Leigh and student videographer Colin Helm, had the pleasure of interviewing Lauren and April at Longwood Gardens.

Longwood’s communications manager, Patricia Evans, graciously hosted our visit. Portions of the interviews are included in Working Class: Build & Grow Green,” which is available for viewing now on YouTube.

If you have never been to Longwood Gardens, I highly recommend that you add it to your bucket list. A USA Today’s reader’s choice contest ranked Longwood #1 – the “Best Public Garden.”

Chris Leigh, left, and Colin Helm take a break after filming.

One of World’s Greatest Gardens

Developed by American entrepreneur and philanthropist Pierre S. du Pont, Longwood Gardens is open to the public throughout the year. The majestic, indoor conservatory features 20 gardens and 5,500 plants.

Immaculate grounds, covering 300 acres, showcase seasonal displays. In bloom during our spring visit were hundreds of thousands of bulbs – every one planted by hand the previous fall.

One of Longwood’s newest indoor additions is an expansive green wall that displays plants outside public restrooms in the Conservatory. The green wall – featured in Working Class: Build and Grow Green – made Longwood Gardens a winner in America’s Best Restroom competition in 2014.

6-39-green-wallIf you can’t make the trip in person, be sure to visit Longwood’s website, where you’ll find a rich harvest of information including education programs, home gardening and design resources and blog posts that describe do-it-yourself seasonal projects you can enjoy with family and friends.

Today, one of Longwood’s first gardens – the 600-foot-long Flower Garden Walk designed by du Pont in 1907 – is one of its most popular. When we interviewed April Bevans along the garden walk on a rainy April morning, she paid homage to its founder.

7-08-april“I was just thinking this morning, actually, coming here, that Mr. du Pont was a bit of a genius in that he loved fountains as a child and as a young man. We have so many fountains here at the gardens, and the children are just fascinated with them. I think he really had a sense of what a public garden should be, and who it should be for,” she said.

Isn’t it interesting that the things Pierre du Pont loved as a child inspired his vision for Longwood Gardens? He put his bucket list into action and, in doing so, benefited future generations.

Today, the employees of Longwood Gardens, including Lauren and April, are guided by the principles established by its founder: innovative spirit, passion for knowledge and respect for the land.

The enthusiasm that Lauren and April bring to their work speaks to their love of horticulture and their desire to make a difference in the world by sharing their passion with visitors to the immaculate public garden in Kennett Square.

I hope you will add “Visit Longwood Gardens” to your bucket list. Also, please consider learning more about “green” career options, including horticulture, by watching Working Class: Build & Grow Green,the second episode of our award-winning public television series. Episode one, “Working Class: Design & Do,” earned a 2016 Telly Award and is also available for viewing on YouTube.

Patricia Evans, communications manager at Longwood Gardens (left), greets Chris Leigh and Colin Helm.

Creating this public television series was an item on my bucket list. It feels very good to fill up the bucket … and share this new episode with you. Please post your comments and let me know what you think of our first two episodes.


“When you’re in high school, and you’re thinking about a career, you could think about what’s just going to make you a lot of money, or you could think about something that you’re going to be happy doing for the rest of your life.”

This advice, offered by a Pennsylvania College of Technology graduate, illustrates a primary theme of the Working Class public television series: inspiring students and teachers to connect academics with practical experiences and to relate classroom learning to careers.

hammer“What do you want to be when you grow up?” It’s a question adults ask kids all the time. But, how often do we sit down and explore real career options with them? Do we help them understand how the things they learn in school apply to real-life challenges?

Have you ever wished you could go back to school with a greater appreciation for how the world works? I have often thought I would pay much closer attention and work harder – not for the grades, but to gain a greater understanding of things that I now need to know. That includes everything from planning my finances to understanding how systems and machines that I use every day actually work.

Have you ever wished you could go back to school with a greater appreciation for how the world works?

We know that education is mandatory, but do we understand that it is important? Do we explain to students how the lessons they are learning will make a difference in the quality of their lives?

spider-designIf we want our kids to have the opportunity to earn a living doing something they enjoy, we need to help them lay the groundwork for success now. We can do that by encouraging them to explore their interests and follow their curiosities as part of the learning experience.

We know that education is mandatory, but do we understand that it is important?

We need to do more than remind them they’ll be on their own one day. We must help them consider where their talents and interests lie, then encourage them to find ways to connect their basic education – reading, writing, and mathematics – to those things they enjoy.

gogglesHere are three simple things we can do now to help inspire the next generation to make the most of their learning experiences:

(1) Give them access to books, magazines, and reputable Internet resources that relate to the subjects they find interesting. Read along with them. When the subject matter is interesting – and you are sharing the experience with them – they may get more excited about reading.

(2) When their homework assignment includes writing an essay, encourage them to write about something that relates the subject matter to their personal interests. They may need to do some research in order to link the assignment to a subject they find compelling, but treat the exercise like a game and they may rise to your challenge.

(3) Think about the role numbers play in their hobbies – whether it be observing nature, making things, or playing sports or video games – and describe ways that learning mathematics could help them do what they love to do even better.

2-writersThe next time you ask, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” also be willing to share from your own experiences and provide a bit of guidance to encourage young minds to stay open to opportunities they will enjoy.

Encourage them to consider the advice (given at the beginning of this piece) of Penn College graduate Lauren Hoderny-Hill – to think about something that they will be happy doing for the rest of their lives – and then learn everything they can about it.

Working Class: Build and Grow Green premieres Thursday, Oct. 27, at 7 p.m. on WVIA TV.

Lauren, who now works at one of the nation’s top public gardens, appears in the latest episode Working Class, which premieres later this month. I hope you will watch and learn more about her life as a senior gardener at Longwood Gardens.

The broadcast premiere of Working Class: Build and Grow Green, a production Penn College and WVIA Public Media, is set for Thursday, Oct. 27, at 7 p.m. on WVIA TV. The film also will be available for viewing on the series website on that date. Please tune in and invite a student or teacher in your life to watch with you.





The formation of seeds at the center of a blooming sunflower. The unfurling of a fiddlehead fern. The columns and curves of Roman or Greek architecture. Math, science and art observe the Golden ratio.

I love nature and I love art. But, to be honest, I’ve never taken well to math. Algebra threw me off track and I never was coaxed back on. I was good in English. I think my teachers might have thought being good at one thing was good enough.

Not all teachers believe such nonsense. There are even students who get excited about learning complex, yet critical concepts like the Golden ratio. I had the good fortune to meet two such enlightened individuals and we talked about Phi — the divine proportion.

Continue reading IT SHOWS UP … EVERYWHERE


We dream in solitude, but opening spaces for creative collaboration may help us — as individuals, organizations and communities — realize the full potential of our dreams.

This idea is the foundation of a popular Maker Movement that is gaining global attention for its merging of old-style “tinkering” with emerging technology systems.

“The future economic and social landscape [will be] shaped by the Maker Movement.”

“We will for the first time be able to truly ‘race with the machine,’ harnessing the power of the machine to unleash and amplify our creative energies,” according to Impact of the Maker Movement, a 2013 report that suggests the movement could radically change manufacturing and retail industries as well as education and public policy.

The report predicts that “the future economic and social landscape [will be] shaped by the Maker Movement” and that “collaborative production will define the future of work.”

Pennsylvania College of Technology faculty see an opportunity to use maker spaces to help students relate the theories they learn in classes with projects they can enjoy making on their own.

Lauren Rhodes touring Bucknell maker space

The ability to have an idea – even though you have no idea how to make it happen – to be able to walk in and maybe meet other people who could help you make it happen,” excites math teacher Lauren Rhodes.

She and other Penn College faculty and administrators visited Bucknell University to get an idea of how faculty there are encouraging student participation in the maker movement.




Participants in SMARTGirls initiative at Pennsylvania College of Technology

“If we have fun doing it, we might need to know, how does that work?”

Curiosity can inspire fun and creativity at every age. Andrea McDonough Varner — coordinator of the Williamsport Area School District Art Department — sees it happen in K-12 classrooms.

design camp
Summer camps encourage creativity

“I think about eight, nine-year-olds that have this interest  … maybe it’s gaming, maybe it’s experimenting with science. We know that it’s fun; we’ve got the fun down. Then that inspired us to go out and seek the knowledge … If we have fun doing it, we might need to know, how does that work?”

College students often react the same way, according to Lauren Rhodes, assistant professor of mathematics at Pennsylvania College of Technology.

A “lifelong lover of math and art and music,” Lauren said students gain an increased appreciation for theories and concepts when they encounter challenges in projects outside the classroom.

In a video available now for online viewing, Andrea, Lauren and other educators share their thoughts about creating spaces for students to learn while doing.

Continue reading CURIOUS CREATORS


Hands-on, creativity activity defines the popular maker movement

“It’s DIY with a tech edge.”

Do you embrace a “do it yourself” philosophy at home or at work? If so, consider yourself part of a global movement — the maker movement.

“Maker,” according to an Adweek article written by Joan Voight is “the umbrella term for independent inventors, designers and tinkerers.”

Continue reading DEFINING A MOVEMENT


“It has long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them,” Leonardo Da Vinci once said. “They went out and happened to things.”

Leonardo Da Vinci self portrait

It is not only about what is happening TO you. It is about what YOU make happen!

What a great motivational message for children and young people who are learning to make choices and establish attitudes that will carry them throughout their lives.

Happy, successful people  choose to see their lives as interesting and fulfilling. It’s not what they do (because happy people are not all doing the same things); it’s how they feel about what they do that makes the difference.



“As the material of industry has changed, and as processes have become automated, the greatest resource of any individual, organization, state or nation is the trained mind.”

More than half century ago, Dr. Kenneth E. Carl — one of the authors of the Pennsylvania Community College Act — underscored the human aspect of technological advancement in his statement that acknowledged the connection between successful industrial automation and the education of people who are required to do the work of industry.

WACC Dr. Carl
Dr. Carl (center) broke new ground in higher education

Dr. Carl portraitAs we celebrate the many ways that technology improves our lives, we must not lose sight of the fact that human intelligence is the foundation for innovation. Training minds to adapt to change and to lead future advancements in our society  is a significant challenge in education today.

Continue reading MASTER MIND – PART II