A Future Creator of Great Designs in Wood
By Chuck Ray | Posted: 05/09/2013 11:49AM
This is a very special time around Penn State for about 10,000 young folks and their families. They'll fill a jam-packed Bryce Jordan Arena, listen to a speaker tell them they are the future of the world, and then walk across the stage to collect the prize for which they have been dreaming of and working for so diligently for the past twenty years.
This year, I'm familiar with the story of at least a part of the road traveled by one young lady making that walk this weekend. Her name is Carol Chang of Houston, Texas, and we share a common start in life...we both attended Robert E. Lee High School in southwest Houston.
In late fall of 2007, I found myself on the road in Texas for several business appointments, one of those being an invitation to speak to a couple of wood shop classes at my alma mater. I had an interest in the WoodLINKS program, which is an industry effort to reach out to and support woodworking education in local high schools. It turned out Lee had a wood shop program participating in WoodLINKS. Mr. Johnny Brooks, the Lee wood shop teacher, had found the program very beneficial to the school's program, and he had been able to develop at least one great industry relationship through the program by which students were being trained and hired in the finer skills of working with wood.
Mr. Brooks shared with me the success of his program (which continues to this day) and invited me to stop by and speak to his students while I was in the Houston area. So on a warm Friday morning in late October of 2007, I found myself speaking to about forty young folks, all of whom had looks on their faces that clearly expressed the thought of "Who is this guy, and why is he showing us slides of Pennsylvania?"
For I had thought I would thrill the young folks with some pictures of the Gettysburg battlefield in order to provide some relevancy to my invitation for them to consider coming to Penn State. What better point of reference, I thought, for the young minds of Robert E. Lee to consider, than the place that was the focal point of that great general's career?
But, a few things had changed at my alma mater since 1974, the year of my emancipation from that learned institute. Primarily, the demographics. These were no longer young sons and daughters of the Confederacy, but sons and daughters of the world. Southwest Houston, unknown to me, had become a center of immigration for the southern United States, and the students were more attuned to the World Cup soccer standings than to American history of the 19th century. In fact, the school had dropped the "Robert E." from its name in 2000, and is now known simply as Lee High School.
So, as the picture of the view from Little Round Top appeared on the screen, and I proudly began to explain the significance of that place, it was more than a little disconcerting to realize I had a sea of blank faces in front of me. It dawned on me that perhaps I had been mistaken on their knowledge of the battle, so I asked...
"Can anyone tell me what Gettysburg is famous for?"
"Abraham Lincoln gave a very famous speech there."
A few more moments of disbelief...they, not believing I was asking these dumb questions, I, not believing they didn't know what I was talking about.
Finally, in the back of the room, I saw a small hand go up, hesitantly.
"Was it the Gettysburg Address?" the young lady of the hand meekly inquired.
"Yes!" I encouraged her. "And what war was that?"
She looked like she didn't want to answer, and everyone else in the room still had glazed eyes. Finally, she offered..."World War One?"
That was my introduction to Carol Chang. She came up to me after the presentation; she was interested in Penn State. She loved working with wood, and it sounded like she could learn more about it at Penn State. Mr. Brooks told me that Carol was one of his best students; she had taken an internship with his partnering furniture company that summer, and was currently working on a table she had designed herself. We headed into the shop to take a look at it.
About the Author
Chuck RayDr. Charles D. “Chuck” Ray is Associate Professor of Wood Operations Research at Pennsylvania State University. His specialty is in the area of operations research, specifically those operational issues that confront the majority of the wood products sector. He previously spent 15 years in research and quality management for two large building products corporations, Temple-Inland Forest Products and Louisiana-Pacific. Ray is the sixth generation of his family to work in the sawmill industry, the Ray Brothers Lumber Company, established in East Texas before the turn of the last century. He can be reached at email@example.com and followed on Twitter @ChuckDRay. He maintains an Extension website for Penn State at http://extension.psu.edu/woodpro and also writes a blog on all wood issues called Go Wood which can be found at http://gowood.blogspot.com.