Today, March 24 is Ada Lovelace day, and I pledged to blog about a woman in science or engineering that had a profound impact on me. Ada Lovelace was a protege of Charles Babbage who wrote about his work on the “Difference Engine” widely recognized as the first computer (purely mechanical) including a set of notes in her appendix that is recognized as the first computer program. She also speculated on uses of computers far outside numeric computation, including the composition of music.
There are a lot of contemporary women who are currently inspiring me, including hackers Limor Fried, Jeri Ellsworth, and Lenore Edman, but my thoughts turned to a much earlier influence, my High School chemistry teacher, Dr. Donna Bogner.
Dr. Bogner was one of the best teachers I have ever had. Constantly looking for new ways to inspire kids, tolerant of our explorations (and explosions!) letting us discover things for ourselves, even when it meant taking some risks, as long as we observed safety precautions.
She went back to school on her own initiative to learn computer programming so she could add that to the High School curriculum, at a time when the nearest computers were a couple blocks away at the Junior College. The initiative, curiosity, and “just try it” attitude I learned from her has served me well, both in my career and as a dad, and school science volunteer.
Since I graduated from Hutchinson High, Dr. Bogner taught freshman chem at Wichita State for 15 years and spent some time at Princeton as a Woodrow Wilson Fellow. This led to consulting for Exxon and Pfizer, all around developing science materials for the secondary classroom. She did 5-6 summer workshops a year for the Dreyfus institute all over the country.
Dr. Bogner is still active in reaching young minds in what she describes as her “fifth retirement” developing science curriculum at Mid-Continent Research for Education and Learning. Among other things, she translates technical details from NASA’s extraterrestrial missions and Nano-chemistry into materials for classroom use. Particularly interesting to me, she also adapts these materials into forms that are accessible to visually impaired students which she understands because of her own visual impairment.
I just wanted to say WOW! and thank you, for all your inspiring work, Dr. Bogner, and hope some other girls will read this and be inspired to follow in your footsteps!