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Gary Hall Jr. - Project Lead the Way

A shocking experience with an electrical outlet at a young age determined Gary Hall Jr.’s career pathway – following in his father’s footsteps.
Gary Hall Jr. - Project Lead the Way

Gary Hall, a freshman student at OSU, works on a programming problem for his computer science class.



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Show 1707: Gary Hall Jr. - Project Lead the Way
Air Date: February 12, 2017


Rob McClendon: Hello, everyone. Thanks for joining us here on “Horizon.” I’m Rob McClendon. When you look at Oklahoma history there is an unmistakable connection between education and the fight for civil rights. This week, our focus is on how the struggles of some has led to the success of others, a continuum that stretches through the classroom. Just as parents are proud to see their children follow in their footsteps, so are their mentors, which is the basis of a national program called Project Lead The Way. And that is where Blane Singletary starts us off.

Blane Singletary: Gary Hall is a freshman student at OSU, learning the ropes in what can be a tricky new chapter in life.

Gary Hall Jr.: I was kinda struggling today. It’s been an off day for me. I woke up late, I had to go to government and then almost went to sleep in that class, which was not a good idea.

Blane: But despite these challenges, Gary is scratching the surface of something he really enjoys, engineering.

Hall Jr.: I love working on new things every day. Like right now I’m in a computer science class, and we’re programming. We haven’t gotten to the real good stuff about programming.

Blane: Gary’s passion, which set him on the path to where he is today, was quite literally sparked at a young age.

Hall Jr.: You know, you’re not supposed to stick anything into an electric outlet, but I did that, and I shocked myself, and I was like, “Daddy, what happened?” And he was like, “Oh, that’s just electricity.” I said, “I want to learn how this works.” And he said, “You’ve got to be an engineer to do that.”

Blane: His father is an engineer himself, and while he encouraged his son to follow in his footsteps, he was also up front on how challenging it could be.

Hall Jr.: When I told him I wanted to be an engineer he said, “OK, it’s gonna be a long, tough, maybe eight years basically.” He said, “If you wanna do this you’re gonna be a great engineer and build something that nobody’s ever seen before.” And that really stuck with me, and I’ve wanted to do that ever since.

Blane: We caught up with Gary Hall Sr. in his hometown of Muskogee.

Gary Hall Sr.: I work at Georgia Pacific. I’m a project electrical engineer with them. Over the years it has changed, but the electrical work is still the same.

Blane: It might look like we’re inside of Gary’s office, but in fact, this is the Fab Lab at Muskogee High School. This is the classroom that his son attended and quickly realized this was the path he wanted to take.

Hall Sr.: He said, “Dad, this is what I want to do. I feel comfortable doing this.” I said, “Are you sure?” He said, “Yes! This is what I want to do.” That was good because when I was a sophomore in school, I had no idea what I wanted to do, but he had already grabbed a hold of it, not from my profession, but from Project Lead The Way. They were the inspiration behind it.

Blane: Project Lead The Way is a growing, nationwide movement to get pre-engineering taught in high school and even earlier. It was started by engineers to make more engineers. Janet Lopez teaches these pre-engineering courses at Muskogee High, and here there’s no textbooks allowed.

Janet Lopez: It’s an activities project, problem-based. It’s an open-end, real-world problem where you can design any number of solutions to solve that problem.

Blane: And in the case of this senior level class, the problem is also open-ended. For the past few months, these students have researched and developed solutions to problems in their own lives and now are getting to work on actually creating those solutions.

Lopez: It really develops a critical thinking skill in the students. There’s no right answer. It’s whatever you want it to be, but prove to me why that’s the correct answer.

Blane: It’s this open-ended, hands-on approach that makes high school operate much like the real world, as Gary Hall Jr. recalls.

Hall Jr.: You either do your work and you pass, or you don’t do your work and you fail, which is basically how college is every day.

Blane: In his senior year, Gary’s team worked to tackle the problem of school chairs.

Hall Jr.: And so we decided that we were gonna interview chiropractors in Muskogee to talk about what exactly is wrong with chairs now and make everybody’s back hurt. And they said it’s basically that they built the chair to be fit for one-size person.

Blane: And so they designed and prototyped an adjustable leg chair with extra back support. Gary says it was very challenging to get it all together, but Ms. Lopez made it fun, too.

Hall Jr.: Her class was actually very fun and strict at the same time. I don’t know how that can happen, but she was basically like my mom at school. Like, she messed with me all the time.

Lopez: Gary Hall was probably one of the most exciting students that I had. He was intelligent, he was funny.

Blane: And Gary Hall Sr. and his fellow engineers got a front row seat to his development.

Hall Sr.: I did, I did share what was going on with him, and they were really surprised that this type of program existed. They were really surprised and amazed that that type of work is going on at such a low level.

Lopez: It sort of really builds their self-esteem because it’s not someone speaking down to them and saying you will learn this, you will learn this. This is stuff that they learn on their own.

Blane: And as for Gary Hall Jr., it’s just the beginning.

Hall Jr.: I’m still learning everything, and seeing what everybody else is building, seeing if I can maybe make that better or maybe do something totally different, like, I couldn’t even imagine yet. But hopefully I’ll be able to do something big to where everybody knows my name about it.

Rob: Well, Project Lead The Way is a CareerTech program that can be found in high schools around the state as well as 33 technology centers. In addition, CareerTech sponsors the Gateway Program for middle school to attract students into the STEM fields at even earlier ages. Now, when we return, honoring those who came before us.

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