Friday, May 18, 2012

No Need to Fear Lonely Days

Boston Parents Paper /April 2012 My Turn By Roberta Martone Pavia When I became a parent a decade ago, I was worried about feeling disconnected. Those “in the know” warned I would feel isolated and long for adult conversation. Apparently, when it comes to connecting, the experts agree. According to Thomas Sander, executive director of the Saguaro Seminar at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, staying connected is good for our mental and physical health. He adds that establishing friendly ties lowers stress, increases immunity, and boosts the amount of support we receive. Having spent 20-plus years in the working world surrounded by adults, I thought my friends and the experts were probably right, but figured I would learn to cope. Imagine my surprise when, as a new parent, I not only did not feel disconnected, but, rather, felt more connected than ever before in my pre-parent life. I’ve tried to figure out why I don’t miss adult conversation and enjoy being surrounded by the younger set. Maybe my transition to mom-hood was helped by a post-baby, part-time work schedule. Still, I noticed that when working at my part-time job, I tended to sneak into the office, get my work done, and get the heck out before my colleagues even knew I was there. I definitely wasn’t craving adult interaction. After pondering this pattern for a few weeks, I figured out that I wasn’t disconnected at all; I was just reconnecting to a different part of my adult life. For the first time ever I know our mailman’s first name, that our neighbor has three grandchildren, and Julie across the street runs a successful business from her home. Aside from the personal stuff, I also know what is happening in our community. I am in tune with the latest debate over the local high school, who is in the lead for alderman elections, and when the mayor is holding his spring celebration. Instead of racing around the grocery store on my way home from work, I can now spend time perusing the aisles. I know some of the checkout people if not by name at least by face. The truth is that being at home has connected me to a completely different circle, but one I enjoy immensely. I feel a rush of warmth when I yell “good morning” to the delivery man, and a sense of satisfaction when I stop to chat with a neighbor. I used to worry about what would become of our only child. Without siblings to share childhood milestones, would she grow into an adult somehow lacking in basic human interaction skills? Now I realize that our daughter will connect in new, different, and just as meaningful ways through friends, neighbors, and her community. And if she’s really lucky, she’ll discover these connections a lot sooner than I did. Who knew that spending my days with the younger set would open up a whole new adult world, too? Roberta Martone Pavia is a writer and mother in Newton. My Turn gives our readers a voice. Interested in submitting an opinion piece? Email us at The opinions represented in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the Boston Parents Paper.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Everyone's a writer

Today, everybody is a writer --- especially with the plethora of blogs and self-publishing venues. I've been in communications for many years --- some as a journalist, some as a corporate marketing professional, and some as a freelance writer/consultant. Through the years one thing that has never changed is that inevitable writer's block that we all face from time to time. It's the demon "white page" and it stalks us when we least expect it.

How to overcome it? My answer might sound absurdly simple (and it certainly has been said before) but most often it works: When you can't write, just write. That's right (honestly, no pun intended.) Just pull out the keyboard or pick up a pen and WRITE. Write anything even if it's jibberish. Give yourself a time limit of 10 minutes and one of two things will happen. Your thoughts will start to flow and you'll continue to write for more than 10 minutes, possibly with some good results. Or, you'll end up with some jibberish. More likely, the former will happen. If not, at least you've tried. There is some satisfaction in that. See? I've just written for 10 minutes and I have a post! Happy writing.....

Friday, October 22, 2010

FIRST Helps Kettering University Student Make the Switch

When Quinn Wagner looked ahead to life after high school, he figured his future would lie under the hood of the nearest Honda Civic or Ford Taurus. It wasn’t until he connected with FIRST Mentor Chip Montgomery, Mechanical Engineer at ABCO Automation in Brown Summit, North Carolina, that Wagner had second thoughts about working on engines and exhaust systems and decided to pursue a career in engineering instead.

The journey began when Wagner became a member of FIRST LEGO® League (FLL®) team S.K.U.A.S. for the Arctic Impact game in 2000. Four years later, the team won the state tournament and competed at the FLL World Festival, in Atlanta, Georgia, where they took second place honors for Research Quality. In 2004, Wagner was a founding member of FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC®) Team 1533, “Triple Strange.” During his last year with the team, they won the Engineering Inspiration Award at the Peachtree Regional, held in Duluth, Georgia. It was during his time with Team Triple Strange that Wagner met Montgomery, and, with his guidance, was able to set his sights on college.

Wagner, who has been home schooled all of his life, has also spent the last several years mentoring and coaching a variety of FLL and FRC teams in and around North Carolina, including FRC Team 2655, “The Flying Platypi,” where he helped build a robot that was part of the winning alliance at the Peachtree Regional in 2009.

In 2005, Wagner volunteered at the FIRST Championship as part of the FRC field reset and teardown crew, and, in 2009, was lead assistant to the Head Referee at the Peachtree Regional. In 2010, Wagner volunteered as a robot inspector at the first ever North Carolina Regional. Thanks in part to his enthusiasm for all things FIRST, Wagner’s mother, Marie Hopper, is now the FIRST Regional Director for North Carolina.

Wagner says he has fond memories of his experiences with the FIRST teams. “Thanks to the various positions I’ve held on teams through the years, I’ve learned invaluable leadership skills that will help me in future jobs. The ability to work side-by-side with Chip learning CAD and other engineering skills was a turning point for me. And the thrill of competing and problem-solving on the fly can’t be beat!” says Wagner.

Today, a mechanical engineering major in his second year at Kettering University in Flint, Michigan, Wagner has come full circle with Mentor Montgomery through a co-op job with ABCO Automation. As such, each work quarter he is assigned to a different section of the company and is learning the ropes of being a mechanical engineer in the field as well as through his academic courses at school.

With plans to graduate from Kettering in 2015, Wagner is grateful for the assistance he’s received from the university ─ especially since a college degree costs a lot more than the local trade school he originally anticipated attending when considering a career in auto mechanics. Along with several other Kettering freshmen, Wagner has been awarded a $5,000 a year FIRST Scholarship to Kettering University because of the college’s affiliation with FIRST.

According to Bob Nichols, Director of External Affairs for the university, the Kettering FIRST scholarship program has been a huge recruiting success. “More than 15 percent of Kettering’s 2009 freshmen class are FIRST alumni and were on a FIRST team as a senior in high school. That’s a six percent increase over the previous year. We feel the FIRST connection is integral in developing our students,” says Nichols, who has been involved with FIRST since 1999.

The university administrator admits that he has a particular passion for FIRST and says the connection makes sense because Kettering co-sponsors two FRC teams and sponsors a FIRST LEGO League team. “These are the students we need to be recruiting. When the program began, we granted two scholarships. Today, we are awarding 13 or 14 a year. Our goal is to have 20 percent of our entering freshmen class in 2011 having participated on a FIRST team in high school,” says Nichols, who adds that Kettering University is in its 11th year of hosting FIRST events and looks forward to adding new teams each year.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Air Force Captain and Some Day Astronaut Credits FIRST with Inspiring Her Career

When eleven-year-old Melissa Corley was in the fifth grade, a presentation by then-astronaut Kenneth Reightler, Jr. inspired the youngster to pursue a career in the field of aeronautics and astronautics. As a student at The Hockaday School, in Dallas, Texas, Reightler’s remarks resonated with Corley, setting her on the professional path she follows today ─ as a Captain in the United States Air Force, and a doctoral candidate at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California.

However, it wasn’t until she became a member of Team Tubthumpers during her sophomore year at Hockaday that Corley really appreciated the connection between FIRST and the speaker in that fifth-grade classroom: in 1998, Reightler was one of the judges at a FIRST regional competition in which Corley participated.

FIRST was foremost

Corley says although she didn’t realize it at the time, FIRST laid a foundation for her future career in engineering. The Air Force Captain credits the organization with introducing her to the world of engineering, and says she appreciates the opportunity she had with FIRST to interact with engineers at such a young age. Through FIRST, Corley also was able to work on significant programs in large corporations, where she learned about the entire lifecycle of a project – from drawing board to operation.

Corley says that FIRST has always given students a chance to do something real with their brains and hands, and adds that the competition factor tends to bring out the best in everyone. “Camaraderie with an intelligent purpose is critical for building the ‘next generation’ of scientists and engineers…and I think FIRST does a great job developing that in young people.”

Corley says that her FIRST experience has followed her throughout her career. “FIRST gives so many people a wonderful opportunity at a young age. It’s something I’ll never forget. I hope more and more kids get involved and inspired by FIRST. I know the organization is making a difference, and I’m proud to have been a part of it.”

Along with the basics of working in a machine shop, Corley says her early days with FIRST helped her learn the importance of systems engineering and how to bring together different aspects of an engineering process ─ from the mechanical parts needed to build a robot, to the electronics that make it run, to strategies for the human operator to control it.

Touting the importance of teamwork and systems engineering

The idea of working with a team has always been a motivating factor for Corley, who still maintains that team work is the best way to get to know someone because it allows you to work together toward the same goal. “There are always differences of opinion and more ideas than you’ll ever be able to implement, but working through them and bouncing ideas off of each other is a very rewarding process.”

Much of the work Corley performs today revolves around the systems engineering aspect of the business ─ the part that brings all the subsystems together. While she was pursuing her undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, Corley participated in several projects that required systems engineering ─ brainstorming ideas, building parts, making sure each system interacted properly with the others. At the college she also worked on a small satellite program in which systems engineering played an important part. Corley received a master’s degree in aeronautics and astronautics from Stanford in 2004.

An unimaginable career

Corley says her career has allowed her to do many things she never would have imagined, such as working on launch and recovery operations at the Air Force Research Laboratory in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where she was in charge of a team of engineers and technicians who designed and built an experiment that flew on a high altitude balloon.

“It was a tough job that required a lot of systems engineering, and complicated communication between many people to ensure that the systems all worked together. In the end, we built three payloads and had over 20 launches.” Corley adds that the job was unique as well as challenging, as recovery crews often traveled through rough terrain and had to search for rogue pieces of equipment that might have broken off.

After the astronaut-hopeful receives her doctorate degree, she plans to continue her stint in the Air Force, using her knowledge and experience to work in satellite acquisition programs.

As for that astronaut who made such an impression on a young girl sitting in her fifth grade classroom? Corley recently connected with him last summer when he returned as an alumna to the Naval Postgraduate School campus where she is currently a student. It seems even when it comes to outer space, it’s a small world.

Friday, June 4, 2010

The Delights of Dining Al Fresco

I just finished reading Mitch Ablom's article in PARADE magazine about dining outdoors. And I am howling. Or, rather, my husband and my 10-year-old are howling, because, Mitch sounds so much like me. Like Mitch, I, too, head outdoors to dine as soon as the icicles melt.

That’s when the search for places to eat al fresco begins, and becomes nothing short of an obsession. My family sighs in exasperation as I ponder where to have our spring/summer lunch, dinner, or breakfast. When at home, it's easy. The choice is either the patio or the porch. Short of a hail storm, we are eating at one or the other location. In fact, in my mind, it is a sacrilege to dine indoors after March 15. And, yes, like the Abloms, we have our fair share of pests: mosquitoes, flies, and the occasional bee. But, it does not deter us. Or, rather, me.

When we venture out to a restaurant, other obstacles come into play. Like the weather, which, again, rarely deters me, unless it’s pouring rain. My sister reminds me of the experience a few years back when I forced her to sit outside at a popular Newbury Street restaurant even though the thermometer plunged to a chilly 40 degrees. It was, after all, April 30 and officially spring.

For those who aren't as passionate as I am about dining in the elements, it's difficult to understand the appeal when the view is anything less than rolling hills or ocean waves. Most often the view or lack thereof doesn’t affect the experience for me. Although, sometimes even I have to admit when the vista is less than best dining outside can lose a bit of its cache. Especially when it consists of the side of a produce truck touting Vinne’s plumbing services or a flashing neon sign extolling the virtues of Dawn’s Donuts. Not to mention the unpleasant background noise of, say a 1970 Chevy whose muffler has seen better days, or the whoops and hollers of the local pre-teens as they rollerblade up and down the sidewalk in front of our table. Still, I tell my family, taking a deep breath that is mixed with car exhaust, it’s May and it’s warm out and there’s just something so special about eating outside.

Back on the home front, I have to agree with Mitch again. There isn’t a meal when we haven’t forgotten the napkins, or the forks, or the water, or the drinks. So after three or four trips to the kitchen, when my husband --- the designated runner --- finally sits down, my daughter and I are pretty much finished with our food.

Still, I persist in my quest for that perfect outdoor dining experience. I sometimes wonder if I have that light deficit disorder. Or, perhaps it has something to do with my childhood upbringing. I remember as a kid I spent every waking moment outside in the woods, in the trees, or in the sun, craving the air and brightness.

Whatever the reason, my need to eat outside is something I truly enjoy and look forward to as a rite of spring. Rest assured, with or without my family, I’ll be outside until the first snow. Or, at least until the leaves fall. I’m sure Mitch will be, too.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Find out about FIRST

Innovation has always been the backbone of FIRST®, since our initial FIRST® Robotics Competition in 1992 when 28 teams gathered in a small New Hampshire gym. Almost two decades later, we salute our seeds of innovation ─ along with those of science, engineering, and technology ─ as we invite you to join us for the annual FIRST Championship at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, April 15-17, 2010.

There you’ll witness innovation at its best, thanks to the efforts of the more than 10,000 youth from countries who will participate in this year’s FIRST® Robotics Competition (FRC®) Championship, FIRST® Tech Challenge (FTC®) World Championship, and FIRST® LEGO® League (FLL®) World Festival. The teams are eager, energized, and ready to meet the challenges ahead.
The concept of innovation is prominent in this year’s events. In the FRC BREAKAWAY™ game the exciting ‘hanging robot’ feature brings “robot soccer with bumps” to a new level. Our FTC game, Hotshot!™, uses real-world infrared concepts to provide a beacon for robot targeting, mirroring the obstacles often faced by engineers in the real world. And, in the FLL Smart Move Challenge, younger teammates tackle today’s transportation safety and efficiency issues, applying technology, imagination, and creativity to solve them.

As always, our most important challenge is to cultivate the next generation by inspiring innovative, passionate future scientists, engineers, and technologists who will lead the way into a new, more innovative world where Gracious Professionalism™, informed thinking, and critical analysis converge. As we at FIRST like to say, it’s not just about building robots ─ it’s about changing society, one young person at a time.

It’s also about the opportunities that arise from being a part of FIRST ─ that powerful combination of imagination, determination, and collaboration that occurs when young people discover the excitement of STEM, coupled with the thrill of competition and the rewards it brings.
The 2010 FIRST Championship is a testament to technology, a testament to science, and a testament to engineering. But most importantly, it is a testament to the students, Mentors, Coaches, Volunteers, and Sponsors who make this event what it is today: a culmination of creativity mixed with enthusiasm and good, old fashioned ingenuity. We salute our youth and we salute the more than 90,000 dedicated volunteers worldwide who mentor, motivate, and inspire this future generation of innovators.
Join us as we acknowledge their endeavors and discover what they can accomplish with your support, guidance, and inspiration. Their efforts have been transformative, and yes, with your help, they can change the world.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Diane Keaton ─ Making the Ordinary Extraordinary

Invoking images of her mother, father, sisters, and two adopted children, actress Diane Keaton spoke about the importance of the ordinary at a recent womens' leadership conference.

In what could easily be billed as a one-woman Broadway show, complete with singing and some on-screen dancing, Keaton also talked about the part luck has played in her stellar life. Luck ─ which Keaton defines as a matter of perception meeting opportunity ─ was instrumental in all aspects, from her fortuitous meeting with the president of L’Oreal Cosmetics (where she is currently the company spokesperson), to an equally auspicious meeting with director Woody Allen, who cast her in the movie Play it Again Sam back in l969. Yet, Keaton adds that the path she took also had a lot to do with her mother, who passed away about a year ago. Keaton, who grew up in the 50s, recalls singing Que Sera Sera ─ a song made famous by one of Keaton’s heroes, Doris Day ─ with her mom. The audience was even treated to a live rendition as Keaton belted out the lyrics on stage.

“Mom was the foundation for my convoluted belief that I would be a star. I wanted it so bad and mom wanted me to have what I wanted. In reality, all of my luck came down to being born the daughter of Dorothy Deanne Keaton Hall.”

Through a poignant video documenting her mom’s later years, Keaton paid tribute to what she called the most powerful relationship we experience in our lives. Explaining that her mother was a writer and artist, Keaton recalled her mother’s many journals and notebooks that began as simple documentations of facts and resulted in an autobiography, complete with family photos.

“For my family, photos were a way of exploring the world around us,” said Keaton who recalled early childhood trips to a local drugstore to peruse popular magazines in search of photos of personal heroes such as Katherine Hepburn, and socialite Babe Paley.

Keaton recounted another childhood trip that was in some ways life changing: a trip to the local Salvation Army, where she acquired her first of many quirky, and now signature, hats. With that hat she said she broke the rules, took some risks, and beat the odds of being plain old ordinary Diane.

Encouraging the crowd to also take risks, Keaton recalled some advice from her then-ill father, who admitted he never liked his job and wished he had taken more risks in his life. With those words ringing in her ears, at 50, Keaton took one of the biggest risks of her life and adopted a daughter, and, a few years later, a son, which she says for the first time in her life allowed her to experience real intimacy.

Sharing a video of her kids, Keaton said her children have given her an education unlike anything she has ever experienced “unencumbered by expectation, they have unintentionally given me ways of joy that come and go…much of what I thought was magical was not; the magical came from nothing I could have imagined. The promise of realized dreams can never compare to simply being a woman listening to her children talk. It’s what makes life so fulfilling now.”

Keaton pondered how to keep those kinds of memories alive, and said she thought it was done “by holding on to the extraordinary aspects of our ordinary lives. Because of my son and daughter ‘ordinary’ and ‘intimacy’ are now my inspiration.”

Keaton also spoke about the subject of ageism and how as a culture we should fight against it. Citing the success of the movie Something’s Gotta Give, which validated the older woman, Keaton commented that “we live in a culture that promotes youth as if it were synonymous with vibrancy, but we are still vibrant, alert, engaged, and creative at older ages.”

Having learned many lessons along the way, Keaton shared some with the audience, rattling off a litany of nuggets: cherish unexpected joys; follow your heart; dump perfection; go where you’ve never been; pretend to feel good about yourself and maybe you will.

Acknowledging her long film career, Keaton mentioned how her co-stars (as well as the characters they played) affected her off-screen life ─ from Woody Allen in Annie Hall to Warren Beatty in Reds, to Steve Martin in Father of the Bride. Likewise she spoke about the influence of the leading women with whom she has shared credits ─ Meryl Streep, Goldie Hawn, Bette Midler ─ and how these female relationships were very different collaborations because they were rooted in reality as opposed to romanticism.

Listening to Keaton, it’s evident that preserving memories ─ whether familial or professional ─ is an important aspect of her life. She said it stemmed from something her grandmother often did. To document a special moment, Grandmother Hall would take a “pretend picture” with the snap of her finger and the click of her tongue. As the award-winning actress left the stage, she did the same.