17 April 2008
Revised: 23 April 2008
Norman, Oklahoma, USA
Having just turned 60, I must assume I'm now operating in the
fourth quarter of the game. That calls for some serious consideration of how to
use my time, since obviously the fraction of it in the future is much smaller
than what's in the past. First, let's see where the
first three quarters went.
Quarter One: Preparation (1948 – 1968)
Working hard in junior high and high school, I acquired enough math, science (physics!), English, and Latin skill to land a spot in the freshman class at Rice University, Houston in 1966. I had heard Rice was academia's answer to the Marine Corps, but I was unprepared for its learning blitzkrieg, an experience that compared very favorably to drinking out of a full-on fire hydrant twenty hours a day. Existing on four hours' sleep a night for a year and a half finally put me in the hospital, out of Rice, into O.U., and out of the first quarter.
Quarter Two: Marriage, Degrees, Daughter, and Software Engineering Career (1968 – 1988)
The relatively leisurely pace of the Engineering College at O.U. (compared to Rice, anyway) much better suited my temperment and talents. I completed a Bachelor of Science in Industrial (Systems) Engineering and began work on a Master of Science in Computing Science. About that time, a certain freshly-minted public school librarian (Sue) was so foolish as to become my bride and has remained so for the intervening 38 years. Having worked part-time for O.U. professors and the O.U. Research Institute through undergrad school, I finally obtained full-time professional engineering employment with Uncle Sam's Air Force and spent the rest of the 1970s with the USAF and two of its contractors writing software to automate the final production testing of jet engines, jet engine fuel controls, and other accessories. I pieced together the rest of my M.S.C.S. while working full time for the Air Force, and then spent a year of "sabbatical in reverse" at O.U. in 1976-77, working on a never-completed Ph.D. in Computing Science and teaching computer programming, while on leave for a year from the Air Force job.
The 1980s brought (finally!) a willful, beautiful, scary-smart young lady named Carri who is the apple of Daddy's eye. The 80s also produced a series of one-project software engineering jobs ranging from electronic instrumentation for petroleum drilling operations to hospital real-time transaction systems, to bank check-scanning systems, and back again to jet engine testing. If satisfaction is what ya get when you plan ahead, and experience is what ya get when you don't, I guess I accumulated plenty of experience!
Quarter Three: Late Engineering Career and College Teaching (1988 – 2008)
In the summer of 1989 I was subcontracted from Monitronics, Inc. in Norman to Organon Teknika Corp., a manufacturer of clinical laboratory equipment and hemodialysis (ECBT*) machines. The work was challenging, the workgroup was outstanding, and the pay and working hours were good. I went to work directly for OTC in 1990 and was heavily involved in the design and testing of two generations their microbial detection system, the BacT/ALERT. This system detects the presence of bacteria in patients' blood samples in as little as 12 hours and is responsible for preventing the untimely deaths of thousands of septicemic patients over the last 18 years at quite a small cost per patient. The system has also generated some very considerable profits for OTC and the hospitals, private labs, and blood banks performing the tests.
In 2002, OTC was bought by one of its competitors, the French company bioMérieux (bee-oh-merry-your), who moved the Oklahoma City manufacturing operation to St. Louis in 2003. Spouse Sue and I chose to stay in Norman / Oklahoma City near our farm, Sue's family, and our other business interests. That soon resulted in my joining Sue as a part-time math and engineering prof. at Oklahoma City Community College. I've taught engineering and applied math courses there for four years now, and I love it.
That's a thumbnail sketch of the past. What about the future?
Quarter Four: More College Teaching? (2008 – ?)
Given my druthers, I'd continue to teach until they haul me out of the OCCC building feet-first, but a family financial disaster that occurred last spring (2007) has cast doubt on that scenario's practicality. When all production from our farm's small gas well, the source of my "teaching fellowship" vanished, simultaneously with Sue's unplanned exit from her counseling job at OCCC, and my teaching load was cut back to one class for the summer, I very nearly gave up teaching and returned to engineering work. Much to my own surprise, I torpedoed an interview that would very likely have accomplished just that, because when it got right down to it, I couldn't bear the thought of leaving the classroom and my "kids."
Now, a year later, with my rainy day emergency funds pretty well used up and an invasion of our Individual Retirement Accounts imminent, I'm not sure if I can financially sustain the decision to stay with teaching. Given the appearance over the last decade or two of all of the thou-shalt-commence-to-teach "Post-It notes from God" (Carri’s phrase) that eventually turned into full-page ads and finally into outdoor billboards, I can't believe that teaching isn't what I'm supposed to be doing now, but it's very hard to see how to continue teaching AND keep our family finances intact.
This situation is, I suppose, like the predicament in which I've always found myself, never knowing quite what I wanted to do when I grow up. The difference this time is that now I know, but I don't know how to finance it.
What irony! Stay tuned.
* Extra-Corporeal Blood Treatment