The Importance of Role Models

Quote of the Day

To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.

— Ralph Waldo Emerson


Figure 1: Dr. Frank Schiebe, my neighbor in Osseo.

Figure 1: Dr. Frank Schiebe, my
neighbor in Osseo, MN. As a boy, I
used to visit him while he was working
in his garage. I always thought magic
was happening in that garage.

I have worked with engineers my entire career, which spans the last 31 years. During this time, I have noticed that almost all engineers went into engineering because of some important personal relationship early in their life. The same is true for me. I grew up during the 1960s in "Small Town USA." In many ways, this was a wonderful environment in which to grow up. Unlike today, in my home town all the different economic classes lived next to each other. They had widely different experiences in life, yet they had the common experiences of the Depression and World War II. My father was a common laborer, yet he lived next to a dentist, doctor, school district president, and university professor of electrical engineering. Sadly, I do not see this mixing of the economic classes today. It was important for me to see how all these people lived together. I babysat for them, mowed their lawns, and delivered their newspapers. I got to know all these folks very well. I smile just thinking about that time.

My Mentor

My story is about Frank Schiebe, the university professor of engineering. Frank died a couple of year ago and his high school recently posthumously gave him their 2010 Distinguished Alumni Award. I happened to be flipping through the local television channels recently when I saw that the local educational channel was playing a ceremony honoring Frank's life. Boy did that story bring back memories …

In many ways, Frank's story was like that of many engineers I have known. Frank grew up in a small town and wanted to attend the University of Minnesota, but his primary school work had been lackluster enough that a school counselor told him not to even bother applying. Of course, Frank did not listen, and he squeaked his way through the electrical engineering program and got his BSEE. In spite of weak grades, he was able to get into graduate school where he excelled and eventually graduated with a PhD in Electrical Engineering. During his university schooling, Frank had done a lot of work with computers and simulation. His first research was on using computers for simulating water flow, turbulence, and cavitation. He did ground breaking research in this area. Later, he worked with NASA on applying remote sensing to agricultural and natural resource management.

When I knew Frank during the 1960s, he was working on understanding cavitation and his research was very interesting to me. It turns out that I have encountered cavitation many times in my career, particularly when I worked on undersea vehicles. I first heard about Frank's research when he was over to my home and was having beer with my father. Frank and my father became good friends and frequently could be seen sitting outside of our home drinking beer. NASA's manned spaceflight program was in full gear at that time, and I was absolutely fascinated with it. Frank was a great source of information on how all that stuff worked, and I asked him questions constantly. I loved science and wanted to work in engineering like Frank, but I hated mathematics. I will never forget when Frank told me that I could not get anywhere in science without mathematics. I thought so highly of Frank that, grudgingly, I decided I had better get good at math. Because of Frank, mathematics eventually became my best subject. Like Frank, I became an electrical engineer. I owe him a debt of gratitude. My life would have been much different without him.






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5 Responses to The Importance of Role Models

  1. Thank you for this wonderful blog post - about my father! You completely captured the science and the soft side of the man I loved so much. He continued to mentor and nurture students his whole career. He gave the same encouragement to his grandchildren when they headed off college. Math blogs don't usually make me teary, but you have! Would you let me know who you are, and who your father was who drank beers with Dad in the garage?

    • mathscinotes says:

      I probably played with you! I am one of the five Biegert children who lived across from you. My name is Mark Biegert and my father was Richard Biegert. Your dad and mine had a few adventures and more than a few beers.

      Other than my father, your father was the single biggest influence in my life. Even though I was only in first-grade, he gave me a big box of his old electronics magazines (my mother was not happy about that). I spent hours staring at them. I thought the weird drawings in them were magical. He sat down and told me how things worked. He set afire a curiosity and a drive to know that still burns within me.

      Dad died a few years after you folks moved away. He always thought of Frank as a great friend. Frank was a very kind man who provided me guidance when my father could not. My dad had little education and really did not know what to do with a young son with an interest in science. Frank provided encouragement and guidance just when I needed it.

      I have had a very satisfying career and I write this blog to give something back. I think of Frank every time a young engineer comes into my group and I try to treat them as he would. So his thoughtfulness and kindness continues on.

      Mark Biegert

      • Kathy Schiebe Leggitt says:

        Hi Mark, we probably did play together - what year did you graduate? I spent my early career as an engineer, then returned to school to study nursing and become a midwife. Nursing is a career notorious for "eating its young" and I tried hard to remember how my dad would have treated new nurses. Thanks again for your wonderful words about my dad. Kathy Schiebe Leggitt

        • mathscinotes says:

          I graduated from Osseo high-school in 1975. It was great hearing from you. Your note brought back many wonderful memories of sitting with your dad on our back steps and talking about science and math. All I had to do was occasionally run to the refrigerator to grab him and my father a couple of beers.

          Mark Biegert

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