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Take me out to the ballpark — for graduation May 30, 2020

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Zeke Brewer accepts his diploma in graduation ceremony at Globe Life Field in Arlington, new home of the Texas Rangers

 

We watched our friend Zeke Brewer – Reggie Ezekiel Brewer – cross the finish line Friday night when he received his high school diploma from Irving MacArthur High School.

Congratulations, Zeke!

What made the ceremony cool and unique is that it was held at Globe Life Field in Arlington, brand new home of the Texas Rangers Major League Baseball team.

Instead of having a virtual, “Zoom” graduation during this pandemic, Irving school district officials figured out a way to have graduation at a location that allowed plenty of social distancing for graduates and their families.

The ballpark seats approximately 40,000 people, so the 400 or so grads and the five guests they each were allowed to bring meant that roughly 2,500 people were in the stadium.

But the really cool factor was the live stream allowed us to watch the ceremony from our living room in Edmond, OK. We got to see and hear the commencement addresses by the various dignitaries and the student achievers in real time.

We got to watch a Zeke receive his diploma in an up-close-and-personal camera shot.

Thanks to Zeke’s Mom, Carmen Oliva, for sending us the link. We couldn’t be there, but we could.

And wouldn’t have missed it for anything.

One year ago, breaking news in Capitola: My grandson has arrived May 29, 2020

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My grandson, Solomon (above), has brightened our lives as a happy 1-year-old

 

One year ago today, I woke up about 7 am in Capitola, California, and picked up my phone. There was a text alert on the screen from Jane Loafman back in Edmond, OK. It said something on the order of “congratulations on Solomon’s birth.”

Wait, what?

Turns out that my daughter had given birth overnight, and I slept through her calls and text messages. So, I got the news from Jane, with whom I have attended church for many years at The Springs Church of Christ in Edmond.

While I was in California, Solomon Stafford was born 8 weeks premature on May 29, 2019.

Solomon’s mother, my daughter, Sarah, still won’t forgive me for not being present during the birth.

I had a great excuse for being 1,600 miles away.

My 86-year-old mother had suffered a heart attack and undergone emergency bypass surgery while visiting a friend in California about a week earlier.

So, I flew out to give her support from a familiar face while she recovered, first in the hospital, and then in a rehab center. She was unable to fly back to her home in Fort Smith, Ark., for about three weeks.

Papa holding Solomon soon after birth while he was still in the hospital

After staying with her for about 10 days, I flew back to OKC on a Sunday evening. My friend Ed picked me up at the airport and drove me straight to the hospital, where I met Solomon for the first time.

The timing of Solomon’s birth was a big surprise for all of us, because he was 8 weeks premature. He weighed only 3 pounds and change.

Sarah and my wife, Paula, urged me to hold him that first day, which I nervously did for just a few seconds.

I remained in Oklahoma for a week, then flew back to San Jose and Ubered down to Capitola to continue providing support for my mom until the doctor gave her permission to return home later that week. We flew back to Fort Smith together.

Now, a year later, my Mom is thriving as an 87-year-old widow who still lives on her own.

And Solomon has made tremendous progress, as well. He’s now a 20-pound, almost-toddler, crawling, climbing and bringing joy to our lives.

An unexpected gift and a flight to remember May 12, 2020

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Editor’s note: Back in 2005, I covered the annual Biotechnology Industry Organization convention in Boston as technology reporter for The Oklahoman. I was moved by an incident that happened on the flight back home and wrote about it in a column a week later. It’s short and not of anything of real consequence, but I’m proud of the message that it has. So, I’m sharing it in this blog.

I settled into my seat – row 24, seat D on the aisle – for a four-hour flight from Boston to Houston last week.

A woman occupied the window seat, and I was pleased to see the middle seat was empty.

Then I looked up and saw a really big man walking toward the back of the plane, and I knew where he was headed.

I mean “big” in the same way we envision Santa Claus as “big.” Rotund. My mom would be nice and say he was just big boned.

Anyway, I stood up and let the big guy into the middle seat. He spilled over into my seat and that of the poor woman in the window seat.

I resented every inch of his girth, but said nothing. I read my paper, listing toward the aisle.

I guess I couldn’t hide my discomfort because the flight attendant stopped and offered me another seat.  She said she had only middle seats available. I said I was fine and went back to my paper.

Meanwhile, the big guy folded his arms, leaned his head back against the seat and closed his eyes.

The plane took off and here we were, swapping the cotton off our shirts as our bellies rubbed against one another. He slept. I read and fumed.

There he was, standing by the rear emergency exit adjacent to the two bathrooms and the galley. He was nursing a cup of coffee. ‘So there you are,’ I said, not knowing really what to say. ‘I wanted to give you some space,’ he replied.

About an hour into the flight, the big guy said he wanted to get up and stretch his legs. I gladly stood and let him out.

He went toward the back of the plane and disappeared.

Now I really could enjoy the paper and the book I brought with me.

But time went by and I began to wonder where the big guy was. An hour ticked off, then two hours. I decided to wander back to the rear of the plane and see if I could find him.

There he was, standing by the rear emergency exit adjacent to the two bathrooms and the galley. He was nursing a cup of coffee.

“So there you are,” I said, not knowing really what to say.

“I wanted to give you some space,” he replied.

I went back to my seat.

About 45 minutes before we landed in Houston, the big guy reclaimed his middle seat.

I didn’t mind so much now.

“I really appreciate what you did,” I said to him. “You certainly didn’t have to do that.”

“You deserved it,” he said. “Is your mother still living?”

“Yes, she is.”

“Then do something nice for her on Mother’s Day.”

I felt about one-inch tall.

The plane landed, and we departed with no more words. I regretted that I didn’t ask his name or even introduce myself.

So, on Sunday I called Mom, wished her a happy Mother’s Day and told her this story. She told me it made her day.

Thank you for the present, big guy.

 

 

 

OKC’s technology community loses innovator in Phil Miller May 11, 2020

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Phil Miller as shown in July 14, 2004 article in The Oklahoman

I’ve hit the age milestone where the first thing I do when I open the daily newspaper is head straight to the obituaries. First of all, there are some great life stories told in the obits, as we called them when I worked at The Oklahoman back in the olden days.

Second, you never know who’s passing you might stumble across. That happened to me in today’s edition of The Oklahoman.

As I was browsing the Sunday obits, I came across that of Phil Miller.

I was both surprised and crestfallen.

Phil was founder of OKC’s Long Wave, a high tech company that provided communications services for the U.S. Military, specifically for the big Navy jets that fly around the world and communicate via “long wave” radio frequency with the nation’s submarine force.

The Navy has a presence at Tinker Air Force Base, and Phil located Long Wave here to accommodate it. The cool thing about Long Wave is that it was located in a historic building down in Bricktown because that part of town was an opportunity zone that provided some financial benefits.

“With me, if I don’t make my quarter, I don’t care. It’s more important to do the right thing for the customer than to make the quarter. And, oh by the way, when you do that, you end up making more money.” — Phil Miller

Anyway, I got to know Phil by writing about his company on several occasions. He had an unassuming personality that seemed to welcome everybody who crossed his path. He accommodated me every time I called him out of the blue for a story, a quote or even to write a letter on behalf of another entrepreneur

Here’s a quote from a story about Long Wave’s recognition in the INC500/INC1500 for being one of the nation’s fastest growing companies:

“These awards include winning the INC500/INC5000 ten times (representing the fastest growing businesses in America). Long Wave was also an eight-time winner of the Inner City 100 for Oklahoma City. Phil was recognized by the U.S. Small Business Administration and the Governor of Oklahoma as Oklahoma’s Small Businessperson of The Year in 2006.”

You might also recognize Phil as one-time owner of the OKC Yard Dawgz Arena Football team.

OKC lost an innovator, entrepreneur and good person. Rest in peace, Phil.

 

Pandemic forces unexpected route to graduation for OCAST intern May 6, 2020

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OCAST interview with Ella Luttbeg, TU from OCAST on Vimeo.

 

Editor’s note: Along with Debbie Cox, my colleague from the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology (OCAST), I recently interviewed Ella Luttbeg via the Zoom platform. Ella is a graduating senior at the University of Tulsa.

Ella Luttbeg was wrapping up some major projects as she prepared to graduate this spring as a mechanical engineering major from the University of Tulsa.

A senior capstone project neared its conclusion, as did an OCAST internship at Tulsa’s Triumph Aerostructures that she had held since October 2018.

A job at Boeing’s Oklahoma City operation awaited in June after her May graduation.

Then the COVID-19 pandemic threw some major roadblocks in her path. As the wave of Coronavirus infections washed over the nation in March, social distancing measures shuttered businesses, closed campuses and forced students like Luttbeg back to their homes to remotely complete the semester.

For Ella, home is Stillwater, where she graduated from high school before enrolling at TU as a freshman in 2016. Her parents are both biology professors at Oklahoma State University.

Luttbeg negotiated the roadblocks and finished out both the senior project and the OCAST internship.

“School wise, everything is remote, and our senior project kind of ended in a different fashion than we expected it to,” Ella told me in a recent interview over the Zoom platform. “So far, the pandemic hasn’t affected my job offer, which I’m grateful for.”

“I think something that really helps is seeing older college or professional women talking about their careers and getting excited about math and science and showing that it is a cool thing to be interested in. Having role models to look up to really helps people believe it’s something that they can achieve, as well.”
— Ella Luttbeg on inspiring more women to pursue STEM careers

During the OCAST internship, Luttbeg tackled a variety of engineering projects for Triumph Aerostructures related to fatigue and damage tolerance analysis in aircraft structures.

“I was lucky enough to be able to work from home for Triumph during the pandemic,” Ella said. “They were able to get me a laptop to remote in. It’s been different, but I’ve really been grateful to keep my internship.”

Luttbeg was one of two OCAST interns this academic year working at Triumph Aerostructures, a division of Triumph Group. Triumph is a publicly traded, global leader in manufacturing and overhauling aerospace structures, systems, and components.

“My time at Triumph Aerostructures has been super valuable to me, because it’s given me the opportunity to supplement my school studies with real world experience,” she said. “At Triumph, I worked with really smart engineers who taught me a lot about stress and fatigue and damage tolerance analysis. It exposed me to a whole different side of engineering.”

Ella Luttbeg

Luttbeg developed her interest in pursuing an education in STEM – science, technology, engineering and math – while still in high school. She credits Larry Hesler, a high school math teacher, for stoking that interest, and college professors John Henshaw, Ph.D., and Steve Tipton, Ph.D., for mentoring her through the engineering program.

“I’ve always been interested in math,” she said. “Both my parents are scientists, so I’ve always been kind of exposed to the STEM world. Then at TU, my classes have shown me what engineering is all about.”

She learned about the OCAST intern opportunity through an email that TU’s engineering department sent to its students. TU is a long-time participant in the OCAST Intern Partnership program, which places students in real world R&D settings on a cost-share basis.

“I would definitely tell future/current college students to be on the lookout for the OCAST internships because they are a great way to be able to work part time during the school year and over the summer,” Luttbeg said. “I’m so thankful to have this opportunity to have this OCAST internship. It’s meant a lot to me and supplemented my education.”