Rocket Man: a retiree’s encore act

   “The future cannot be predicted, but futures can be invented.” Dennis Gabor, 1963


The International Space Station. Magical, isn’t it?

Retirement can be a new beginning, not just an end.

Jim Nadir, who retired from Intel after 33 years there, is a space enthusiast with an impassioned commitment to kids.


Jim Nadir mentoring a student

When he retired, Jim chose not to spend his time in an easy chair or on the golf course. Instead, he served as a volunteer at Valley Christian High School in San Jose, CA. For the past three years, he’s been mentoring students in the school’s unique advanced space program. The highly lauded program develops student experiments for the International Space Station (ISS), develops rockets and will launch the school’s first satellite from the ISS next year.

The ISS Program is a STEM (Science Technology Engineering Math) outreach to schools around the world. Together with the partner schools, it has launched 73 experiments to the ISS over the past 6 years.

Enthusiastically devoted to mentoring, Jim has helped junior high and high school students put experiments aboard the ISS. He also participates in the school’s satellite development and rocket programs. The rocket program launches high powered sounding rockets from the San Joaquin Valley and Black Rock, Nevada that go from two to eight miles into the atmosphere.

Allie is one of Jim Nadir’s success stories. When they first met three years ago Allie was in 7th grade at Valley Christian Middle School. She was withdrawn, so shy she often hung back from even telling her teachers and classmates her name.


Allie working on a project

A teacher noticed that Allie had a natural curiosity and placed her in the newly created junior high ISS class, a challenging class attended mostly by A-level students. The class was a proof of concept that junior high students were up to the task to put experiments aboard the ISS. There, Allie began to go through a gradual metamorphosis, like a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis.

Her enthusiasm ignited, Allie joined the high school’s ISS program as a freshman. “She got motivated and charged up there and just suddenly blossomed into a very responsible young person,” Jim said.

Once timid Allie, now a sophomore, recently made a video interview with NASA, describing her involvement with the ISS program. “She couldn’t even tell you her name three years ago and now she’s confidently standing in front of a camera,” Jim said. The video ran on NASA TV in connection with a March 22, 2016 launch of a resupply mission to the ISS.


A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket carrying Orbital ATK’s Cygnus spacecraft on a resupply mission to the International Space Station, with Valley Christian High School experiments on board,  lifts off from Space Launch Complex 41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on March 22, 2016

“One of the most exciting aspects to the ISS program is that students are given a chance to apply what is learned in the classroom to a project which will deliver unique results that can be applied to real world problems,” Allie said.

“When I first entered the program, I was not particularly sure what my true passions were,” Allie added. “ I have found that I possess talent in both science and mechanical engineering. I know precisely what my skill sets are and what I am actually capable of, and I owe it all to the ISS program.”

Andy’s another success story. He was in the same junior high ISS class as Allie where he innovated new fluidic bags, spore injectors and pioneered the use of peristaltic pumps. His innovations propagated into the high school and went to other schools as well. “I found out that I could innovate and make decisions,” said Andy.

His junior high experiment was presented at the ASGSR (American Society for Gravitational and Space Research) Conference in Pasadena where it won “Best Use of the Space Station” award from CASIS (Center for the Advancement of Science in Space), the sole manager of the International Space Station U.S. National Laboratory.

Valley Christian High School offers students the opportunity to specialize through its Applied Math, Science and Engineering (AMSE) program. The ISS Project provides students with the opportunity to conceive, design, build, test, integrate, and qualify computer-controlled science experiments that are then sent into space and are active on the International Space Station for a minimum of 30 days.

Recent experiments studied plant growth, protein crystallization, radiation profiles aboard the ISS, the behavior of ant colonies, and bacteria growth in a microgravity environment.

Many of these experiments have their roots in previous NASA experiments and are extending them to the next logical step. For example, Dr. Jan Leach (Colorado State) discovered that soy bean plants in microgravity are more susceptible to fungal infections. The students, after reviewing her NASA paper, sent two experiments to combat fungal infection, one uses inoculation and the other uses vibrations in an attempt to strengthen the plant’s cell walls to resist infection. This vibration experiment has caught NASA’s interest because of its unique approach.

Jim spends most of his time mentoring students developing experiments, guiding them on satellite development or developing rocket simulation environments. This involves helping with such things as how to design a transistor circuit, building reliable fluid bags, micro fluidic component validation, PCB design, mechanical planning, and software development.

Jim retired from Intel’s Santa Clara, CA site in 2007. He told me his story in the hope it will inspire other retirees who would enjoy “putting their DNA into space” while doing something meaningful for the next generation of students or whatever else will help change the world for the better.


Jim Nadir’s Intel career: Jim began his  33 year career at Intel developing peripherals for the 8086. He subsequently developed the layout and circuits for Intel’s first standard cell library and logic synthesis (pioneered at Intel Haifa), and later was the leader for the Pentium Instruction cache and the Itanium Data Cache. He then moved into New Business Development ASIC group and later pursued FPGA technology and other programmable fabrics for custom and small volume runs.


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American businesses: meet your future job applicants

When Ellis Island opened in 1892, it welcomed immigrants escaping war, drought, famine and religious persecution and hoping America would offer them a new start.

Today, the Hillsboro School District is welcoming an increasingly diverse group of students, many of whom left their homes around the world because of brutal wars, punishing poverty, religious and political conflict, violence and/or a simple desire for a better life.

Tobias Elementary School, for example, is filling with children from Central America, Mexico, Ukraine, Thailand, Cambodia, Somalia, Egypt, Iraq and other countries speaking up to 30 languages. The mix depends, to some degree, on where the greatest turmoil and unrest is occurring, according to Steve Callaway, Tobias’ principal.


Many of these students are from low-income and, in many cases, low-educated, families where English is not the first language at home, behaviors and value systems vary widely and the American culture is not deeply embedded.

The shift has been dramatic. In the 1999-2000 school year, Tobias was largely white and culturally homogenous, with just 6.3 percent of the student body from principally mobile Hispanic migrant families and more from a smattering of other ethnicities, including Asian children whose parents worked in high-tech.

By the 2013-2014 school year, minority students from diverse cultures outnumbered white students at Tobias for the first time:

White: 47.8 percent.

Black: 3.5 percent.

Hispanic: 24.7 percent.

Asian/Pacific Islander: 12.2 percent.

American Indian/Alaskan Native: 0.6 percent.

Multiethnic: 11.3 percent.

The trend at Tobias is being replicated at the rest of Hillsboro’s schools, which were 49.5 percent white in the 2013-2014 school year.

Hillsboro School District demographics
Ethnicity No. of students Pct. of students
American Indian 174 0.83
Black 439 2.10
Hispanic 7,475 35.67
Asian 1,341 6.40
Pacific Islander 163 0.78
Multiethnic 965 4.74
White 10,368 48.48
TOTAL 20,955 100.00

Concentrations of children from particular ethnic groups are occurring in certain Hillsboro schools because their families want to live in close proximity. This has led, for example, to 19 Somali students attending Hillsboro’s Imlay Elementary School in the 2013-2014 school year and 15 this school year.

The U.S. Department of Education projects that minorities will outnumber whites among the nation’s public school students for the first time this fall. In other words, the minorities will become the majority.

What this means in the longer term is that Hillsboro’s workforce of the future is going to look quite different from today. Hillsboro’s economic viability and America’s greatness will be diminished if we don’t do all we can to educate these ethnically and culturally diverse children.

It’s critical that we prepare them for success as creative problem solvers and engaged community members in work and life. It’s also essential that we inculcate in them a belief in the American Dream and a commitment to the kind of effort that will bring them social and economic mobility.

“Kids don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care,” says Callaway. There are so many ways local businesses can show much they care about preparing children for work.

Companies can open their facilities to students who want to learn more about the world of work and career options by offering job shadows and paid internships. “All students need to be more aware of what job opportunities are out there,” says Leslie Smith Mayfield, a 3rd grade teacher and STEM Coordinator at Tobias. “We need help from business to expose kids, even in the elementary grades, to what options there are in the real world. Some bright kids are going to go to waste if they don’t realize the options they can work towards.”

Awareness also needs to expand to the skilled trades, which can offer well-paid, stable careers. For example, Callaway says he’d welcome having IBEW workers come in to teach kids about basic electrical circuitry.

Elaine Philippi, manager of student programs at the Business Education Compact, talks up the BEC STEM Connect TM Initiative. Volunteers from a business visit a school at least four times in an academic year, educating the students about their company, engaging students in activities that promote STEM concepts and collaborative processes and helping out at a science night or other community event.

Employees at local businesses can also get involved by helping with field trips, providing reading assistance, giving technical demonstrations, and even presenting on their hobbies. Astronomy and geology hobbyists, for example, have visited Tobias classrooms.

Businesses can give grants of all sizes to enable schools to offer innovative programs. For example, a Tobias teacher secured a grant to support an engineering math program for 6th grade girls.

Equipment can be donated to enhance the learning experience.

Companies can form partnerships with local schools, as FEI, Intel and Vernier have already done with Tobias.

All of this could help boost achievement levels and increase completion rates at Hillsboro’s increasingly diverse schools. That will benefit the local business community down the road when these youngsters enter the job market.

Watch video about Tobias Elementary School

This blog also appeared as a column in the Hillsboro Argus, October 1, 2014

Turning unemployment into self-employment

By Bill MacKenzie

Ronald Reagan once wisecracked, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.’”

But sometimes, the government gets it right.

Julie Thomas knows that. Thomas recalls with sadness when her beloved black lab, Barney, had cancer. Wanting desperately to ease Barney’s pain, Thomas, an employee at Intel’s Hillsboro site, studied small animal massage and began treating her pet. When Thomas learned she was going to be let go by Intel, she decided to take a risk and change careers to work in canine water therapy.

But how could she get the business off the ground while unemployed? Oregon’s Self Employment Assistance Program (SEAP) came to her rescue.

The regular Unemployment Compensation program requires unemployed workers to be actively seeking work to get benefits. SEAP allows unemployed people to collect allowances equal to their benefits while devoting all their time to starting a business, rather than looking for another job.

The program was created in 1993 after passage of federal legislation championed by then-U.S. Rep. Ron Wyden. SEAP is now active in seven states, including Oregon. In 2012, legislation sponsored by Wyden — now Oregon’s senior U.S. Senator — provided for $35 million in grants to states to improve administration and promotion of the program.

With the economy still struggling, SEAP offers a lifeline to some entrepreneurs.

“It seemed a perfect fit for me,” Thomas said.

Thomas opened her business, Doggie Paddle, in Portland in October 2010.

“I’m not making the money I made working in a corporation,” she said, “but I’m doing something with animals, something of service, something for which I have a passion.”

Thomas is just one of several thousand Oregonians who have taken advantage of SEAP, including 55 now enrolled from Washington County, with seven of those from Hillsboro.

With SEAP support, Dave Crosswhite of Tigard started Oregon Backflow Testing, which tests backflow prevention devices that help to prevent hazardous materials from entering drinking water. He said SEAP was a huge factor.

“It took the pressure off of needing to produce an income right away and allowed me to focus on building the business and not having to job search in order to receive benefits,” he explained.

Glen Wagner and Steve Bauer signed up after they both lost their technology jobs. They decided to start a company called Open Lore in Beaverton that would deliver assisting technology to people having difficulty reading English, primarily those with dyslexia.

“Unfortunately, with multiple kids in college and still relatively young, at least at heart, we did not have the complete means to meet our family obligations and the capital expenses of starting a new technology business,” Wagner said. “With SEAP, we could put our heart and soul into the business.”

But SEAP is not without its weaknesses.

Key SEAP performance data is based only on surveys returned by program participants, but a lot of participants don’t return the surveys. For example, a recent Oregon survey sent out to 356 SEAP participants got only 78 replies — a 22 percent return.

So the state doesn’t know how many people sign up for SEAP, exhaust their benefits and end up with no business and no job. Some of those missing may be in worse shape than when they started.

Another glaring weakness is, success in Oregon hasn’t been determined on the basis of how many SEAP participants start and maintain a successful business. Rather, success has been judged by how well the state promotes SEAP and how much money is distributed to participants. Only government could think that way.

In addition, although SEAP requires that potential participants fill out an application scored to determine the feasibility of their proposed business, there’s no real follow-up. That means no assurance participants will take advantage of the array of support programs available to help grow and sustain a business. Failure may too often be the consequence.

Only about half of all new businesses survive five years or more, and only about one-third survive 10 years or more. To improve their odds, SEAP-related businesses need continuing guidance. After all, although new businesses create new jobs, it’s only when they succeed and expand that real job growth occurs.

Bill MacKenzie is a former congressional staff member, newspaper reporter and communications manager for a Hillsboro company.

Originally published in the Hillsboro Tribune,  Sept. 13, 2013