Meet Paul Runnels

Welcome back to the POP QUIZ! This is a regular, yet totally unexpected, feature where we ask students, parents, staff, our friends, and partners to answer a few questions about what they are learning, reading, and thinking about. Today we feature Paul Runnels. Since 2013, Paul has been one of the CIS volunteers who makes the Science Club at Edison Environmental Science Academy so successful.

Like other volunteers who have supported the Science Club since its 2003 inception, Paul brings to bear his talents, skills, and passion for science. And he has quite the science background! After obtaining his bachelor of pre-med at DePauw University, he studied veterinarian medicine at Purdue University. He then pursued his doctorate in veterinarian pathology at Iowa State University. While in graduate school he did research work for the National Animal Disease Center.

Paul moved to Kalamazoo in 2003 when Pfizer moved its Animal Health headquarters from Connecticut to Kalamazoo. [In 2013, Pfizer spun off this unit into Zoetis. Zoetis serves veterinarians, livestock producers and people who raise and care for farm and companion animals in more than 100 countries.] Retired since 2016 from Zoetis, this clinical research veterinarian is helping to inspire a new generation of scientists.

An avid biker, Paul also serves on the board of Open Roads, which use bicycles as a vehicle to engage and empower young people in the community to develop skills for their future. He is also part of the cyclist riding group, known as The Chain Gang. Back in 2016, he was one of the nine cyclists struck by a pickup truck. Five died, and Paul, along with three others, were severely injured. We’re thankful that Paul has recovered and is once again volunteering and biking.

Alright, Paul: pencil out, eyes on your own paper. Good luck.

Pop Quiz

Researchers have found that asking children questions about their surroundings while encouraging and extending their explorations of their world can help them improve their general knowledge and science achievement. That’s what you all do as volunteers who facilitate the Science Club at Edison.

All the kids absorb the information like sponges. My only wish is we could do Science Club more often, and with more kids!

Scientists are curious and tend to ask good questions. What is a question you’ve asked recently?

We just did a recent section with the Science Club around water filtration. We had the students make their own bio filters. We gave them a small amount of tiny gravel, some sand, some activated charcoal, and peat moss. The coffee filters were then used to cap the end of a water bottle. We had filled them up with pond water and they ran the water through filters. The water was running painfully slow. So the question we posed to the kids was: Why are these filters running so slow?

How wonderful that the Science Club gives students the opportunity to do such interesting hands-on learning.

And this year, CIS, with a grant from Zoetis, bought some really good microscopes.

We asked students to imagine that Teresa’s dog, Cash, went out and drank some pond water and got sick. We want to figure out why Cash got sick, and figure out how to treat it. [Teresa Miller, another member of the volunteer team that helps facilitate the Science Club was recently featured on our blog, here.]

A week before meeting with the students, we had collected some pond water and so we put two or three drops on the slides. Usually, you see one or two things underneath the scope. The students are working in small groups and looking at the drops under the microscope when zoop! Something went back and forth across the field. Bigger than anything we’d ever seen.

What was that?

I have no idea! We’d never seen it before. I assume it was some type of larval insect. It got everybody excited, even me!

What have you found to be the most rewarding aspect to volunteering?

Interacting with the kids. I love it. As an old guy, it’s wonderful to be around all that energy.

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?

I like to do woodworking. I’m teaching myself to cut dovetails. I’m getting there but I’m not yet really good at it. Matt Krautmann [Krautmann also volunteered for several years with the Science Club], does a good deal of wood working and has been helpful in this endeavor. I was recently gluing the base of a table and the joints didn’t fit perfectly. I respect Matt’s work ethic and creative thinking. I learned from him that it doesn’t have to be perfect to be good.

If we could talk about the 2016 incident in which you were seriously injured…after having experienced such a horrific event, was it scary getting back on the bike and ride again?

No, it wasn’t. Because I was determined. I had been laying in the hospital bed, and at first I wasn’t sure if I would be able to even walk. After some weeks, as I grew stronger, I knew I would do it.

What did you learn from this whole experience?

The biggest thing I learned is the importance of the support of the community. Not just the biking community, but also Kalamazoo, and the broader community, and all the encouragement and strength they shared with us. I’m grateful to the first responders and the medical community. I also learned how amazingly resilient the human body is.

[With money raised, the Chain Gang connected with Kalamazoo sculptor Joshua Diedrich who created a memorial to those who lost their lives and to honor the survivors. The piece is installed at Markin Glen Park. To learn more about the artist’s process and to see additional photos of the monument, go here.]

Image courtesy of Joshua Diedrich

What are you currently reading? 

I just finished Deep State by James B. Stewart. He also happened to be my college roommate. We went to DePauw University.

Your roommate became quite a successful author. What was he like back then?

He was a very engaged individual who is very bright. When we were in school he was a campus leader. He got into journalism and became the editor of the school paper. He went on to Harvard for law school, became a lawyer, and ended up writing about the Wall Street insider trading scandals of the 80s. That book, Den of Thieves, won the Pulitzer. And Heart of a Soldier is another of his books I really like.

What is your favorite word right now?

Resilience.

What’s something you looking forward to in 2020?

Taking a winter vacation in Hawaii. My wife and I spend the month of February in Hawaii. It’s a perk of retirement.

Behind every successful person is a caring adult. Who has been your caring adult?

My parents. My dad was one of the vets in the town of Darlington, Indiana, that I grew up in. He mostly worked on farm animals and also did small animals more as a service than as a passion. He did that for 20 or so years and then joined the staff at Purdue for another 25 years. He was very busy as a small town, practicing vet. He’d get called out at any time of the day or night. The local telephone company was his answering phone when he was at church. That was his one undisturbed hour of the week. And though busy, he made time to be supportive and come to the events we were involved in. Both my parents did.

Thank you, Paul, for hanging out with us at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids.

Meet Teresa Miller

Welcome back to the POP QUIZ! This is a regular, yet totally unexpected, feature where we ask students, parents, staff, our friends, and partners to answer a few questions about what they are learning, reading, and thinking about. Today we feature longtime CIS volunteer Teresa Miller.

More than a decade ago, Teresa, who has a background as a veterinarian technician and holds a Bachelor of Science in Zoology from Michigan State University, walked into Edison Environmental Science Academy and started volunteering once a month with the Science Club. At that time, in 2007, she worked with Zoetis in Animal Health. Since 2017, she’s been employed with Stryker as an Associate Sourcing Manager. “I loved doing my volunteer work with the fourth and fifth graders. I thought I might have to give it up, though, when I started my new job, but I didn’t! I’m so lucky that Stryker allows me to continue to do this!” she says.

In fact, Teresa loves working with the students so much that she convinced her hairy, 105 pound friend, Cash, to volunteer as well. A Bernese Mountain Dog, Cash is considered part of the volunteer team who makes Science Club so successful. [Since we’ll be featuring some of the Science Club volunteers, we’ll bring you Cash’s interview this spring when he comes to visit the students at Edison.]

Born in Taylor, Michigan, Teresa, along with her husband, two children, two dogs, three cats, and two horses, now lives on a 10-acre property in Plainwell. “I love Kalamazoo and I love Plainwell. And, of course, Plainwell has the best ice cream!”

Alright, Teresa: pencil out, eyes on your own paper. Good luck.

Pop Quiz

As you know, the Science Club has been going strong since 2004 when Zoetis scientist [and current CIS board member] Dom Pullo started the club. It’s such a fantastic way to enhance students’ learning of science, through inquiry and hands-on activities.

It’s fun volunteering with Dom and other volunteers, like Paul. [Paul Runnels will be featured in an upcoming post, so stay tuned.] The kids are great. They ask lots of question and they are amazing questions. We encourage that. Asking questions is how you learn. They are just so inquisitive. Science, for these kids, is like magic.

What have you found to be the most rewarding aspect to volunteering?

Seeing the change and growth in the students. It’s rewarding to see the kids change from the beginning of our time together to the end. In the beginning, some are just there to get out of class, maybe wanting to do something different. At some point, that changes. They want us to come every week. When we do the slime project, there are always some kids who don’t want to touch the slime, but by the end, they are picking it up and playing with it.

What is a question you’ve asked recently?

When I started with Stryker, I had no manufacturing experience, so I asked a lot of questions. In particular, What are the different types of processing of materials?

So, for instance, when it comes to a hospital bed, part of the metal is bent metal. You do that by heating the metal to form it. And then, you have to use a different process to do another section, say with a laser to cut the holes where you want them.

Since I have gone from animals to manufacturing, I’m constantly learning something new every day and I love that. I never get bored!

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?

I recently asked Alexa (my Amazon Echo) about dolphins.

Another question!

Yes! And I learned that their skin is so thick. I didn’t realize that but it makes sense as it would help them with body warmth. Orcas are dolphins and not whales. Because we call orca’s killer whales, I didn’t realize that either.

What are you currently reading? 

The last book I read was Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein. I read it before I saw the movie. I cried through the entire last chapter. The book before that was A Dog’s Purpose by Bruce Cameron. That’s a movie, too, about a dog who is reincarnated. Are you sensing a theme here?

What is your favorite word right now?

Service.

What’s something you looking forward to in 2020?

I’m going on a ten day cruise this spring to celebrate my daughter’s graduation. She just got accepted into Michigan State University (MSU)!

Behind every successful person is a caring adult. Who has been your caring adult?

My dad. The support he gives me and how he teaches. He’s the kind of person who is always teaching, telling you why he is doing something a certain way.. When he was 19 he had started working for Ford and worked for them his whole life. With no real formal education after high school, he felt it was important to get an advanced education. So when I was growing up, he was always pushing me to go to college. It wasn’t an option. In fact, he was the one who got me to consider going into the animal field.

Thank you, Teresa, for hanging out with us at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids.

2 + 2 = The Four Men of the Math Squad

Today we highlight the Woods Lake Math Squad. At the 11th Annual Champs Celebration, presented by Kalsec, the Math Squad was honored with a 2018 Champ Award which was sponsored by ZoetisCIS Board Member David Maurer presented the award.  

The Math Squad is four retired gentlemen who tutor students at Woods Lake Elementary: A Magnet Center for the Arts. Each of the men is mainly focused on a different grade level and, depending on the needs, their supports vary. Some help with fundamental building blocks, while others provide tutoring that reinforces what is being taught in class. “Their support is incredibly valuable,” says CIS Site Coordinator Maureen Cartmill. “The skills, patience, and positive attitudes they bring with them each week support both students and teachers.”

The Math Squad’s combined years of life and work experience adds up to—well, since we haven’t had the benefit of their math support—we’ll say: “A Lot!” Stan Lepird, known as “Mr. Stan” was an engineer at Stryker. A volunteer with CIS since 2012, he himself is a former Champ recipient. James “Mike” Bratherton taught for 38 years in the Portage area. Bill Breyfogle, also a retired teacher, taught junior high school science and math for 36 years. Bill Becker, a self-described “full-blooded marine” has a background in business.

 

When asked what he would like to say to “Mr. Mike,” a student smiled, turned to Mike, and exclaimed, “Thank you for all of the math help! You make math much easier for us.”

 

The effect the Math Squad has on the students is palpable. When you walk by one of their tutoring sessions you see students engaged, their faces lighting up when they grasp a concept or solve a problem. As Stan Lepird’s student once put it, “Mr. Stan doesn’t give you the answers. He shows you how to figure out and get the answers yourself.”

In Bill Breyfogle’s mind, learning should be fun. “I want to teach these kids to succeed and know that they’re worth something. I don’t want them to be discouraged about the things they don’t know, but rather driven to learn more.”

Bill Becker says, “It is the best day of my week…and I am honored to work with these kids.”

Woods Lake Math Squad, we thank you for helping our kids stay in school and achieve in life.

 

Where Was Dom When We Were In Fifth Grade?

Edison StudentSpring is here. And our newsletter, CIS Connections, is almost here too, making its way to 2,000 of you. This attendance-themed newsletter will be available on our website, snuggled alongside other archived gems. Featured in this issue is an interview with CIS Board member, Dom Pullo. A Scientist from Zoetis (formerly Pfizer Animal  Health), Dom has been volunteering with Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo since 2004. For nine years, he has been showing up to run a science club that Kalamazoo Public School students clamor to attend. Pretty good attendance record, don’t you think?

Take a sneak peek as Dom, in his own words, describes the experiments he and Kelly Kievit, a Zoetis colleague, are doing with children at Edison Environmental Science Academy along with the support of Eric Clark, Field Enrichment Coordinator with Kalamazoo Public Schools. After reading it, check out these pictures on our Facebook album, taken by Freshwater Photography.

Edison Students w GlovesThe experiments, discussion and demonstrations we provide are not run of the mill fifth grade lessons, but we do try to align some of the content with the curriculum. For example, last month we conducted experiments where the students mixed chemicals that created a chemiluminscent reaction. Or, in other words “light.” This aligns with their early investigations into energy in a fun way. We also discuss other reactions that generate light like bioluminescence found in animals and plants, phosphorescence and fluorescence and provide some “around the house” examples. We discuss what is happening at an atomic level, describing the excitation and relaxation of electrons into the “ground-state” and that the energy given off is in the spectrum of energy we see as light. We help them make a “kid-connection” of the “excited state” and “ground state” of electrons by drawing an analogy to the playground! They love it…and it’s our very first experiment of the year. We then link this to Glow Sticks…something they know, and now understand how they work… through science!

Edison Student Raising HandWe’ll venture into statistics to understand the mathematical concepts of averages and probability. We’ll extract DNA from split peas and investigate circuit theory. In the past we’ve made batteries out of lemons, made Astrolabes, (an ancient navigational aid) and compared them to modern day GPS satellites. Then there are the demonstrations like our kick-off “explosion” where I pour boiling water into a bucket of liquid nitrogen! A definite crowd pleaser for all ages! And this year, a finale, where I’ll crush a 50 gallon drum with 1 gallon of water (shh!) An exciting way to discuss the states of matter! At the end of the year we host a “game show” like “Jeopardy.” The kids retain so much of the information presented; it amazes me every year!