letter to students

The importance of education outreach to a fulfilling career

Dear students,

I want to congratulate you on your ongoing efforts in education outreach. You have come a long way since I first became involved with education outreach in the 1990s.

My journey began when ACerS President Robert Eagan (1990–1991) asked me to establish an Education Committee for ACerS. A key focus was on education outreach to inform the general public about the importance of ceramics and glass and to encourage high school students to consider ceramic science and engineering as a career. A second focus was on continuing education through short courses and on organizing activities for students at the various ACerS meetings.

Our first education outreach project was to develop a Ceramic Demonstration Kit. We involved industry by soliciting examples that illustrated various applications of ceramics. Early kits contained a space shuttle tile, superconductor demonstration set, oxygen sensor, and about 10 additional samples. We distributed these kits, along with instructions on how to use them, to universities and colleges with ceramic engineering and materials science and engineering departments. We provided training sessions at ACerS Annual Meetings and encouraged people to add items from their local industries.

Since those early kit days, I am amazed at how ACerS students have expanded the kits, for example, by developing in-depth curriculum modules for each lesson and establishing partnerships with teachers and schools. I encourage everyone to check out the Materials Science Classroom Kits on the Ceramic and Glass Industry Foundation webpage.

“Finding time to conduct outreach while going to school or establishing a career is challenging. But I hope when you students reach the end of your careers that you look back and consider the education outreach activities as a highlight.”

I also want to share my firsthand experience seeing how actively engaged and enthusiastic students are about education outreach. In 2002, I was invited by an interdepartmental team at the University of Utah to develop a lesson plan for fifth- and sixth-grade students to learn about air quality issues and measure carbon dioxide emissions. Following the development and implementation of this project in local schools, I obtained a small program grant from the National Science Foundation to expand on this project. Under the expanded program, sixth-grade students would develop outreach projects to educate their community, the governor, and the Utah State Legislature about air quality issues.

I was amazed by the dedication and enthusiasm of these student ambassadors. Their efforts encouraged the governor of Utah to proclaim several energy-saving and pollution reduction initiatives, such as “Change a Light Day” and “Stop Idling Day.” Within two years, the students’ efforts resulted in the major school districts establishing policies to reduce pollution from school buses. Within three years, the Utah State Legislature passed a law limiting emissions due to idling.

Twenty years later, the Government of Utah remains fully involved in air quality and energy issues, setting firm policies and goals to reduce vehicle pollution and to replace coal-fired electricity generation with renewable sources. The outreach by the students played an important role in these changes in awareness and policy.

Finding time to conduct outreach while going to school or establishing a career is challenging. But I hope when you students reach the end of your careers that you look back and consider the education outreach activities as a highlight.

I just turned 80 in February 2024, and when I look back on my career, there are many things I’m proud of. I conducted research on silicon nitride and other ceramic and composite materials to solve energy and pollution problems, served as an executive in a small business, consulted with the Department of Energy and a variety of companies, wrote a textbook (“Modern Ceramic Engineering”) and other books, and taught materials science and engineering courses at the University of Utah. But the most satisfying outcomes resulted from the outreach activities. The impact from these activities sometimes took years to fully develop, but when they did, I could not have been happier with the results.

You students are the outcome of those efforts started in 1990. I take great satisfaction in seeing you run with what we started. Your efforts have accomplished what was our original goal: you have educated the general public, you have introduced ceramic and glass science to thousands of students and their parents and teachers, and you have recruited many students into an amazing materials science career.

The message I hope to leave with you today is that your science or business career is certainly important, but when you look back decades from now during retirement, you may realize that your education outreach and community efforts are equally important. Keep up the good work and don’t be afraid to innovate.


David W. Richerson, FACerS
Retired, University of Utah Department of Materials Science and Engineering

Editor’s note: The editors regret that the omission of Corning’s contributions to space science was, indeed, an oversight on our part. We appreciate Beall and Grossman for reminding us and our readers of the many significant accomplishments of Corning glass scientists, engineers, technicians, and production staff that enabled the advances of space science and technology. Their contributions, in no small part, have enabled the space industry that exists today and will extend into the future.