Marking the Day

On April 16, 2007, my oldest son was a senior at Virginia Tech. I watched the coverage of the mass shooting that day on TV and I was on the phone with my son at the same time. He was safe.

The first shooting was in his freshman dormitory. The building where he had most of his classes in engineering was where the other shootings occurred. He called his mom as soon as he heard about the shootings. He had a class in Norris Hall at 10:30 and planned to be there at 9:30 to work on his senior project. But, he was waiting for a call from his girlfriend who had gone for a job interview. And there had been a bomb scare earlier that week on campus. He waited.

As the tragedy was unraveled, I became less supportive of the university's response to the events that day. The campus should have been shut down after the first shooting. Whatever luck or other explanation you have for my son deciding to wait before going to campus to work on his senior engineering project, he wasn't in Norris Hall. His classmates were there. His professor was there.

Now, six years later, I still think about Kevin Granata, his professor and project adviser in the Engineering Science and Mechanics department. They were working on muscle and reflex response and robotics. Dr. Granata is known for his work on movement dynamics in cerebral palsy. Dr. Granata was one of the thirty in Norris Hall that was killed.

GranataI never met Professor Granata, but I know that he was helping my son fill some gaps in his software skills by working with him outside class. He was his adviser for his capstone senior design project team that was designing a biomimetic walking robot.

On that day, Professor Granata heard the shooting from his office on the third floor and escorted about twenty students from a classroom to his office. After they were locked in, he went downstairs with another professor, Wally Grant, to investigate. Both teachers were shot. Professor Grant was wounded and survived, but Dr. Granata died from his injuries. The students locked in his office were all safe.

Kevin Granata was 45 years old. He was married with three children.

My son was never able to go back into the building. He couldn't complete his project. He didn't attend the graduation ceremonies. He wasn't able to follow up on contacts that he had discussed with Professor Granata about grad school and jobs.

My wife and I are both teachers and that day hit us very hard. The Columbine High School shootings on April 20, 1999 made both of us question being in a classroom. I left full time teaching in a public school two months after Columbine. My wife left teaching a few years later, before the Virginia Tech day.

When the shootings occurred at Newtown, Connecticut in December 2012, it all came back to us once again. We have always been proud to be teachers. We both would like to believe we would be a teacher like Kevin Granata or all those other teachers in school shootings who tried to protect their students.

More about Kevin Granata on the Virginia Tech remembrance site and on Wikipedia.


Serendipity35 Celebrates A Birthday


This blog passed the anniversary/birthday of our launch date on February 2nd.

We had our first post in 2006 ("Why Serendipity35?") as a test of the software. That test post has 25,381 views now. Although I didn't really intend to continue blogging after we set things up and taught some workshops for faculty at NJIT (where Tim and I both worked at the time), I liked writing the posts and so...

You can never tell if people actually "read" posts, but we know that last month we had 412,471 visitors to the blog, so I feel safe assuming that some of them read my words.

I do know that compared to other blogs I write on, Serendipity35 readers are not ad clickers. Bother Tim & I still keep waiting for those ads to the right of this to generate enough for lunch and a few pints at McGovern's, but, like teaching, you better be doing it for more than money!

All About Serendipity

From my daily reading of The Writer's Almanac, I found this post for today:

It was on this day in 1754 that the word "serendipity" was first coined. It's defined by Merriam-Webster as "the faculty or phenomenon of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for." It was recently listed by a U.K. translation company as one of the English language's 10 most difficult words to translate. Other words to make their list include plenipotentiary, gobbledegook, poppycock, whimsy, spam, and kitsch.

"Serendipity" was first used by parliament member and writer Horace Walpole in a letter that he wrote to an English friend who was spending time in Italy. In the letter to his friend written on this day in 1754, Walpole wrote that he came up with the word after a fairy tale he once read, called "The Three Princes of Serendip," explaining, "as their Highnesses travelled, they were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things which they were not in quest of." The three princes of Serendip hail from modern-day Sri Lanka. "Serendip" is the Persian word for the island nation off the southern tip of India, Sri Lanka.

The invention of many wonderful things have been attributed to "serendipity," including Kellogg's Corn Flakes, Charles Goodyear's vulcanization of rubber, inkjet printers, Silly Putty, the Slinky, and chocolate chip cookies.

Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin after he left for vacation without disinfecting some of his petri dishes filled with bacteria cultures; when he got back to his lab, he found that the penicillium mold had killed the bacteria.

Viagra had been developed to treat hypertension and angina pectoris; it didn't do such a good job at these things, researchers found during the first phase of clinical trials, but it was good for something else.

The principles of radioactivity, X-rays, and infrared radiation were all found when researchers were looking for something else.

Julius Comroe said, "Serendipity is looking in a haystack for a needle and discovering a farmer's daughter."

Wiktionary lists serendipity's antonyms as "Murphy's law" and "perfect storm."

When Tim and I launched Serendipity35 back in February 2006 as an experiment in blogging, the name came from the software we used for the blog and I added the somewhat ironic 35 to make the serendipitous a bit less serendipitous. Still, I do like the idea that the blog has some serendipityand that I am "finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for" and commenting on them so that others benefit.

Helping Others at Year's End

I generally don't post on Serendipity35 during the Christmas/New Year break while most American educators are away from school and, perhaps, not reading about education. But when December comes, I always choose at least one more charity to make a last contribution for the season. I particularly like charities that change something that will change a life forever.

In past years I looked at The Smile Train which is focused on solving a single problem: cleft lip and palate in developing countries where there are millions of children who are suffering with unrepaired clefts. This means they cannot eat or speak properly, won't be allowed to attend school or hold a job and face very difficult lives. But a $250 donation and a 45 minute procedure provides free cleft surgery.

One year I chose providing clean water as my focus. It's something we really take for granted in the U.S. More than 1 in 6 people in the world don't have access to safe drinking water. 1 out of every 4 deaths under the age of 5 worldwide is due to a water-related disease. Nearly 80% of illnesses in developing countries are linked to poor water and sanitation conditions. There are a number of organizations that work to provide clean water in other parts of the world. $10 can provide water for one person for ten years. $500 can fund a project. $5000 can provide a well for an entire village. Here are 3 groups that you can consider. (I had selected

I donated to a group of charities this year that support our service members and their families.

Get Involved with Joining Forces Community Support for our Military

United We Serve

National Resource Directory

I also donated to Families in Transition (FIT), a nonprofit organization that was founded in 1991 in response to the growing number of homeless individuals and families in New Hampshire. It's local but I liked their origin story which I saw reported on 60 Minutes.

We first donated to the The Michael J. Fox Foundation several years ago when a friend was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. He died last month and so we made an extra contribution this month. This foundation has an aggressively funded research agenda and to ensuring the development of improved therapies for those living with Parkinson's today.