Engineering & Robotics Department Chair
Peter graduated from Chestnut Hill Academy (CHA) in 1969 and started teaching at SCH Academy (then CHA) in 2001.
What inspired you to become a teacher?
I actually became a teacher almost by accident. After years of working in high-tech companies both big and small and serving for many years on the CHA Board of Trustees, I joined CHA full time as the director of technology in 2001, responsible for all things geek. While serving in this role, I had the opportunity to teach AP Computer Sciences and started a course in Robotics and Engineering. Along with Rob Ervin, I helped to start the SCH Robotics team. I discovered that working with CHA and SS students at all levels on their favorite engineering projects was more fun than beating up computers and networks. So, when CHA and SS merged into SCH, I jumped at the opportunity to start a new academic department for engineering and robotics and began teaching full time. Over the years, we have expanded the program into Middle and Lower Schools, added several teachers and coaches, and broadened the curriculum to include several courses in the CEL program that every student takes as well some truly unique elective classes in advanced programming and aeronautical engineering.
What do you enjoy most about teaching and why?
Because my classes are electives and all project based, using projects of the student’s own choosing, my students are highly motivated and engaged. I mostly just try to hang on as they research problems or opportunities, imagine solutions, design, fabricate, assemble, and program their solutions. Best of all I get to see the product of all this hard work. The students grow in their ability to tackle complex issues, they get to attend many of the most competitive colleges and universities, and then they head out into the world as engineers, doctors, and entrepreneurs ready to solve some of the world’s most challenging problems.
What question has a student asked you that really surprised you or made you think?
In 2015, two students asked if they could build an airplane as their Honors Engineering project. The girls were not talking about a model airplane, but rather a full-sized, four-passenger single engine airplane that they could use to learn to fly. After reviewing the obstacles that such a project presents, it became obvious that this pair would not be deterred. So I sent them on a mission to find an airplane kit that someone would be willing to donate to the school. Most airplane-building projects stall out after a number of years and sooner or later the spouse wants their garage back and orders the disposal of the partially built kit. After almost 200 phone calls to everyone trying to sell their kit, the girls had the brilliant idea to go directly to the kit manufacturers and found the Bede Foundation that was willing to donate a brand new kit to SCH. We have been working on the airplane ever since. What is unique about this project is that the students knew from the very beginning that they would graduate long before the plane was completed. They devised a plan to pass the project on to the next generation of would-be pilots. The girls are now in their senior year of college studying engineering and one has already earned her private pilot’s license.
Do you have a favorite teaching story or moment?
Undoubtedly, my favorite moment at SCH was April 27, 2019, when the SCH Robotics team stood on top of the world as a member of the winning alliance in the FIRST Robotics World Championship in Detroit, Michigan. Beating out over 7,000 teams from throughout the world, the SCH team demonstrated tenacity, perseverance, and resourcefulness to claw their way to the top. SCH had come close before, finishing 2nd, 3rd, and 4th in previous seasons, but nothing compares to standing at the center of the Ford Stadium (home of the Detroit Lions) in front of 38,000 screaming fans as the announcer reads out the final score of the third of the best of three matches declaring that we had won by a single point: 91-90. Years of late nights and hard work by students, parents, mentors, and supporters paid off in a single rush of adrenaline. I am so proud of our students.
Is there some object in your office or on your desk that has special significance to you?
I have two momentos of my career at CHA and SCH. The first, and most obvious is the bright blue FIRST Robotics World Championship Winner banner hanging at the front of my classroom. It reminds me every day of how far you can go with grit and hard work. The second is my class of ‘69 patch that reminds me of my heritage at CHA. The five stripes and Light Blue color run deep in my soul and remind me every day how to meet the challenges before me.