Rocket engineer Greg Krauland has discovered a trait he never knew he possessed -- he's really good with kids.
As the lead propulsion engineer at Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) in Los Angeles, Mr. Krauland doesn't come in contact with children very often, so it was a special occasion Nov. 26 when he visited students in three North Hills schools.
And it was extra special because one of the schools -- West View Elementary -- is the one he attended in grades 2 to 6. Mr. Krauland is a 1999 North Hills graduate and he still has family in the area.
His visit to West View was special for students, too.
Second grader Owen Den Uyl was awed by his guest.
"We've been learning about how rockets move and how big they are and how fast they go, and he's a real rocket engineer," Owen said. "I can't believe he went to school here, too -- that's awesome."
Prior to attending Carnegie Mellon University for his undergraduate and master's degrees, Mr. Krauland's formative years were spent sitting in the same classrooms as fourth-grader Eden Anderson, 10.
Eden would rather be singing on Broadway than designing rockets, but the lesson Mr. Krauland taught was clear: "He used to go to school here like me, and if he can become a rocket engineer; I can become a famous performer," she surmised. "I thought he must have gone to a really fancy school, but when I found out that he went to my school, I realized that this must be a pretty good school, too."
Among Mr. Krauland's North HIlls classmates was Anita Rodriguez, a teacher of gifted students at McIntyre Elementary. It was on her tip that Martin Richter, West View Elementary's gifted teacher, learned about Mr. Krauland.
The two teachers collaborated with PTA members to bring him home for a visit.
"I was flattered," said Mr. Krauland of the invitation. "I had never had much exposure to rocket science when I was a kid, and I was hoping I could get them interested in math and science careers."
Founded in 2002, SpaceX designs, manufactures and launches privately owned rockets and spacecraft.
West View PTA vice president Monica Anderson said her organization paid for supplies and Mr. Krauland's travel expenses.
"It was worth every penny," she said. "His visit has been so inspiring to the students."
Mrs. Anderson recalled the pep talk West View principal Jesse Simpson gave after Mr. Krauland's assembly. "He really summed it all up, telling the kids that the reason the teachers make them work so hard is so that they, too, can follow their dreams someday," she said.
Mr. Krauland also met with students at McIntyre Elementary and the middle school. Students from Wycliff and Ross elementary schools were invited to join their classmates at West View.
Mr. Krauland said he was as impressed with the students.
"They were so excited and responsive, and they asked such relevant questions. Their questions were so in context with the topic that it was really remarkable," he said, adding, "I was worried that they wouldn't be engaged, but I felt they were really absorbing the lesson."
In preparation for his visit, Mr. Richter assigned space-related projects to each grade at the beginning of the year.
Along with her classmates, sixth-grader Emily Yoder, 12, built a Saturn V model that opens.
"We had to do a lot of research, which I didn't expect to like," she said. "I found out that it's really fun to build model rockets from scratch. I actually enjoy working with circuits and electronics."
When she heard that Mr. Krauland used to attend her school, Emily was surprised.
"I think it's so cool that he went to this school," she said. "He made us all realize that we could have a lot of success coming from here."
Jill Cueni-Cohen, freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.