Of mentorship, was born a place to nurture minds

Ryan Patterson sets up his computer display before he speaks at A Weird Night of Science, a fundraising dinner for the John McConnell Math and Science Center Of Western Colorado held Friday at the Lincoln Park Tower.

Call it fate or call it symbiosis, but either way, Ryan Patterson was a bored third-grader. While his classmates oohed over the basic mechanics of a light bulb (something he’d been playing around with most of his life), he yearned to make circuit boards.

His teacher noticed, and approached Recruiting Seniors for Volunteer Positions (RSVP) for a mentor to help the junior electrical engineer.

That’s how the partnership of Ryan Patterson and John McConnell began. The retired Los Alamos National Laboratories physicist and the third grader established a mentoring relationship that has spanned almost 20 years and seen Patterson achieve international recognition and success for projects he worked on with McConnell.

Friday night, Patterson highlighted their work together at the first fundraising dinner for the John McConnell Math and Science Center (http://www.mathandsciencecenter.org), an exploratorium that began as a labor of love based out of the trunk of McConnell’s car.

“He got me to the point where I could pick up a book and learn whatever I need to learn,” Patterson told the gathered crowd Friday.

After that first meeting in 1993, Patterson spent every Saturday at McConnell’s house. McConnell showed him how to solder and make circuit boards, and together they made robots. McConnell, his wife, Audrey, and Patterson traveled to robotics competitions as far away as Calgary, Alberta.

“He wasn’t just teaching out of a book,” Patterson said. “It was a hands-on experience.”

After Patterson saw people with hearing impairment ordering a meal at Burger King and had an idea for a sign language translator, he and his mentor went so far as to hand-etch the circuit boards — setting up acid baths in McConnell’s garage—to make it.

The American Sign Language Finger Spelling Translator won Patterson international recognition and awards, including the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, and enabled him and McConnell to travel around the world, including to the 2001 Nobel Prize ceremony.

The success allowed Patterson to enter the University of Colorado at Boulder and do research as an undergraduate, something very uncommon. While a student there, he built an Ultrasound Trilateralization for Indoor Localization, or an indoor GPS for people with cognitive disabilities. After graduating in 2006, Patterson went to work for Lockheed Martin in Denver, in a position he designed for himself.

After earning a master’s degree from Denver University in 2009, Patterson left Lockeed Martin in 2011 to start Galvanic Engineering, his engineering contracting business.

Patterson cited what many have said is the genius of McConnell’s approach to teaching science, math, technology and engineering: having a passion for it and making it a hands-on experience, so students can envision the possibilities and know how what they’re learning will be useful.

“John was a fantastic mentor,” Patterson said.

“He gained all sorts of knowledge in his career and shared it with literally tens of thousands of students.”


For more information about the John McConnell Math and Science Center, call 254-1626 or go to http://www.mathandsciencecenter.org. It’s located at 2660 Unaweep Ave. and is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Admission is $3 per person and $10 per family.


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