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Three Heroes of Giftedness

Harry T. Roman Engineer, Educator and Author

Homer Hickam, Jr. – Former NASA Engineer, Writer, and Author of Best Selling Books

If there is someone who personifies the “heads and hands” thinking we hear about today in schools, this man has both done it, and written a timeless story to inspire others. The proverbial rocket scientist, in this case for NASA, Hickam knows his way viscerally around a rocket, having built them first for fun, and then with some solid physics, chemistry, and math behind them.

In his endearing life story, Rocket Boys: A Memoir (1998), later released as the film October Sky (1999), this role model shows how natural curiosity exists in every one of us, enabling the human spirit to do amazing things. That enthusiasm to do something meaningful exists in every young person. We are all pre-wired to solve problems, just as naturally as we are wired to procreate. Like Thomas Edison, Hickam explains the joy of experimentation and self-learning. His early experiments with small rockets show that hand learning when coupled with head learning is a powerful motivator for driving life-long lessons home with passion, and ultimately capable of making dreams come true.

The beauty of Hickam’s story and experience is not just for inspiring young folks to learn on their own, but is also a powerful story for teachers as they strive to turn young minds on to science. For those rigorous science lessons to take hold, there must be something of interest there – an encouragement to want to learn, a relevancy. Every child has this spark; the challenge to the teaching community is to identify it, and fan the flames without limit.

Hickam is alive in every one of your students, brimming with potential, on a life mission to discover their talents and use them for good. He is about science, natural talents, and life itself – the multi-dimensional man. Today, his wonderful, poignant book is one of the most popular community/library reads in the United States; and studied in numerous school systems around the world.


Hickam, Homer (1999). Rocket Boys. New York: Delta.

Homer Hickam Online:

Interviews with Homer Hickam:;

Les Paul – Famed Jazz/Pop Guitarist, Entertainer and Inventor, Best Known for His Electric Guitar Invention and Sound Effects

His creative work is all around us in the sounds of modern music, both as an inventor and legendary guitarist. Les Paul is the quintessential self-learner, who in his 90s is still changing our culture. So rarely do we associate invention with musicians, seeming to reserve the word inventor for those who create mechanical things.

From his early days as the carrot-topped “Red Hot Red,” Lester Polsfuss (Les Paul’s real name) was unorthodox in his approach to making music. Constantly experimenting with ways to create unique sounds, Lester’s natural curiosity led him to “cobble-together” all sorts of electro-mechanical “thingamabobs” to amplify or augment his sound. Eventually all this led to the electric guitar, sound amplification pickups, special sound effects, multi-track sound mixing, and cassette tape recording. In his New Jersey home, his basement is as much a sound recording studio as a tinker’s workshop.

While recovering from a near fatal car accident that also threatened to render his playing hand severely compromised, Les Paul turned his attention to studying electronics so he could design new and better techniques to create more exciting sounds and playing techniques. He never let his troubles overcome his desires to be a great musician, even if the path led through the field of invention.

Today, every major guitar player knows the contributions and professional commitment of Les Paul, a recent inductee of the National Inventors Hall of Fame. He spends countless hours before, during, and after concerts talking with young musicians, giving advice and answering questions. His devotion to self-improvement spans the generations, making him an icon of head and hands thinking.


Les Paul Website:

Interview with Les Paul:

Les Paul on Film:

Henry Petroski, Ph.D. – Professor of Engineering and History at Duke University, Author of Many Books on Engineering Design

Henry Petroski is an integrated curricula advocate’s dream. Throughout his work and lectures he continually discusses the impact that technology has had on society and culture. He is a prolific author, having written fourteen books – most notably To Engineer is Human: The Role of Failure in Successful Design (1985). His titles also often detail the industrial design history of common, everyday objects, such as pencils, paper clips, and silverware – the latest of which is The Toothpick: Technology and Culture (2007).

Petroski is the Aleksandar S. Vesic professor of civil engineering and a professor of history at Duke University. His dual role at the university as both an engineer and historian places him in a unique position to appreciate technology’s pervasive role in our world, and to teach others how to evaluate technological impacts during the engineering design process.

He selects everyday objects as topics for his books as a way to show how engineers use a process to design and manufacture common commodities. In his book, The Pencil: A History of Design and Circumstance (1992), Dr. Petroski says, "I decided to approach engineering through the story and symbolism of the common pencil. The pencil, like engineering itself, is so familiar as to be a virtually invisible part of our general culture and experience."

He often writes guest editorials and articles for leading engineering publications, and has been a frequently interviewed guest on TV and radio programs.


Petroski, Henry (2008). Success Through Failure:The Paradox of Design, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

Petroski, Henry (2007). The Toothpick: Technology and Culture. New York: Knopf.

About Henry Petroski:;

Learning From Bridge Failure (Minneapolis Disaster):,0,4564907.story?coll=la-news-comment-opinions

Jeff Shaara – Novelist of American Military History

Michael E. Walters Center for the Study of the Humanities in the Schools

He was born on February 21, 1952, in New Brunswick, New Jersey. His father who was a professor of English at Florida State University received the 1975 Pulitzer Prize in Literature for the novel, The Killer Angels (1973). This book is about the Battle of Gettysburg during the American Civil War, and was adapted into a noteworthy film, Gettysburg (1993). However, his father had an untimely death in 1988. While visiting the movie set of The Killer Angels, Jeff became a friend of the director, Ron Maxwell, who suggested that he work on this civil war epic. Although Jeff had never written professionally, he authored a prequel (Gods and Generals, 1996) which described the years 1858 to 1863. This book was also made into a movie in 2003 that was again directed by Ron Maxwell.

After the success of Gods and Generals, he then wrote the sequel (The Last Full Measure, 1998) to his father’s book. This 1998 book followed the American Civil War beginning with the Confederates’ retreat from Gettysburg to Lee’s surrender at Appomattox. The techniques Shaara used in these two books would be the representative style of his future works. This style is that of the military-historical novel with contrasting views of the generals, tense action, several perspectives of the events viewed from the opposing sides of combat, and interior monologues involving the mental strategies underlying the battles. By using this writing style, he has become an extremely productive writer as shown in the following books: Gone for Soldiers: A Novel of the Mexican War (2000); Rise to Rebellion: A Novel of the American Revolution (2001); The Glorious Cause: A Novel of the American Revolution (2002); To the Last Man: A Novel of the First World War (2004); The Rising Tide: A Novel of World War II (2006); The Steel Wave: A Novel of World War II (2008).

Jeff Shaara is a hero for gifted students because he represents the expression of extraordinary talent despite a lack of formal training in historical and literary areas. There are many students whose talents are buried or suppressed by their current educational experiences. It should be one of the major jobs educators of the gifted to discover and unleash these talents into their fullest expression.

 ☞☞ Maurice D. Fisher, Publisher, Copyright © by Gifted Education Press, December 2008 - January 2009 ☜☜