Our Chief Solutions Architect, Dr. Byron Davies, is on his way to Switzerland to perform an act of scientific gratitude.
Among the many fields of knowledge that StarShine brings to bear on children’s learning is systems engineering, introduced to StarShine by our great mentor Jack Ring. Systems engineering helps us understand how everything fits together as a system, from the individual child learning math to the envisioned StarShine Planet with thousands of schools, tens of thousands of teachers, and hundreds of thousands or millions of students. Systems engineering instructs us on the benefits of smaller schools, and on the best configurations to ensure that kids and teachers can learn productively together.
Even esteemed mentors have mentors, and one of Jack Ring’s key mentors is a Swiss gentleman named Rudolph Starkermann, or Rudy for short. Rudy is a systems engineer’s systems engineer. He’s the person that one of the world’s biggest engineering companies sends around the world to solve systems problems that practically no one else can solve. For example, if a new billion-dollar electrical generating facility can’t seem to work reliably, Rudy goes in to make things work.
Beyond his practical work, Rudy has done eye-opening research in how people succeed and fail in working together. While fixing engineering problems around the world, he found that many problems thought to be technical were actually human and organizational. The problems were not so much with the machines but with the people responsible for the machines. This inspired Rudy to apply the techniques and mathematics of systems engineering to human systems.
Through theoretical analysis and computational simulations, Rudy figured out how people work in groups. He analyzed groups with as few as two people and groups with larger numbers of people, and came up with some fascinating results. For example, he figured out the optimal way for two people to achieve maximum productivity in problem solving. As another example, he figured out that five is effectively the largest size for an effective problem solving group — beyond that, the communication patterns between the individuals become too complicated to manage. Starshine leverages knowledge like this to ensure maximum effectiveness as a learning community.
Rudy is now growing old — he’s 87 — and his vision is fading. Another StarShine systems engineering mentor, Bill Livingston (who designs nuclear plants in his sleep), suggested that “someone” should assist Rudy in ensuring that his collected works actually get collected. In addition to many paper documents and books, Rudy has electronic documents and simulation models stored on a 1996 Mac computer that has never been fully backed up.
Our own Dr. Byron Davies volunteered to be that someone. With financial assistance from Bill Livingston and an anonymous donor, Byron will spend 12 days in Wuerenlos, Switzerland, near Zurich, working with Rudy to compile and catalog his works. If you look on a map, you’ll see that Wuerenlos is in one of the few parts of Switzerland without mountains. The weather in Switzerland at this time of year is fog, rain, and snow, so Byron fears that he may spend his time in Switzerland without even seeing a mountain. But even though he has a mountainous task ahead of him, he looks forward to helping Rudy deliver his collected works to the world.