LIVERMORE, Calif. — Maynard Holliday, a researcher at Sandia National Laboratories, has been named Volunteer of the Year by Citizen Schools California for his work as a volunteer teacher at Oakland's Elmhurst Community Prep Middle School.
An engineer by training who spends his days tackling national security issues for Sandia, Holliday's volunteer efforts focus on another critical cause: middle school students. Once a week for the past two years, Holliday has utilized his engineering and robotics expertise while leading an afterschool robotics program through Citizen Schools.
"I'd been teaching robotics for over a decade, but always in a onesy, twosy fashion, a lecture here, a workshop there," Holliday explained. "I was drawn to Citizen Schools because they had a structure that could impact STEM [science, technology, engineering and math] principles. I'm paired with a classroom teacher who helps with classroom management, and the kids have responded enthusiastically."
Currently, Holliday volunteers at Danville's San Ramon Valley High, teaching an advanced robotics class.
Citizen Schools is a national nonprofit organization that partners with middle schools to expand learning for children in low-income communities. The organization mobilizes thousands of adult volunteers like Holliday and his co-teacher Wiley Neel, also a Sandian, to help improve student achievement by offering skill-building apprenticeships after school.
Macy Parker, Elmhurst Community Prep Campus Director, describes Holliday as an amazingly dedicated volunteer who has opened new doors for students.
"Over the last two years, he has led our 6th graders in not only learning how to build, program and exhibit robots, but also how to think about broader possibilities for their own futures," she said. "Our students had never met a robotics engineer. They didn't know that this kind of job was possible, or that their love of figuring out how things work was connected to a job called 'engineer' or to the things they do in math class."
Holliday said he believes he's making a difference in more ways than one.
"Because it's Oakland, those students don't see many people of color in math and science," he said. "It's important to me that the kids see that reflection."
Holliday was first exposed to robotics while an undergraduate student at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pa. In the aftermath of the nuclear meltdown at Three Mile Island in Dauphin County, Pa., the university established a Robotics Institute with funding from Westinghouse Corp. Holliday worked with a professor who was tasked with designing robots to explore the contaminated reactor.
His interest in engineering, however, goes back to childhood. A self-described "Trekkie," Holliday's childhood dream was to become an astronaut, and engineering was a way to get there. In pursuit of this aim, he won scholarships to Stanford University, where he earned a master of science in mechanical engineering design, and the International Space University in France.
He came within arm's reach of his dream in 1994 and 1996, when he was a finalist for the U.S. Astronaut Corp. In 1996, he was a finalist with Rick Husband and William McCool, who would go on to become the commander and pilot of the Space Shuttle Columbia. Both men died in the 2003 disaster. Holliday withdrew his application from NASA at that point.
Before coming to Sandia, Holliday spent 16 years as a robotics engineer at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. In the late '90s, he assembled and led the joint Department of Energy (DOE)/NASA International Pioneer Project Team that designed and fabricated a radiation hardened telerobotic mobile vehicle for site characterization and remediation tasks at Chernobyl unit 4. After several years in the private sector, he joined Sandia in 2011 and works in the Systems Analysis Group on Domestic Nuclear Detection Office (DNDO) projects.
"I've been fortunate to attend top-notch universities and work at very good jobs," said Holliday. "My credo is that you learn it, earn it, and return it."
Volunteers at Citizen Schools teach for an hour and a half one afternoon a week at schools in Oakland, Redwood City, East Palo Alto or Campbell. Interested parties should visit www.citizenschools.org/volunteer/.
Sandia National Laboratories is a multiprogram laboratory operated and managed by Sandia Corporation, a wholly owned subsidiary of Lockheed Martin Corporation, for the U.S. Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration. With main facilities in Albuquerque, N.M., and Livermore, Calif., Sandia has major R&D responsibilities in national security, energy and environmental technologies, and economic competitiveness.
Sandia media relations contact: Mike Janes, firstname.lastname@example.org (925) 294-2447
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