News and Events
Alumnus Donn Silberman Brings Kid-Friendly Science Education to Life
“It’s an itch I need to scratch. I have to do it and if I’m not doing it, something’s wrong with me,” says Donn Silberman (MS ‘94, GSBM), of his work as founding director of the Optics Institute of Southern California (OISC).
OISC is a nonprofit organization that “seeks to foster the curious scientist, the artful mathematician and the creative engineer in every student, regardless of age.” Silberman and his team incorporate a hands-on use of optics to educate students about the fundamentals of math, science, and technology.
“The best way to teach is to start with natural phenomena,” says Silberman, also a fulltime sales engineer for the Physik Institute. “Talk about a skateboard rolling down a hill to initially entice the kids, and then develop the math and physics of the situation.”
To bring this practical style of teaching into the classroom, Silberman uses a learning supplement known as the “Optricks Suitcase.” Founded by the Optical Society of America’s Rochester Chapter, the Optricks Suitcase acts as a portable optics learning kit allowing professionals, engineers, and teachers alike to take it into a classroom and easily share the concepts of optics with eager students.
“The Optricks Suitcase has been a cornerstone for the OISC pretty much since the invention,” says Silberman. “There have been about 70 given away over the past seven or eight years and the OISC have personally given away about 10.”
In addition, Silberman introduces his kid-friendly education of math and science through the OISC’s annual “Optricks Days.” Located at various science centers and museums in the Orange County area, these days provide a family-oriented atmosphere for students and their parents to partake in a hands-on display of optics toys. The days also include a main demonstration by Silberman himself dressed as a “Wizard of Light,” a character inspired by fellow professor and research scientist Dr. Murty Mantravadi, the original inventor of the word “optrick.”
Silberman sees himself in the children he helps educate and inspire. He first realized his love for math and science at a young age. “I was good at math and enjoyed doing puzzles and mazes, but I didn’t really have any idea about what to do with it until I got into astronomy.”
From there everything fell into place. After getting hooked on optics in an astronomy class at Beverly Hills High School, Silberman went on to receive his bachelor’s degree from the University of Arizona and ultimately his master’s of science degree in technology management from the Graziadio School of Business and Management in 1994.
“I wanted to learn about management, but I didn’t want an MBA. I wanted to understand how to manage technology and technological organizations, and that’s why I really wanted to go to Pepperdine.”
Silberman has put this knowledge to good use. Since its founding in 2003, the OISC has expanded its efforts to not only educate today’s youth and train teachers, but to also provide consulting services for companies in need of technical support as they implement optics into their products.
Located together with the South Orange County Community College District's (SOCCCD) Advanced Technology and Education Park's (ATEP) Center for Applied Competitive Technologies (CACT), the organization has been in its current location for about eighteen months.
When asked about where he sees the OISC in the future, Silberman says one of his dreams is “to have the OISC get its own physical science center that will be focused on optics education and outreach with all different technologies on display.” The center could be located in a public educational space in South Orange County.
In its facilities, strategies, and resources, the OISC team recognizes the need to keep education on the cutting edge. “As a society in this country, we significantly lag behind the educational systems of other developed countries, particularly in math and science,” says Silberman. “The techniques for teaching math and science are aged; they’re last century.”
With this in mind, Silberman uses his knowledge to ignite a new fondness in others toward math and science. “Most people wake up in the morning and think about what they’re going to do that day. I wake up and ask myself what can I do today to help make a better world.”
by Caitlin Settlemoir