IT trainer focuses on math in elementary education

MEET MR. EDUCATION, otherwise known as Steve Brugger. For the past 19 years, Steve has been providing IT Professional Training through his company, SQL*Soft.

Many technical professionals around the greater Puget Sound area have gotten their IT certifications through SQL*Soft. Steve’s company is one of the largest and longest-standing training providers in the Pacific Northwest.

During those 19 years, Steve has seen firsthand the positive impact of a highly-educated work force on the local economy. The brain gain and “brain growth” in the area has brought about the creation and migration of many technology companies. The result has been better quality jobs and opportunities, and an increasing bright economic future for the region.

It’s no wonder Steve is so passionate about education. He’s seen Seattle’s economic rise, and wants to make sure that those gains are not lost in the ensuing years. His passion, therefore, now has gone beyond just professional training. Steve also currently serves on the board for Explorations in Math, a non-profit organization dedicated in helping elementary students succeed in math.

“For years, our culture has been working to have high levels of reading literacy,” Steve says. “These efforts have resulted in a structure and some standard measurements for literacy. We really need something like that for math.” In other words, we as a society need the same will and resolve in making our population math proficient, that we had in making most everyone literate. Contrary to popular belief, math can be learned by all, just like reading and writing.

Although no formal study has identified the American “math culture” yet, media depictions have consistently portrayed persons interested in math and sciences as being antithesis to the modern “pop culture’s” ideal person – someone who is popular, physically attractive, and “kool”.

“Why is it that many avid NASCAR fans don’t know that the sport is all about physics and math?” Steve asks. “The efficiencies that are squeezed out of those cars in order to win races are pure math.” So, why is NASCAR cool, but not math?

Explorations in Math is trying to figure that out. First, a “Math Culture” that results in an appreciation for math and better math skills for all students needs to be identified and defined.

Then, there must be a concerted effort to replicate that culture on a national basis. The organization is in the midst of a two-year study on the matter.

In Steve’s opinion, if we (Americans) don’t change our general outlook on math and produce more young people with those skills, “we’ll eventually be done as an economic super power in the future.” (I also wrote about this in a previous blog, “Math Crisis in Washington State”).

Those are strong, but necessary words that need to be heard. Education is fundamental to economic and intellectual growth of a society.

I first got to know Steve when ARIS acquired SQL*Soft in 1996, a year before our IPO. Back then, he had hair down to his back, and was quite a rock climber.

As luck would have it, ARIS ended up acquiring another education company in the UK, Oxford Computing Group, a little later. Steve moved to Oxford to help integrate the new group, and had some fun mentally thumb wrestling with these passionate fellow educators. “That was one of the highlights of my ARIS experience,” he says fondly. When ARIS was later acquired by Ciber in 2000, Steve bought back SQL*Soft.

The blokes from Oxford enjoyed challenging Steve’s intellect as well, and when he was about to move back to Seattle, they gave him a punt pole (a 12-feet pole used to maneuver the punt boats on the River Thames around the Oxford colleges). They challenged him to figure out a way to take it back with him on the plane.

“I purposely left it there because I knew they were more interested in solving the problem than me,” he says. “I just let them do all the work.” Eventually, the pole arrived in Seattle via standard shipping at a high price. They couldn’t find a creative way either. In the end, it was the air freight company that had to calculate whether that 12 foot pole would fit through the cargo door in the plane and how much to charge the crazy people shipping it!