Letters to the Editor

Remembering another Hokie first

I was very pleased by your informative article "3...2...1...Liftoff!" spotlighting fellow Hokies and their involvement within the International Space Station program. However, I was disappointed by the reference to Roger Crouch as the first graduate of Virginia Tech in space. Not to belittle Roger's accomplishment, but that honor was earned by the often-overlooked John B. "Jack" McKay (M.S. aeronautical engineering '50).

Jack's involvement within the X-15 program was remarkable. He was a pivotal participant throughout the program. Despite the wreck of X-15-A on Nov. 9, 1962, in which he suffered a severe spinal cord injury, he would eventually log a total of 29 flights, second only to Robert A. Rushworth. Most notable of his flights came on Sept. 28, 1965, when he piloted X-15-3 to an altitude of 295,600 feet, thereby earning astronaut status. Unfortunately, since he was a civilian, he was never awarded his astronaut wings.

Sadly, John B. McKay is no longer with us, but his legacy lives on in the efforts of all the men and women who have contributed to the Space Shuttle program, including Roger Crouch. It is without a doubt that without the experience and knowledge gained as a result of the X-15 program, the Space Shuttle as we know it today would not have become a reality. For further information on John B. McKay and his involvement with the X-15 program, X-15 The NASA Mission Reports (Apogee Books) is highly recommended.

Tom Monaghan '91
Norfolk, Va.

Editor's note: Liz Crumbley, the author of the article on the International Space Station, responded as follows: "Thank you for reminding our readers about John McKay. I had the pleasure of writing an article about Mr. McKay and Col. Jesse Jacobs Jr., who were inducted into the Aerospace Walk of Honor, in the winter 1997 issue of Virginia Tech Magazine, page 25. By citing Roger Crouch as "the first Hokie to fly into space as an astronaut," I certainly did not intend to dismiss Mr. McKay's accomplishments as one of the first seven pilots to fly the X-15. Mr. McKay, like Virginia Tech alumnus Chris Kraft, was one of the heroic pioneers of the U.S. space program."

Readers can access the winter 1997 article about McKay and Jacobs online at http://www.unirel.vt.edu/vtmag/Winter97/shorts.html.

Planting SEEDS of experience

I was delighted to read your coverage of ways the university continues to internationalize opportunities for faculty and students in the summer 2001 edition of the Virginia Tech Magazine. As an educator, I wholeheartedly agree with President Steger's vision of a "truly international university" that can educate and prepare our students for lives of commitment and complexity in a globalized world. In this regard, I would like to salute the full-circle vision of one alumnus who studied abroad while attending Virginia Tech.

Consider this: A Virginia Tech sophomore who was raised around the world desperately seeks study-abroad opportunities, but not just anywherethis guy wants to go to Africa. When his dream comes true, he is the only Virginia Tech student to go to Africa in 1987; he stayed for 13 months.

As your story illuminates, this student's experience in Kenya changed his life in dramatic ways.

Fast forward 14 years: Imagine this same individual dreaming of ways to share the unique vision of the world he cultivated and formulated during his study-abroad experience. He teams up with another Tech alum and founds a nonprofit organization, the mission of which is to create opportunities for young and old alike to learn about the world's diverse cultural and ecological riches.

Skip to December 2000: This same individual is now leading Virginia Tech faculty and undergraduate students back to some of the very same communities in Kenya he first encountered as a sophomore at Tech. The faculty and students live and participate on the grassroots level; they laugh, eat, and learn along with many of the Kenyans this alumnus studied and lived with 14 years ago, all of whom, like him, are grown now with families, careers, and community leadership responsibilities of their own.

I had the opportunity to be a part of this wonderful experience as a member of the teaching team for the Residential Leadership Community's cultural immersion study abroad trip to Yala, Kenya, this past December-January. The "Tech team" was led through Kenya by SEEDS (Seek Education, Explore and DiScover), a local, nonprofit educational organization founded and directed by David Deshler (geography '91) and Michael Rosenzweig (Ph.D. biology '94).

David Deshler is that student who dreamed of Africa 14 years ago. This past semester, he and his assistant, SEEDS employee Jennifer Pollard (liberal arts and sciences '96), led Virginia Tech students and faculty through an amazing learning experience, bringing his own knowledge of Kenya to life again in our eyes and in a new millennium.

Heather D. Switzer '92, M.A. '94,
Assistant Director, Virginia Tech Service Learning Center, Blacksburg, Va.