CEDAR RAPIDS — Dressed in his flight suit, Capt. Barrington Irving shared tales of his travels across the globe with about 20 students Tuesday at Johnson STEAM Academy Magnet School.
During the appearance — a melding of Black History Month and Engineering Week — Irving told stories of receiving the Guinness World Record as the youngest person to fly solo around the world at age 23 and extracting sea snake venom and DNA off the coast of Palau to use to fight heart disease.
He said he tells those stories to not only show youths the importance of a STEAM — science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics — education, but also to inspire them to pursue their dreams.
“That’s what’s key. If students can’t see it, they can’t understand it. Then what are they truly chasing? That’s the challenge,” he said. “We just try to inspire them and at the same time show them some really amazing things.”
Irving’s visit here, which includes stops at Metro High School and the STEAM Festival at the Cedar Rapids Public Library, was facilitated with the help of Rockwell Collins.
Jenny Becker, manager of diversity and community relations with Rockwell Collins, said Irving, who was born in Kingston, Jamaica, and overcame obstacles as a child growing up in Miami’s inner city to become the only African American ever to fly solo around the world, was a perfect speaker not only for Engineer Week, but also Black History Month.
“We thought this was a perfect opportunity to bring someone to speak to the kids here at the academy about some of the obstacles (Irving) went through in his life and his fascination with STEM and aviation and everything that it’s allowed him to do,” Becker said. “Part of what Barrington is able to do is help kids understand the relevance of what they’re learning in school now and how to apply it to their future.”
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Irving said he hopes sharing his experiences help students understand the importance of mathematics and science and find their own passions to follow.
“It’s those types of things that makes science cool again to kids,” he said. “If you can engage a child, then a teacher can do their job. But you have to engage them first.”