STEM

What good snacks mean to science: an interview with Emil Radoi, Redlands East Valley Physics teacher

By ALEENA SIRITANAPIVAT

Redlands East Valley physics teacher writing formulas and graphing upon his whiteboard in preparation for class. (ALEENA SIRITANAPIVAT/ Ethic Photo)

“After a long day, it’s good to have a snack,” Emil Radoi told me as he opened his drawer. I watched while he pulled out two little packs of Hello Panda cookies. “A good snack,” he emphasized, his lips curling up slightly. I accepted them, opened it and popped one in my mouth, watching as he did the same.

After a brief moment of chewing, I heard him ask, “So what would you like to know?” The whole school knows of Radoi, his intelligence and his love for physics, but did he always know he wanted to be involved with STEM or physics? Was he like the wavering senior, still unsure of what to mark for their major?

“Ah…” he began, the sound of remembrance telling me that I was in for a story. He beckoned me to sit, and I obliged as he started to recount his backstory. “I always liked numbers, ever since I could count, really,” he told me. Mathematics was his passion. Although middle school, or gymnasium as they called it in Romania where he grew up, introduced him to various subjects, such as geometry and chemistry, when it came to choosing a subject-specific high school, the choice was clear. “Physical science in sixth grade…, ecology in seventh, anatomy in eighth…,” he listed with his hands folded under his chin. All of those subjects were available to him, but, for him, the choice was always going to be one of the four math-physics high schools in the county.

However, believe it or not, Radoi didn’t automatically start with physics. Yes, the high school had pushed him to a career path quickly, but that only led him to computer science programming as a freshman in college. At first, he began at the University of Illinois at Chicago but had to move to Southern California in the fall of 1989 as a transfer to California State University, San Bernardino. It was there that he met Dr. Javier Torner, then department chair of natural sciences. “He asked me, ‘Do you see yourself [computing numbers for something]? Do you see yourself in an office?’ I told him, ‘No, I don’t,’” he recalled. His professor served as the guiding force in changing his major, and, as a sophomore, he began applied mathematics in physics.

Now rumor has it that Radoi used to be a scientist for NASA, so I took it upon myself to confirm or deny this little speculation. He chuckled: an instant rejection of the theory. Before teaching, he actually worked for UPS (the third letter is an S just like NASA, so he guessed it’s still close) during the night shift in the flight operations department. He monitored loads, like fuel and freight, computing and balancing. “After all,” he stated, “we didn’t want any accidents like FedEx. We actually had a photo of the accident….” I figured that Radoi does not want FedEx handling his packages after that explanation.

In the end, why did Radoi decide to teach? He began to recount how his wife tutored at San Bernardino Valley College, and how he himself worked with them for three years. He tracked back to 1990 when he was in college and worked part-time at Redlands High School with the ESL department for about 20 hours a week. “I enjoyed tutoring since high school — just for fun,” he paused and thought for a moment. “Actually, I’ve been tutoring since the third or fourth grade. I would tutor my cousins in mathematics.” It turns out, Radoi has been a teacher since the very beginning, and it was the same professor that pushed him to change to applied mathematics that inspired him to teach as well.

What if Radoi wasn’t a physics teacher? What would he be? “Hm… Well, I like talking to people on a regular basis about anything, really, so if I had to be anything besides a teacher, I would work with people, helping and communicating,” he eventually told me, hesitant at first. He mentioned a coffee shop, most likely a promotion for the Meek House, which is owned by one of his daughters and can be found in Redlands’ Mountain Grove. I know from friends that he greets them warmly while they are visiting and even offers one-on-one help in physics if the person asks. However, I could tell from his answer that being a physics teacher is what he genuinely loves.

“Teach from the heart, and have a passion for the subject they want [to teach],” he said when I asked him for advice for future science teachers. “Physics is not something you teach, but something you let others discover.” It’s why “in [our AP Physics] class, we derive formulas,” he added. Apply this to your own subject aspiring teachers. Other advice included: like people, be prepared for challenges and anything students may throw at you and be okay with saying “I don’t know,” but bring students to the next level that they should be at or to the same level as you. “Oh, and make it ‘phun,’ with a P-H, of course,” he joked.

For those interested in pursuing engineering or STEM, Radoi encourages them to join Engineering Club. They meet every Tuesday during lunch in E-101. As the advisor, he oversees the many projects built by students and has done so for many years. Every year, they participate in the Science Olympiad and the boat building competition. With that, all of the mysteries about Radoi were resolved, and it dawned upon me that our interview had come to an end.

I thanked him for his time, and he smiled at me. We exchanged the usual departing pleasantries, and I walked out of his classroom, feeling refreshed. Clutching my heavy textbooks that felt lighter than normal, to my surprise, I realized I still had the cookies he had given me before the interview. I took one cookie out, admiring the faded panda figures depicted on the shell before popping one in my mouth, and savored the sweet chocolatey taste of a good snack after a long day.

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