By Sue Webber
Paul Bauhahn of Fridley is an Air Force veteran who soaked up knowledge during his military service and just kept on studying and learning after his discharge.
Bauhahn, a retired Honeywell research scientist, and his wife, Ruth, a retired Medtronic human factor scientist in product development, have devoted their lives to continually educating themselves and helping children to cultivate an interest in math and science.
Following graduation from the University of Chicago with a bachelor’s degree in physics, Bauhahn joined the Air Force as a communications officer and learned about electronics.
“My last assignment was working at an organization supporting a high-level command center using state-of-the-art equipment,” Bauhahn said. “I learned so much electronics while teaching in the communications officer school that I specialized in electrical engineering after I left the Air Force.”
He earned a second bachelor’s degree at Michigan State University while taking graduate courses in physics. Then followed graduate school at the University of Michigan, where he obtained master’s degrees in both physics and electrical engineering, and a doctorate in electrical engineering.
Growing up in Michigan, where his father taught mechanical engineering and an aunt taught biology, it was just assumed that Bauhahn would go to college, he said.
“The money I saved from my time in the service and benefits paid for quite a bit of my education,” he said. “I was also a research assistant in graduate school while working on my Ph.D.”
Paul met Ruth while they were students in graduate school. Ruth was pursuing a master’s degree in education.
“Ruth was a fabulous pianist; that’s what attracted me to her,” Paul said. “We had similar taste in music. She has lots of energy. She’s hard to keep up with.”
Following the couple’s marriage in 1971, Ruth taught eighth-grade math before she and Paul moved to Minnesota. They have lived in Fridley since 1977.
In his work as an engineer at Honeywell, Bauhahn developed microwave, millimeter wave and micromechanical devices, and worked with lasers for diverse applications. He retired in 2011 with 13 patents.
Ruth, who grew up in Gary, Indiana, retired from Medtronic with five patents related to the design of medical devices for spinal cord stimulation.
After retirement, Bauhahn taught physics with calculus at Normandale Community College. He discovered then that some of the students didn’t know algebra or trigonometry.
“I started looking at what I could do in the schools to fix the problem,” Bauhahn said.
He found that Daryl Vossler, principal at Stevenson Elementary School in Fridley, was “very open to trying new things.”
“He’s a great guy, and he has a great staff,” Bauhahn said.
What followed has been an exciting venture for Bauhahn and his wife, as well as for the Fridley Schools.
The Bauhahns have provided financial support to supply Bedtime Math material, including tablets, to the school. Bedtime Math is a nonprofit organization focused on mathematics education for young children. The online venture was launched in February 2012 with a daily email that provides a playful daily math problem for kids to do with their parents, much like a bedtime story. The materials are available free of charge.
Then Ruth got into math competitions involving tough math word problems, and began working on them with a group of six girls at Stevenson.
Each Tuesday and Thursday since last fall, Ruth has met with six girls at Stevenson Elementary School to work on problem solving.
At the same time, Paul meets with six fourth-grade boys at the school to work on algebra. Sometimes he stops teaching algebra and talks about physics.
“The kids love that,” he said. “I want kids to learn to think.”
Fridley School officials have high praise for the Bauhahns’ contributions.
“They’ve done some things for us we wouldn’t be able to do without them,” Vossler said. “They’ve just been great to have around. They are passionate about education. Math and science are what they’re about.”
Veronica Westerman Mathison, Primary Years Programme coordinator through the Fridley Schools IB curriculum and district’s math coordinator, said she met the Bauhahns in 2015.
“That fall they approached us about wanting to work with kids on Bedtime Math. We kicked it off in January 2016.”
The small-group work followed.
“Ruth is mentoring the girls; she’s inspiring them,” Mathison said. “She’s getting them to think outside the box, about jobs or careers. Ruth reads so many books. It’s amazing that someone who taught so traditionally [in earlier years] is keeping up with research and how to apply math with kids.”
The girls do small group work, research and investigative studies, and complete action projects at the end of fourth grade.
“The Bauhahns are modest and shun recognition,” Mathison said. “They’ve helped us with resources and professional development for teachers. They’ve done so much at Stevenson. They are quite the couple; they are fabulous. We are beyond fortunate.”
Paul is always striving for more. He and Ruth have purchased erector sets to help students who weren’t doing well. And he’s adamant that “TV is a disaster” because it dissuades students from working hands on to discover the world.
“It still amazes me how much trouble kids have with math,” Paul said. “Something’s haywire. Part of the problem is that kids don’t work hands on. That’s frustrating to me.
“A lot of kids don’t realize how much they’re missing. I’d like them to understand there’s a great big world out there. There’s so much to learn. I’m still studying. I’m just curious. It’s fun. If we could just get kids to realize the huge benefit of working hard in school. They don’t realize how important it is. We’ve got to get things fixed.”