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Applied science

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By Mike Forster

A visit to Jeff Steele's classroom, is like a visit to another culture. There, one is exposed to formulae that rival the Rosetta Stone in their incomprehensibility. Equations analyzing rotational motion with constant angular accelerators are the norm.

They make sense to Steele because he has worked with them most of his life. He is a trained nuclear engineer.

Yet, Steele teaches calculus and physics courses at Liberty High School. He also serves as coach of the school's swim team and Minettes' soccer program.

"I'm often asked why am I not doing something else," said Steele recently. After all, nuclear engineers are a rare, and valuable, breed. "Money does not define happiness."

Steele is a native of Southern California and attended the University of California-Santa Barbara, graduating in 1989, with a bachelor of science in nuclear engineering, realizing a goal he had set as a ninth grader. The curriculum included course work that Steele found "very interesting": electrical and chemical engineering, advanced calculus and quantum physics, to name a few.

So, how did Liberty come to have this most intelligent man pacing the sidelines for its teams? To help pay for his graduate degree work, Steele took up a teaching assistant position. "I found that I enjoyed research but loved the teaching. I saw the writing on the wall."

When Steele's mentor/advisor left for another school, he found himself at a crossroads. "I had been dating Kelly for two years and we were pretty certain it would be a life-long thing," said Steele. "(Plus, without the mentor), I'd have to start over with my research. I considered it the perfect sign that I should consider teaching."

Steele married Kelly (who, by the way, had earned her degree in chemical engineering) after completing his teaching curriculum. The two decided that the California lifestyle wasn't what they wanted. "A lot of things didn't appeal," he recalled.

Kelly's father, Marvin Hicks, had discovered Bedford, so the couple used that as a start point, but the entire East Coast was fair game in their search for where to live. The search didn't go far, as Steele received an offer to teach in the county school system.

As he progressed from part-time/substitute to full time math teacher at Liberty and on to both math and science teacher, Steele saw an opportunity to help out with the athletics at the school. He started out as an assistant to JV Football coach Scott Craig, now AD at Liberty.

The next year, Liberty lost its entire boys' soccer staff and Steele stepped into a role as boys' JV soccer coach. In 1996-97, he served as assistant swim coach, moving into the head coach's slot the following year. He was tapped on the shoulder to build a new sport at the school: girls' soccer. "It was very enticing to start up the program and see how far we could take it."

He has taken the program quite far. The team has won two District titles under Steele and is perennially in the top three of the league.

As if he weren't doing enough, Steele is also the voice of the Minutemen football team, as he is the PA announcer on Friday nights.

Steele's value is appreciated by student and parent alike, even if he sometimes loses his athletes when discussing the physics of sports. At a recent swim meet, swimmer John Fisher and his mother, Sang, were asked about Steele's impact on John's academic and athletic endeavors. "I think he's a great teacher," said Sang Fisher. "He's a pusher and gets the students to do better."

John, a stellar swimmer who hopes to attend VMI, said, "He's a phenomenal teacher. He pushes you hard, but he's never harsh. He's out for the welfare of his kids."

Steele seems very content with the way his life has worked out. "I'm really in a good situation. I coach both genders and I am reaching out the academic kids," he stated. "I've pursued things that I have enjoyed and, on top of everything, I come home to a wonderful family."

The Steele's have two daughters, seven year old Hannah and two year old Grace.

"If I were doing whatever work I could be in engineering, sure, I'd impact lives," he said. "But I feel like I have the ability to help people aspire to equally great things. If I can get two students to do that: one to fill the hole I left and one additional, it's a better exchange."

And it doesn't take a nuclear engineer to understand that math.