The first post in a series of stories on IMP Alumni who are living incredible lives and inspiring us all.
Where can we look for the next Wright brothers, Steve Wozniak, Nikola Tesla, Elon Musk, Leonardo Da Vinci, Benjamin Franklin, or Vannevar Bush? How can we empower and encourage more of the next generation to harness an elite level of critical thinking and genius?
This month, Spectrum IEEE published a timely piece (“Engineering Needs More Heroes” by G. Pascal Zachary) on the culture of hero-worshiping in America and how engineers (who are typically modest by nature and rarely get media attention for their contributions) are in need of a bit of hero-recognition – a necessary ingredient, notes the article, in inspiring Generation Z to pursue engineering majors. The editors took this idea one step further by posting an open, nationwide call to find Today’s Unsung Engineering Heroes. Zachary asks bluntly in his post, “So, where else are we to look for exemplary engineers?”
While Spectrum IEEE searches far and wide for today’s unsung engineering heroes, students in classrooms across the country continue to ask the one, nagging question that has haunted parents and math teachers throughout the ages: “How are these math problems going to help me in the real world when I grow up?” The answer to both questions came to us in a tweet… from Hawaii.
#Score. “Rex, we found you!”
Now a legendary surfer, hot sauce dealing entrepreneur, filmmaker, world-traveler, and IT ninja, Rex Moribe (@RexMoribe) would more than make any high school math teacher proud. This is the type of student that makes it all worthwhile.
How does a kid from a little Hawaiian island wind up with their own signature bodyboard at 17, become a champion surfer by the time they’re 20, turn a family recipe into a popular brand and thriving company, graduate with honors in degrees in both Applied Science in Business Software and Network Technology, travel the world, and land a plum position working on the most advanced IT problem-solving challenges today?
IT’S ABOUT TIME® (IAT) received a tweet from Rex Moribe (aka ‘T-Rex’) just before the 2014, 4th of July celebrations were about to kick into high gear. The tweet was a not-so-simple request that thrilled IAT staff and sent everyone scrambling in the warehouse to “find Rex!”.
Rex Moribe was one of the first students to graduate from IT’S ABOUT TIME’s Interactive Mathematics Program (IMP) sixteen years ago. As it turns out (and unbeknownst to Rex all these years), a candid photo of Rex studying in his math class was prominently featured on page 155 of the 1997 First Edition IMP textbook, which he now desperately wanted to track down. The good news is, Rex found us, we found the First Edition IMP with Rex’s photo, and the past found us all.
What was so meaningful about scoring a copy of this original math textbook, beyond the cameo? What role did IMP’s unique approach to math have in the star-studded resume of this next generation engineering hero? And why does Rex (and students like him) inspire us all?
Where the T-Rex Found His Problem-Solving Superpowers
Education Insider interviewed Rex (now 33 years old and engaged to be married) to get the scoop on how he managed to accomplish so much at a young age. Much the way he solves complex technical problems at work, Rex deconstructed the past and took us all the way back to where it all started — high school math class.
Education Insider: What high school did you attend? Who was your math teacher?
Education Insider: What was that like for you as a high school student — learning an entirely new type of math?
Rex Moribe: I remember thinking, “Whatever. I’ll take IMP instead of the regular math,” not thinking anything of it. But I really truly believe that math class benefited me throughout my life. It affects the way I approach almost everything — which is pretty crazy if you think about it! I was just telling my fiancée about it. She’s said, “I don’t understand.” I said, “Yeah, it’s hard to explain what the program is.” I was that kid who, when they got a toy car, immediately took it apart to see how it worked. And that’s what I think IMP was. It wasn’t, “Okay, memorize this formula,” (a formula you’ll never use). IMP was, “This is the reason why you use that formula.”
Education Insider: It made an impression on you?
Rex Moribe: Definitely. I even took the last year of IMP when it wasn’t required. I did it just because I enjoyed that class. I’m happy to be part of that. I’m not sure, but I believe we might have been one of the first people to graduate out of that program.
Education Insider: Is there any one particular exercise or something specific the about curricula that has stuck with you?
Rex Moribe: The pendulum! You know, the one where you drop the pendulum and time it? It swings back and forth. That’s one that I remember the most, because we spent so much time with it. We were thinking, “What are we trying to get to here?” I remember because we built a huge pendulum at the end of the finals and we dropped it. We figured out the timing of it before even dropping it and that just blew my mind!
Education Insider: The Interactive Math Program was new to everyone, including your math teacher (Mrs. Goo). How do you think she felt about the program? Looking back, do you think she embraced the program the way you did or did she experience challenges?
Rex Moribe: I think she was awesome because she was learning with us. It wasn’t like going through the dated line of [teaching], “This is the problem today. This is how to fix it.” I think she enjoyed the ride as much as some of the students, as well as me, because this was totally new. We were the first students to be thrown into this. And, even crazier, I guess the IMP teachers loved me so much that, in my junior or senior year, they sent me (and two other students) to the eighth graders to teach them IMP for an entire day. We introduce them to the new math and said, “You can either choose this new program or you can choose the regular old route.”
Education Insider: What did the eighth graders think?
Rex Moribe: It was so funny. All the kids were so stoked because we gave them a fun activity. I forget which activity we gave them but I remember a lot of students joining. But I also remember the next year, one random student came up to me and said, “You got us so excited for IMP. We joined, and it’s so hard.” I thought to myself, “Well, I love it!” Everybody is different.
Education Insider: What kind of student were you in high school?
I was one of the most popular students in high school. I was that crazy kid who wore second-hand clothes (all I wore in high school was second-hand Aloha shirts). My attitude was, “I’m just going to rock me.” I was one of the top bodyboarders in the entire state, if not the world. I believe in ’97 I won the state championships – my name was thrown around a lot. I would walk into a classroom and students would say, “Aren’t you that surfer kid?” There’s a stigma [attached to being a surfer] of being not very smart when, in reality, I was a secret geek. Still, to this day, people can’t believe what I’m doing (that I’m an Engineer) because they all assumed that I was just going to be a “typical” surfer. Actually, there are a lot of very smart surfers out there today.
Education Insider: How did your photo end up in the IMP textbook?
Rex Moribe: There was a woman who came in to take pictures of the class working. But I didn’t really want to be in the book because back in high school, even if you didn’t care about being popular, there’s still that “cool factor.” So, at first, I thought, “I don’t want to be in a math book!” [laughing] But then I figured, “Whatever.” I just started working on our math problems and the photographer started taking pictures of everybody. I honestly didn’t care and life went on. Two or three years later (when I was in college) I get a phone call from a friend saying, “You’re in this book!” You know, I was broke (in college) so I couldn’t buy the book. Back then, everyone was on old school mobile phones (no cameras or texting). So, I never got to see the photo. Then, time passed. A few weeks ago, I checked my Twitter account after not touching it for years and I was like, “Oh my god!” There was a tweet from a student with my photo in the book. I almost had a heart attack!
Education Insider: What did you do after completing IMP and graduating high school?
Rex Moribe: I went to Heald College where I graduated with honors and two associates degrees in Applied Science Degree in Business Software Applications and Applied Science Degree in Network Technology. Then, I went into the IT world (working in high pressure disaster recovery situations). I then became an entrepreneur (CEO of Da Secret Sauce), and a filmmaker. We live in a day now, especially for children, where the opportunity to do almost anything is there. There are no excuses for you to fail at trying something you want to do. You just have to figure out how to get there.
Education Insider: Fast-forward to today. You mentioned that IMP has shaped the way you think about everything and, more specifically, how you approach solving problems. As an IT specialist, a filmmaker and an entrepreneur, how does what you learned in math over 15 years ago correlate with what you do in business today?
Rex Moribe: The biggest play is in what I do for my day job, which is IT. We’re the last go to guys when something goes wrong. But we’re not help desk. We’re like the last resort. We’re talking about a server going down and affecting 30,000 units. So we’ve got to figure out how to get it up and running fast! And then as soon as the server gets back up, management wants to know what went wrong and why. This is the thing about reverse-engineering and understanding how a product works — bringing everything into play and looking at the big picture. What went wrong and what went right? I notice how other people think through problems – they focus on just one area of the problem. But you need to consider other elements as well. It’s just a method of tackling the problem, basically. The way you tackle a problem in IMP, we were taught to not take everything at face value. You need to understand why pi is pi, or why this formula is this formula, or why we are solving this problem this way. Even to this day, if somebody says to me, “Here’s the command,” or “Here’s the way to fix it,” I say, “You’ve got to tell me why you’re doing it that way.” I ask that question all the time. Why?
Education Insider: How does your method of thinking and problem-solving compare with people around you (who were taught traditional math)?
Rex Moribe: With math, for me, what I can say is that I might not remember, right now, how to do the most complicated math problems, but as far as problem solving, I’m the best. Know what I mean? And in life, you’re going to need to know how to solve problems – how to wiggle your way through problem management and figure out why you’re solving a problem a certain way. I truly believe, not just math, but even reading or anything, should have a way of telling you why you are doing things a certain way. To me, that’s going to payoff way more than saying to kids, “This is it. Learn it. Memorize it. And then graduate and then do something else.” Kids won’t remember that stuff.
I can’t remember my fifth grade teacher. I can’t remember my seventh grade teacher. I have a terrible memory. But as far as problem management, I’ll give you a quick way to problem-solve. At work, there are problems that come up where other engineers will spend a month trying to solved it and I’ll solve it in a week. There’ve been situations where I got a project that was due in two weeks but I did it in three days. It just blows my managers’ brains! They say, “I don’t understand how you did this so fast.” And I say, “I just solved it the quickest way, period.” The work is not hard. It’s just figuring out what needs to be done, then working backward, and then going forward. I reverse-engineer problems.
Education Insider: When you look at yourself in the IMP textbook—the teenage Rex—what do you think? What advice would you give teenaged-Rex?
Rex Moribe: I don’t actually regret anything in my life. I know what I want to do in the next two to five years. If you asked the 20-year-old Rex [about the future], he would have been so confused. I have more advice for the 20-year-old Rex than teenaged-Rex. To teenagers, I’d say just rock you. At 17, I had my own signature bodyboard (which is almost unheard of). I had a boogie board named after me until I was 21 or 22. Today, people really don’t understand why I don’t surf as much anymore. But it’s because, in my high school days, I caught everything I wanted to catch and did everything I wanted to do.
Here’s the thing: I think the reason why I became so popular in high school was because I always rang my own bell. I just did my thing. In high school, I was not pressured or, if I was pressured, I didn’t really care. I did things my way. So I wouldn’t even give myself advice, because it would probably change something in my life right now, and I’m extremely happy with what I’m doing.
Rex Moribe: “Never say never.”
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