Long time engineering teacher Adam Davidson moves on

Davidson working with students in his introductory engineering class. Photo by Ben Meglin

One of Riverside’s veteran teachers is moving on.

After 15 years, engineering teacher Adam Davidson left Riverside at the end of last semester to accept a senior lab position at the Duke University Pratt School of Engineering. His fifteenth year at Riverside came to a close on January 3. 

Davidson is a National Board certified teacher with 18 total years of teaching experience. At Riverside, he won many awards, including a 2018 Teacher of the Year award from STEM in the Park, two NC State STEM Education’s Outstanding and Excellence in TED Education awards, and two PLTW Teacher of the Year awards.  

When Davidson first arrived at Riverside, he worked with Tim Velegol, the PLTW Program Coordinator, to lay out goals for the program and his own career.

“I decided I was going to teach for ten years,” said Davidson, “and then I loved it.” 

Velegol joined Riverside’s staff just one year before Davidson. They worked together to build up the engineering program, gaining recognition in the school and community for the advanced classes they planned on teaching. 

Initially, they struggled to get 60 students into their classes, but before long they had to cap enrollment at 140.

“What Mr. Velogol and I had set out to have as five and ten year plans, we’d already accomplished by year seven,” Davidson said, “so that meant I was prompted to come up with another five year plan.” 

Velegol had many words to describe Davidson’s commitment and dedication to Riverside’s engineering program and all of the ways he worked tirelessly to grow and improve the program. 

“Davidson never checked boxes,” said Velegol in an email. “He was committed to the mission of educating high school students. Among the elite Riverside teachers who do the same, he occupied very rare air… He could have said no. He always said yes.” 

Once the program was established, Davidson continued with his development goals for expansion. This included forming a grants committee and, most notably, creating a maker-space for students that lets them experiment with a variety of advanced technology including digital fabrication and other creation tools. 

Davidson assisting students on a group project on one of his final days teaching at Riverside. Photo by Ben Meglin

In the last couple years Davidson decided he wanted something different for the near future, which led him to explore opportunities outside of public education.

“I’ve been looking at, what do I do to leave education. How do I get out of being a public school teacher? Because after a while, I want something that’s more, that is another challenge,” Davidson said. “It’s not necessarily going to be more of a challenge. But it is a different challenge. I didn’t want to stagnate.”

At Duke, he’ll be training teacher’s assistants in the electrical and computer engineering program to run their new lab. After 18 years of working in public education, this switch is a big change. While still in the education field, it’s different from his job at Riverside in many respects.

“I’ll be working with people around the age of my [Riverside] student teachers, and training them to work with students that are the age of our seniors, or freshmen in college,” said Davidson.

“The students who I am directly teaching, the TA’s, know the curriculum. They know the content already, so I’m really teaching them how to teach. But there’s also some similarities,” said Davidson, contrasting his time at Riverside, “I’m still managing a lab, and that’s what I’ve been doing here for the last six years.”

Velegol says that a new teacher, Ryan Patridge, has been hired to fill Davidson’s opening. Patridge, who earned his bachelor’s degree in computer science from Cornell University, has many years of experience working in makerspaces and with information technology infrastructure. 

Even with Davidson’s position filled, Velegol knows Riverside students will continue to reap the benefits of his work, as they have for many years.

“Every single one of the engineering program’s featured ‘extras’, in some way, have the mark of Davidson’s involvement,” Velegol said. 

Velegol provided student’s anonymous responses to the question “What class have you learned the most from so far?” from Riverside’s National Honor Society application. Over 60 responses mentioned Davidson’s engineering classes, most notably his introductory freshman class. 

“Mr. Davidson was one of the most energetic and supportive teachers I’ve had, while challenging us with difficult problems.” 

“From day one, Mr. Davidson always believed in my ability. The engineering courses helped me become more mature, flexible, and taught me how to cope with real-world problems and adversity.” 

My teacher, Mr. Davidson has been an inspiration to me. He taught me how to work together as a team while still exploring my creativity and individualism.”

[Davidson] taught in such an engaging and visual way that I learned so much from his class about engineering and about life.” 

The ‘Fab Lab’ maker space, for example, now boasts over a dozen 3D Printers, two shopbot router/milling machines, a Tormach Mill, a drill press, a sander, portable laptops capable of running large engineering programs, and a state of the art laser cutter. 

“He didn’t just solicit parent support and… funding for the toys to play with.” said Velegol. “He made a concerted effort to train every student who had interest in the use of the equipment.”

Davidson also helped create the Riverside Engineering Parent Action Committee where he later served on the grants committee to help secure grant funding for the school and for students. He worked with many teachers to help them earn their national board certification, mentored Conner Bolen and Adam Tokonitz, who are now teaching various engineering classes at Riverside, and helped to expand PLTW course offerings from two teachers and 8 sections to six teachers and 30 sections a year.

“I’ve brought in some really good teachers with Mr. Bolen and Mr. Tokonitz,” he said. “When I brought them in, I said, ‘just be prepared, it’s, you know, maybe a few more years, and then I want to try and find a way to leave it for you all to run.’”

Davidson had many memories of his 15 years at Riverside, but an interaction with one student stood out in his mind during his final days on campus. 

“Every single day that [one of my students] leaves, whether she truly understood everything we were doing all day long or left feeling super positive, she thanks me. And that’s, that’s awesome. That’s great. That’s a wonderful feeling to have as a teacher.”

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