June 06, 2011

My Other Life

By: by Larry Rulison, Business Writer


Stephen Small

Position: Instructional support technician, College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering, University at Albany

Age: 56

Passion outside work: Teaching. Steve Stewart has a knack for boiling down a complex idea so the average person can understand it. That is why he is good at giving quick presentations to students who visit the University at Albany's College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering to learn about the basics of science and the semiconductor field.

After all, who could show kids how computer chips are made using sand, Legos and Jello? And keep them interested?

Stewart can.

"We show them basic science," Stewart said. "I try to put it in terms that I can understand."

Stewart, who started working at Albany NanoTech in 2001 and resides in Greenwich, is no slouch himself when it comes to science. An Ohio native, Stewart spent a year in the engineering program at the University of Akron before starting a 20-year career in the Navy, including work on submarines and with nuclear power. He also worked in the semiconductor industry.

He says his time in the military especially shaped the way that he teaches students.

"When you are in the military, you are an instructor no matter who you are," Stewart said.

The show-stopper of Stewart's presentation involves talking about how important safety is when handling chemicals and semiconductor equipment. At one point, he drinks what appears to be a dangerous chemical that is really just lemonade.

"Half the time I get the teachers to drop in shock," Stewart said. "Some of the students, their eyes go to the size of anime dolls. I always like to make my teaching a little more than cut and dried. I'm a show-off."

Stewart usually gives his presentation wearing either a NanoCollege hat or his trademark Stihl chainsaw hat.

Stewart says he appreciates helping spark an interest in science in students. He himself remembers when a NASA scientist visited his high school.

"That kind of exposure, I always think was very valuable," Stewart said. "The teachers always get a lot of ideas when they come."

Quote: "The kids are sharp. They pick it up really fast."