|To: Lt. Gen. John H. Cushman,
U.S. Army, Ret.
From: George L. Johnston, Ph.D.
Subject: Nomination of David R. Hughes
as a Distinguished Graduate, USMA
Date: September 26, 2000
I am told that the Directors of the West
Point Society of Annapolis will nominate David Ralph Hughes, USMA 1950,
for recognition by the Association of Graduates, USMA, in 2001 as a Distinguished
As an individual who has known Dave Hughes
and participated in some of his projects since the early nineties, I endorse
the nomination strongly and without reservation.
In 1991 I was a Research Scientist in the
MIT Plasma Fusion Center engaged in research in theoretical physics applied
to particle accelerators and high-power microwave generators. In my work
I had access to the Internet, which at that time was devoted exclusively
to communications among researchers at universities and government laboratories.
I began to think about possible benefits of the computer communications
technology available to me to reach students and teachers in primary and
secondary education. In order to explore the possibilities, I sought out
experts in the field, if any. After some inquiry, I was advised that Dave
Hughes was the preeminent pioneer in the use of computer communications
for education and community and economic development of rural communities.
I telephoned Dave at his home office. In
short order I had made a commitment to collaborate with him in the development
of a high-school level course on the science and mathematics of chaos to
be presented by an informal telephone-based system that he would organize
to schools and students whose participation he would arrange. As I realized
only later, here was a breathtaking demonstration of Dave's vision, his
sense for publicity (the MIT connection), his commitment to public service,
his energy, and his salesmanship. The course had no formal funding. Dave
bore much of the cost and my laboratory management averted their gaze from
my part-time efforts in the course. We developed and presented the course
to students in high schools in Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, and California.
Two of the students subsequently applied to MIT, were admitted, and matriculated.
One of them, a girl, later told me that she wouldn't have dreamed of applying
to MIT but for the validating experience of performing well in the course.
Dave and I collaborated on other efforts
to advance distance education by computer communications. We endeavored,
without success, to obtain formal Federal funding for our projects. (We
did not succeed, apparently because we were not psychologists or cognitive
scientists, and we were not "in the loop.") Working with Dr. Gordon Cook,
we participated in a Congressional Office of Technology Assessment (OTA)
workshop on the future of the Internet. (I recall with particular
enjoyment a surreal moment in the workshop when we crossed swords verbally
with a National Science Foundation (NSF) bureaucrat seeking to maintain
the Internet exclusively for collaboration of university and government
scientists by boldly advocating its extension to primary and secondary
education!) We advocated to the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF)
the adoption of a graphics file format Dave had identified as appropriate
for distance learning. Dave financed and managed the relatively inexpensive
development in the former Soviet Union of a software package to achieve
convenient communication by means of that graphics file format. We
participated in a variety of conferences in which our primary focus was
a continuing quest for software tools to facilitate distance learning.
Through Dave's long experience with computer
communications in rural areas, he had become convinced that many essential
communications links for schools and communities could not be achieved
economically by conventional network service providers, such as telephone
utilities. He studied the emergence of alternatives in certain advanced
wireless technologies. Most of them do not require operator licensing and
therefore, unlike conventional service providers, do not require continuing
expenditures beyond maintenance and depreciation for replacement. Most
important, these technologies, because of the ongoing revolution in digital
processing, were experiencing revolutionary growth in bandwidth and other
measures of performance. Dave mastered the assembly, installation, field
engineering and operation of many of these advanced systems as they became
available, placing them into service with Old Colorado City Communications,
the Internet service provider that he operates.
In 1995 he was asked to submit a proposal
to the Networking Division of NSF to conduct wireless field tests to determine
the suitability of these advanced wireless technologies in primary and
secondary education. He asked me to participate because he wanted to develop
a program that would be more than an engineering study of such technical
measures of performance as network throughput and bit error rates. He wanted
to develop a program that would demonstrate, even if in a limited way,
the use of the wireless technologies to assist education in schools. One
subsidiary, but important, benefit of this approach would be that school
personnel would be more motivated to in general to participate, and in
particular to deal conscientiously with issues of achieving and recording
technical performance. I suggested that we develop and present a course
on selected topics in mathematics and science for participating teachers.
Having learned something about the Byzantine institution of primary and
secondary education through the chaos course and our subsequent activities
over several years, for a variety of reasons I had come to consider professional
development of teachers, especially in mathematics and science, a highly
The grant was approved and we set to work.
The locus of the program was the San Luis Valley in rural Southern Colorado
and Mitchell High School in Colorado Springs, the closest approximation
in Colorado Springs to an inner city school. Because we were funded, I
could go to Colorado before the beginning of the course to meet the teachers
who had volunteered to participate. We arranged for teachers who completed
the course to receive graduate credit for the course from Colorado University
at Colorado Springs. As usual, Dave was deeply involved in the planning,
execution, and management of all aspects of the program, from the arcanely
technical to the delicately personal and political. There were many and
serious challenges across that spectrum, including issues of line-of-sight
propagation, which required Dave to climb a tall antenna tower in high
winds, and issues of sensitivities of the Hispanic community leadership
in the oldest town in Colorado, which was founded two hundred years before
Colorado became a state. For reasons largely associated with improved technology
available over time and the greater lead time available for planning, the
teachers' course probably ran more smoothly than the chaos course, although
both were in my opinion, successful experiments and demonstrations of distance
learning in primary and secondary education.
Since the wireless field tests for education,
Dave has continued to work with the National Science Foundation on the
application of wireless technology to connection of scientific research
laboratories in Mongolia and remote sensing for field ecology in an ever
increasing variety of remote regions. I am working with a friend and former
MIT research colleague on the development of a suite of Web-enabled interactive
software for middle school, high school, and remedial college courses in
algebra. Dave and I continue to be in touch.
In my opinion, Dave Hughes embodies in
the highest sense the motto of the United States Military Academy, "Duty,
Honor, Country." In our work together, he has always seemed blithely indifferent
to his personal advantage. He has consistently and with Herculean strength
and energy pursued his imaginative vision of computer communications technology
for education, community development, economic development, and now scientific
research. There are many other positive things I could say about Dave,
but I suspect others will say many of them. Perhaps the best thing I can
say is that knowing and working with Dave Hughes is one of the greatest
good fortunes of a generally fortunate life.
George L. Johnston