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17958 Hughes, David Ralph 
 Big Sky Telegraph

To: Lt Gen John H. Cushman, (Ret), 
President, West Point Society of Annapolis

From: Frank Odasz, Lone Eagle Consulting,

I understand that the West Point Society of Annapolis will nominate David Hughes for the US Military Academy's Distinguished Graduate Award for 2001.  I'd like to support this nomination with the following.  First, here's a short biography of me-

Resume and Biography for Frank Odasz, President of Lone Eagle 
Consulting - http://lone-eagles.com/articles/frank.htm 

Frank Odasz has been a carpenter, oil-field roughneck, dude-ranch manager, college professor, and is now a "Lone Eagle" - an independent instructional entrepreneur. As an assistant professor of computer science at Western Montana College of the University of Montana, in partnership with Colonel Dave Hughes, he founded the Big Sky Telegraph network (1988-1998), one of the first online systems to offer online courses, and to the connecting up the 114 one-room schools of  Montana, along with the communities surrounding them. 


Dave Hughes mentored me from 1984-1998 throughout the genesis and maturation of the Big Sky Telegraph project. I'd like to offer my thoughts on his distinctive contribution to America, and the world, in support of his nomination. 

The Big Sky Telegraph, 1988-1999, was one of the first rural networks to offer online courses in the world and was cited for excellence, and providing a model for the future by four congressional reports and the 1992 White House NII (National Information Infrastructure) report. Its growth became inseparable from the online life of the small communities from whence it sprang. It insured that they would not remain on the other side of the 'digital divide.' It has become part of the history, legend, and literature about Community Networking and has inspired and informed many other networking efforts, from Alaska to Texas. While the technology has changed many times, the vision behind the Big Sky Telegraph has yet to be fully realized, even with today's technology.  Its model still needs to be disseminated  widely. Perhaps West Point recognition of Dave Hughes contribution to it will help its spread. It is still a valid vision, being centered more on communicating the values and purposes of being connected, while preserving the unique and valuable characteristics of  American communities, than just the technical methods used to connect them up.

Dave's unfailing support of myself and the idea of creating a model rural network is a story unto itself. He taught me that the level of trust between two persons, and the level of support that can be shared online, is bandwidth independent. That online we speak through our fingers and hear through our eyes, and there are many subtle advantages to this new medium which has never existed before, and of which even today we dimly understand the inherent true potential for human communications; a shared hologram of human imagination.  Dave's greatest contribution, in my opinion, was, and continues to be, his intellectual rigor that exemplifies the best of West Point values. At the age of 49, he taught himself computers and telecommunications to become an internationally renowned expert. For many years, Dave and I had one or more phone conversations per week lasting often well over an hour. We'd explore the implications for citizens of new technologies for education and community building. His genius is to be able to think well beyond the best thinkers of the day and to articulate the future. And then go out and implement that future. We'd battle back and forth trying to 'one-up' on the other's thinking, forging the path forward, combining caring and connectivity with common sense. I can remember times we'd be bellowing point upon point, back and forth, to the consternation of those around us, pushing ever forward on the electronic frontier. All this at a time when corporations, government, universities, school districts, and philanthropic foundations were notably weak in their ability to envision the social benefits of online digital communications.

It is Dave's intellectual rigor that West Point recruits should be challenged to emulate, as this is the modern equivalent of 'war readiness.'  The modern day, with its knowledge economy and transnational connectivity, presents us with a war against ignorance, to be fought with understanding, good teaching, and modeling the global/local citizenship that will create a future of which we can all be proud.

I view Dave's contribution to West Point as modeling the soldier of the future:

        - Proactive citizenship as good soldiering
        - Teaching and mentoring as good soldiering
        - Aggressive learning, thinking and development of intellectual rigor.

Dave has, I understand,  proposed a breathtaking-scale 'Virtual West Point' Project. Consider that our military strength and readiness will increasingly be measured by our ability to create new applications of knowledge and connectivity in a world of accelerating change, new dangers, in an increasingly complex world. There is an intellectual rigor required to create the future, instead of just waiting for it to happen. If West Point is to remain a leader and protector of the values it was built upon, it cannot afford to relinquish its leadership position. A Virtual West Point can educate the entire American public on the importance of West Point, and the values it represents and perpetuates. And it can attract the best and the brightest to attend its demanding four years, and serve the nation thereafter.

In the mid-eighties, Dave shared with me an online discussion on electronic democracy. Several times when the FCC was considering rulings that threatened to harm grassroots citizens, Dave put in practice the democratic potential he saw as inherent in the Internet. His email "Call to Action" messages resulted in over 160,000 email messages to the FCC within 24 hours on one occasion alone. It was not unusual for him to receive a personal phone call "OK, Dave, call off the dogs, you win!" This level of advocacy on behalf of grassroots Americans represents the highest level of moral fortitude and dedication to 'public service.'

Dave Hughes has been called 'the Ben Franklin of the Information Age,' and I'd agree he's of that stature without a doubt. But, history is still being made and Dave's still with us and is none too shy with his continued offering of his ideas on what we can do, today, to use technology and telecommunications to make the world a better place. And his continued willingness to lead by example. My experience compels me to petition you to listen carefully to his ideas as the future is upon us. And like good Army scouts who rode out across the unsettled Western frontier where I live and have been raised, Dave Hughes will always be out ahead, pointing the way.  He has delivered his wisdom to me as much while we were on horseback high above the Shoshone River in Wyoming, as over voice phones or through modems. Typical of him, he seriously wants to install a screen on his Western saddle horn, computer in the saddle bags, and a wireless link to the world from atop a horse. For he understands the profound value of  being alone on a peak for clarifying his mind  and pondering the future, while keeping his life and work in perspective, while remaining connected to all other inhabitants of this globe. It would be symbolic. But it also is Dave.

A final recommendation is for West Point to chronicle this man's wisdom in both book and virtual formats. Below is only a sampling of the stories he has been a part of. In a time where we find too few real leaders, we have among us the treasure of a great teacher and leader.

Big Sky Telegraph and Big-Hearted Mentoring 
By Frank Odasz, frank@lone-eagles.com

Stories About Dave Hughes

In 1984, from a ranch house near Walden, Colorado, I called Dave Hughes to ask about his online "Little Red Electronic choolhouse," which began a mentoring relationship lasting a full ten years. Dave Hughes, a retired army colonel who "self-taught" himself computers and the Internet at age 49, was a well known advocate for grassroots communications, empowerment and electronic democracy; he was also known as the 

"Cursor Cowboy." http://wireless.oldcolo.com 

I was caretaking a ranch, with a new Masters Degree in Instructional Technology, teaching evening extension classes on "Computers in Agriculture."

Through voice phone calls and vigorous online exchange, including a formal online College Credit  course from Dave himself,  delivered through the nation's first public access network ' The Source' - I eventually learned to create and teach online courses for teachers through the Big Sky Telegraph network (1988-1998), which Dave technically designed, built, upgraded, and maintained for several years. My own mentoring of teachers in rural Montana schools was patterned after the determined "Bull Colonel" mentorship I'd received. If "my" teachers needed help, there would be the determination to do whatever needed to be done. Dave's fatherly mentorship was similar to my role as a big brother, in a non-Orwellian sense, of course. When a family member needs help, there's no question but to make damn sure they get it! Dave's generosity with his time and ideas has been an incredible model for me to attempt to emulate.

Hughesian Mentoring Innovations
In 1989, Dave Hughes and I held a workshop where we showed Native American youth from five Montana reservations how to create computer art graphics for online display. This preceded the WWW. We were challenged by visions of cultural art as "share-art," (Dave's idea) similar to shareware, as a culturally supportive economic activity. Right idea, but this was back when the technology was young.

Also, in 1989, half-a-dozen remote Montanan and Wyoming rural schools had high school students being taught credit courses in the Math and Physics of  Chaos by Dr. George Johnston from the Plasma Fusion Center of MIT, through Big Sky Telegraph in Montana, with Dave Hughes providing technical links through his systems in Colorado,  and offering his ever-present advice to all.  Text-only, at 1200 baud, with $18/hour long distance phone tolls via Apple IIes,  but it worked wonderfully! Proving once and for all that the best teachers in the world can teach the best students in the world no matter where they are in geographical relationship to each other. And a good example of quality mentoring being bandwidth independent!

Rural Teachers Innovate to Create a National Example
Over the ten years of directing the Big Sky Telegraph network, which offered free self-directed lessons on how to get online to learn and communicate with others, I had the opportunity to encourage many, many people. What I learned was we all can accomplish incredible feats, with a little encouragement from others. Many of the rural teachers thought everyone was getting online, and did their best to access and share resources. 

Over 700 lessonplans were collected from these rural teachers through a project with the Columbia Education Center involving teachers in 19 states, and Finland. These lesson plans became the first lesson plan collection to go on the Internet, sponsored by the U.S. Dept. of Education. Little did these teachers know, their innovation would be touted for excellence by the White House, four congressional reports and many books and articles. They eventually inspired hundreds of similar networking initiatives. These pioneering teachers earned an embroidered Big Sky Telegraph patch upon completing their online lessons, and many went on to teach the online courses to others. And Dave Hughes earned a custom made Stained Glass Window from me, for his seminal contribution to these bold initiatives years before. Few know how much influence Dave has had on the evolution of online communities and education. 

For ten years, I learned as I attempted to mentor "my" rural teachers who took my 1 college credit online course. What would be the greatest value I could provide them, through online resources, and my own messages, to justify the great cost to them in time and money? All the while regularly conferring with Dave Hughes for advice and technology updates. 

Here are a few Hughesian truths...

Trust as the Foundation of Mentorship
I learned from Dave and the Big Sky Telegraph teachers that effusive warmth and loyalty can easily be shared online, regardless of having never met in person. Not everyone responds to the opportunity for friendship in the same way, in an online situation. While some easily opened up with trust and their honest feelings, others were more guarded or reserved. I found that in time, most everyone warms up once they recognize sincere interest.

Content vs Emotive Mentoring
If instructional content is provided in a self-directed format, and a student needs someone to motivate and monitor the instruction, this role does not necessarily have to be performed by an expert in the content area. An online mentor's role is primarily to encourage, motivate, and monitor the student's learning, and can be performed adequately by a peer or someone without previous expertise in the content area.

Mentoring and Migrant Technology Projects
There is no upward limitation of the degree of benefit a student can receive from a mentor who has Internet access and information retrieval skills. For example, mentors for the MECHA project's migrant students, who use grant-provided WebTV's costing $99, can potentially provide the student's entire family with assistance identifying available medical and social services programs, psychological counseling and much more.

(Five Migrant Technology Projects; see http://lone-eagles.com/migrant.htm)

We're All Kindergartners in the Information Age
Research into just what online mentoring is, and can become, is a rapidly evolving area of interest, upon which the future of effective distance learning depends. Building learning communities around the theme of ongoing lifelong learning requires an approach more familial and social than the traditional disciplinarian approach. Since the WWW is so new, we're all kindergartners in the information age, and learn best through hands-on direct experience, with others, youth and elders.

The Good and the Bad; a Mentoring Story
Jose Jr. came online the Big Sky Telegraph system via Internet from the San Diego Public Library terminals in about 1994. I learned he was nine years old, and lived with 30 "sisters" at a "girls home" in Mexico. He and his father would drive across the border seven days a week to collect damaged cans of food from the supermarkets. Jose's dad would drop him at the library where he'd get online. I was excited about how bright he was, and that potentially, I might teach him Hughesian skills that would help him and his "family."

At the same time another youth, Kevin Pain, came online offering anyone interested information on "hacking." I politely explained our system was mainly teachers, with some students, and he became offended and over the coming weeks proceeded to break into our password files and send obscene messages under the names of others. We deleted them as fast as they appeared, which was not a problem since our volume of users was small. 

We traced his access and found he, too, was using the San Diego Public Library terminals. We called the library, who solved the solution by shutting down their public access. They solved the Kevin Pain problem, and I lost Jose Jr. in the process. I remember the previous Christmas, Jose Jr. sent a message that an anonymous gift of 15 turkey's had arrived just before Christmas, very possibly from Dave's sharing of Jose's messages, inspiring a kind heart somewhere.

I remember Dave Hughes describing 10 year-old Victor, a low-income Hispanic child living in a home without a phone, somewhere in Colorado, from which he uses a laptop and wireless technology provided by one of Dave's innovative projects to do his homework reaching his school, and the Internet from home, without incurring telephone company costs. Dave told me about the Eskimo village of Toksook, where another of his 'pupils' in Alaska connected up homes via wireless because the cost of getting wired was prohibitive. Then there was his Ute Reservation project.  And on and on. Stories continue at http://wireless.oldcolo.com

Telecom Trappers Rendezvous 
In 1991, Dave and I held a small "Telecom Trappers Rendezvous" in recognition that just as the day of the fur trappers of the last century lasted only 20 years or so, our day of being among the first to pioneer with telecommunications was ending, as the settlers were already on the horizon. In a mountain meadow, less than 30 persons from both coasts and points in-between, gathered for a ceremony led by Dave, honoring this moment in history, and drawing its lesson which should be taken into the next phase of online life by the many. He spoke of the responsibility that comes with the power the Internet brings to each of us and the wisdom, integrity and character necessary to use it well. His presence of mind, and of history, is incredible. I think I'll remember him most for creating this memorable event, that influenced the lives and thought of those who attended. They went forth after that event like disciples, ready to spread the Wisdom of the Information Age as revealed by Dave Hughes, who draws on all that West Point instilled in him, that life in war and peace has tempered the steel in him, and which universal lessons he has unflaggingly carried forth out across our 
newest national Frontiers. 

I hope everyone finds a mentor like Dave Hughes.  Human bandwidth without limitation!