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How Marshall Jones’ Fourth-Grade Teacher Changed His Life

Teachers play a crucial role in helping students cultivate the 21st-century skills necessary to thrive in our increasingly complex world.

Whether they’re demonstrating the relevancy of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects or offering encouragement to keep going when faced with adversity, committed educators have the power to change lives.

National Inventors Hall of Fame® (NIHF) Inductee Marshall Jones, a pioneer in the field of industrial lasers, would agree and believes the guidance of his fourth-grade teacher, Mrs. Alberta DeFriest, played a pivotal role in the professional success he went on to achieve as an adult.


A Wise Decision

While gifted in both athletics and mathematics, at a young age, Jones was not a strong reader. “It wasn’t that I couldn’t read,” Jones recalls in an interview with NIHF, “it was that I couldn’t read sufficiently fast enough in many cases.”

Because of this, when Jones reached the fourth grade, his teacher made the suggestion to his great-aunt and great-uncle to have him repeat the year. While not happy at the time because this meant that he and his younger brother would be in the same grade and his friends would now be a grade above him, the decision proved to be the right one.

“She told my great-aunt and great-uncle that she thought that would be a good thing to have done for me, to repeat the fourth grade, and it ended up being the right thing to do,” Jones said. “I think if Mrs. DeFriest had not had me repeat the fourth grade, whatever has happened to me going forward would never have happened.”

The additional year allowed Jones to catch up and improve his grades in reading and English from a D to a B average.


Pioneering Contributions

From then on, Jones’ scholastic accomplishments continued to grow. He earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Michigan, followed by master’s and doctorate degrees in mechanical engineering from the University of Massachusetts.

Working at General Electric in the mid-70s, he invented a technique using a laser to rapidly weld copper and aluminum. This same technology would be used to weld other dissimilar metals, and in 1982, Jones initiated research and development of fiber-optic laser-beam delivery systems that produced a laser beam powerful enough to cut steel, titanium and nickel-based alloys.

Jones later returned to Aquebogue Elementary School, located in Aquebogue, New York, as a keynote speaker for the school’s 75th anniversary celebration. Here, he reunited with Mrs. DeFriest. To his surprise, she still remembered that he was left-handed, and she was happy that having Jones repeat a year had such a profoundly positive effect on him.


Is there a special teacher in your child’s life?

In the face of significant challenges, educators across the country have persevered and adapted their teaching methods for hybrid, virtual and socially distanced settings to ensure that their students continue to learn. Is there a teacher in your child’s life that has gone above and beyond? We would love for you to share your story with us on our Camp Invention Facebook page

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