Rather than stick with the status quo, Assistant Town Engineer and Deputy Director of Public Works Robert Russo is looking for ways to engage Madison students in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) aspects of his duties.
(Photo by Margaret McNellis/The Source
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The “T” in STEM might stand for technology, but for Robert Russo, assistant town engineer and deputy director of public works, it also stands for teamwork. Robert is using his STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) knowledge to not only improve Madison, but also to enhance the educational opportunities accessible to Madison’s youth. Something as simple as mandatory paperwork, for instance, might open possibilities for partnerships with local schools. “Most municipalities are required to follow stormwater permit guidelines,” Robert says, noting that the Town of Madison has put together a plan as part of its permit application, and one of the main points on the plan is public education and outreach. “Usually,” Robert says, “that means a website or some brochures. But since I started as an administrator in this program, I’ve looked for creative ways, more impactful ways, to educate the community.” Robert and his wife, Angela, who teaches in Guilford, have two children. Both kids are enrolled students at Jeffrey Elementary School. Together, Robert and Angela were attending a curriculum classroom presentation by Sarah Sandora, the science curriculum lead for Madison Public Schools, and Robert “was really interested. Over the next few days, a light bulb went off.” Robert says, “When I was a kid, we were always learning something about the environment.” He wants to continue that tradition, but in a more hands-on way than simply lecturing. “This past spring and summer, I met with 7th-grade teachers. We worked to create a real-world application that culminated two weeks ago at Bauer Farm.” The goal was to not only teach the students about the environment, but to also provide them insight into what the town’s role is in managing stormwater. For the high school curriculum, Robert is working with Mike Docker, the science coordinator and a teacher at Daniel Hand High School. “Since the students are in high school,” Robert says, “we’ll be able to go more in-depth with more advanced topics.” Robert shared some examples of what in-depth education might involve: “Students might test water for results the town can use. Maybe we’ll submit those results to the state, or maybe we’ll use their results in an analysis of areas in town to be tested further.” The high school unit is scheduled to begin in spring 2018. Where education is concerned, Robert says, “I’m a big believer in STEM.” With degrees in computer science and civil engineering, he’s devoted his career to the sciences. But if he could go back and change anything, he’d focus on mechanical engineering. “I focused on computer science because it was the most technological subject at Sacred Heart [University], where I went on a lacrosse scholarship,” Robert says. After graduating, he went back to school for engineering. “I wish I could have cultivated it earlier, but I’m glad about where I ended up,” Robert says. “Madison does a great job with STEM,” he says. His son participates in an engineering program at Jeffrey Elementary School, but Robert looks for more ways to “get students involved in engineering principles and practices.” These latest developments with the science curricula, and collaboration between engineers and educators, allow him to bring his personal goals into his professional life, to the benefit of many. The real-world application also allows students to envision what a career in engineering might involve, and helps them add community and environmental value to STEM studies. For Robert, there are even more rewards to be found in working as a town engineer. “My favorite part of the job is doing it here, working for the town I live in,” Robert says. He and Angela met at Sacred Heart in Fairfield, where she played ice hockey and field hockey. After they married, they moved to California for a few years, and then returned to Connecticut, where they lived in Milford. They began looking for a place to settle and put down roots. “We liked Madison the most,” Robert says, so they moved here and have lived in town for the last eight years. “I love that my kids can see the work I’m doing. It’s so rewarding. “There’s been great opportunity for me here, too,” Robert says. “I’m thankful to First Selectman Tom Banisch. He’s been really supportive of my career.” In addition to the opportunity he’s found in Madison, Robert enjoys working as part of a team. “I also love that we’re a close-knit group working to improve the town,” he says. Robert’s spirit of teamwork extends beyond his own department. “To be able to help other departments, to make ourselves available both to town departments and the Board of Ed...it’s the start of a successful partnership,” he says. To nominate a Person of the Week, email Margaret McNellis at m.mcnellis@Zip06.com.