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Raul “Rudy” Reyna Credits Early Invention Experience for Life’s Successes

Dr. Raul “Rudy” Reyna was in high school and he asked his geometry teacher a question that would change his life: “What is a computer?”

This was decades ago and the teacher responded candidly to Reyna, “I have no idea.”

The teacher wasn’t satisfied with the answer she provided and went looking for answers and a way for her curious student to stay engaged.

She came back to Reyna with an offer that he could go to a local college and tinker with the huge computers there.

This was a defining moment for Reyna, who is from a family and community with few resources and no exposure to higher education, let alone computers.

Reyna, the leader of the SA-Bexar STEM Ecosystem, grew up in a barrio on the south side of San Antonio, where his mom was the most educated parent with a second grade education. Reyna, who holds an undergraduate degree in electrical engineering, a master’s in computer science and a doctorate in education administration, worked in the telecom industry, served as president of the SBC Foundation and led a highly acclaimed summer program for students from all over the country.

He credits all of his success to one key factor: Being able to invent.

He began working with the computers at the local college and was writing software as a high school senior in the 1960s.

Reyna remembers when his teacher came back to him: “So to her credit – bless her heart. And, you know, I say that because teachers make such an impact in our lives. And she came back and after some, I guess, research then and actually going to one of the local universities and talking to some of the folks there and she said, ‘Oh, I guess I’ve got some information for you and I have a better idea of what a computer is. Even though I’m not sure what what it is and how it all works, but I have provided an opportunity for you to go and use the computers.”

Reyna said being able to go to the college and use the computers was critical, enabling him to actually try things out, to experiment, to fail, to try again – to invent. “I was inventing software, you know, because for me, I had never seen software. I had never seen algorithms that work and had been developed to solve problems,” he said.

“I think the key thing here is that having access to the equipment, hands-on, that’s such an important aspect of our educational process, the relevance, you know, the ability to do something. And to be able to experience it. I could have read about it. You could have gotten me some articles, but it would have never been the same,” he said.

Reyna taught himself the Fortran coding language by toggling switches and loading card decks that were integral to computing in the 1960s. “And I got more and more sophisticated as I learned more how to do this,” he said.

After graduating from high school, Reyna enrolled in Texas A & M hoping to major in computer science but when he learned that major didn’t exist yet, he instead opted for electrical engineering.

Motivated by his own experience with learning, much of Reyna’s career has involved wanting to inspire and empower other students’ learning.

In his work with all types of students – from high achieving to those who need extra encouragement or support – he’s quick to draw on the power of Invention Education.

“All of this would have never happened if I had not been exposed to something that allowed me to have hands-on experience. And that’s one of the reasons that I connect that with inventions, because in many ways that’s about Hands-On. It’s about, you know, going through that invention process,” he said.

Reyna has been the driver for bringing Invention Education experiences and competitions to students in San Antonio and he’s working to ensure that low-income and minority students get extra support with their inventions to try to put them on equal footing with more affluent students.

“When you get to the competitive side in terms of how really good are they at getting at the concepts or how much depth of understanding is there and what they’re doing? They’re not competing at the same level, of course, as the affluent students,” he said. “So what we really need to do for these students, because they don’t have a lot of times the role models at home. They don’t have basically the resources or the infrastructure at home as we need to provide them with either inventors, access to inventors or access to mentors from a business side.”

Again turning back to his geometry teacher, Reyna said, “I can relate. Because I compare myself sometimes to a friend of mine who is an inventor that I know very well here. And while he was working when he was 8 or 9, 10, 11 years old, I was out riding bikes in the summer,” he said.