MARQUETTE - Students and teachers participating in a WiMAX demonstration with President Barack Obama Thursday were thrilled with the experience.
"It's the most exciting thing that could happen to these kids and to me too," said Negaunee High School chemistry teacher Helen Grossman. "It was great to invite the president into my classroom."
Standing in front of two flat screen televisions, the president could see the faces of smiling students in the monitors and they could see him too, via Northern Michigan University's WiMAX communications system.
"Hey Negaunee," Obama said, talking to the 23 juniors.
"Hi," the class responded in unison.
"How's it going over there?" the president said.
"Great. Welcome to Negaunee High School," the class replied.
"Well, thank you so much," Obama said. "I like the fact that you guys are focusing on science. I'm a big booster."
The 4G wireless technology uses a broader signal than WiFi, providing access for students to the NMU network off campus to a distance of almost 40 miles, including the communities of K.I. Sawyer, Ishpeming, Gwinn, Chocolay Township, Marquette, Negaunee and Powell Township.
"We try to capitalize on it to connect with students in the field to connect with university students, community members, all those pieces," said Joseph Lubig, an NMU assistant professor of education.
Student teacher Benjamin Platt said the Negaunee school is using the technology to do research and turn in projects - including evaluations with students - online.
Obama wanted to know if students can learn from home on "a bad snow day."
"That would be the next step," Platt said.
"Any of you young people there, you guys got any questions for me," Obama asked. "Don't test me on the periodic table though, (kids laugh), 'cause it's been a long time."
Phil Meglathery, 17, a junior in the Negaunee class, told Obama he thought communications technology across the world could help us better understand each other.
"Further our understanding and unity as a species, resolving conflicts before they explode," Meglathery said.
Later, listening to Obama's remarks from the Vandament Arena, the president referenced the teen.
"It was really, really a remarkable experience. It took a while to sink in," Meglathery said. "In the hall afterward, everyone was shaking my hand saying, 'Damn dude, you got mentioned by the president.'"
Obama was also connected with 7th and 8th grade students in Jill Bevins' technology class in Powell Township during the demonstration.
"I don't know how this is going to make you feel, but we're going to bounce you off of a lighthouse in Lake Superior, send you up to Big Bay to a water tower," Lubig said.
"Here's the map right here," Obama said, pointing and walking. "...It's like Star Trek, I'm getting beamed around."
He told the 11 students in the classroom, "I'm beaming in from Northern Michigan University and I just wanted to say, 'hi' to you guys and we're demonstrating right now how this technology can make sure that you guys are not only learning in the classroom, but you can also go around the world to learn, which is pretty exciting."
Eighth-grader Ben Wright, 13, showed a 28-second commercial he made - about using paper rather than plastic bags - to the president as part of the presentation.
"It was exciting. I was nervous, because I didn't know what he was going to think about it," Wright said. "I think he was impressed."
Later, Powell Township's student body of roughly 60 students watched Obama's speech, via WiMAX.
"We saw it on a big screen as the whole school crammed into the little classroom," Bevins said. "It was something I don't think I ever thought I would experience, but I'm glad I did."
Wright said, "You never get to see the president every day. It was like a one in a lifetime chance and we were all lucky to get it."
John Pepin can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.