Volunteer Spotlight – Anthony Caldwell

Anthony Caldwell has been a dedicated volunteer with Donegal Youth Service for over five years, and was the recipient of our Volunteer of The Year Award in 2017.  Anthony’s main role now as a volunteer with DYS is as a Maths Tutor helping young people pass their Junior and Leaving Certs.  He recently obtained a PhD: ‘On the Contributions, Motivations and Aims of Informal Science Education Companies in the UK, Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.’ from Queen’s University Belfast, so we caught up with him to find out all about his love of Science and Mathematics, and why he thinks everyone should consider volunteering.

Why did you start volunteering with Donegal Youth Service?

I started volunteering in DYS because I felt that it was important to make a valid and worthwhile contribution to the community I live in.  I have many skills from my work experience and my academic background and to prevent this from being lost I wanted to share it with those that might be interested or need it. 

I encourage almost everyone I meet to become a volunteer.  Everyone has a skill that is worth knowing and sharing and when they get together, we can accomplish wonders, just look at what the DYS has achieved in helping so many people over the years. 

What’s your background?

I grew up in Carrick, Carrigart on a very small working class farm.  Realistically, my background is in hard work, be it out gathering turf, looking after animals and earning my way through life. I don’t come from a long line of professors or teachers.  I come from a long line of hard working men and women, farmers, seamstresses, carpenters, labourers and gardeners.  This is important because, the lack of privilege in my background taught me that while being gifted may be something that you’re born with; without the character to work hard and hammer those gifts and talents into skills every day, your dreams and goals may not be sustainable. 

Academically, I went to Galway to study experimental physics, but it is in QUB that I found a place that I could truly relate to.  I studied optoeletronics, lasers and atomic physics.  I also conducted research in human computer interactions and finally, more recently, I spent some time researching science education.  I’ve worked for Intel, America Online/Time Warner, DCU’s Centre for Gifted Research and now Pramerica.  My day to day job is as an ethical computer hacker….please note the ‘ethical’ part. 

Is there anything that stands out to you from your time volunteering?

I’m reminded of a quote ‘When we are no longer able to change the situation, we are challenged to change ourselves’ (Viktor Frankl).  Ultimately, what stands out is the success I’ve had with teaching students from all backgrounds and abilities to pass the dreaded Leaving Certificate and move onto careers that truly inspire them.  All of these people, regardless of background or privilege, transformed themselves in order to achieve what they did.  Sacrifice comes before success, even in the dictionary and I’m very proud of all the people I teach and I hope they’re all either doing what they want, or working to get there.

What do you enjoy most about mathematics?

For me, from a young age, mathematics was truly like a secret language. What did it mean? Why was this SO important? I found physics particularly interesting.  In particular, how a little thing written on a piece of paper could predict what a star would do in the vicinity of a black hole.  Amazing.

Receiving the 2017 DYS Volunteer of The Year Award from Billy Banda

What inspires you?

Lots of things and people inspire me. If there is something that inspires me it’s failure, more specifically how world class athletes, soldiers and thinkers deal with it.  You see, I have respect for those who fail and get back up and try again, to ignore impossible odds and win, regardless of how long it takes.  As disappointing and painful as it is to fail, it can actually be an opportunity.  Try again, try harder and you will succeed.  I’ve learned that if you have a dream, you must protect it and don’t let anyone, anyone at all, tell you that your dream is pointless or unworthy.  Work on your dream like your life depends on it, because it does.

For anyone who might be struggling with life a little bit…here are seven things that require ZERO talent but will get you 100% respect.  1) Be on time, 2) Strong work ethic, 3) Positive attitude, 4) Listen to your coach/teacher/leader, 5) Be prepared, 6) Help each other, especially the weakest and 7) Never, ever, ever give up.

A lot of people are scared of mathematics, or think it’s boring –  what would you say to them to change their mind?

It’s a common theme in many classrooms across the world. Ancient cultures around the world respected the power of mathematics and devoted much of their resources and greatest minds to illuminating its secrets.  It appears to be an abstract subject that doesn’t always bare a close approximation to reality…except, at the most fundamental level, it does.  Mathematics are the instruction manuals for how the universe works, from galaxies to flowers.  It’s not simple, nor is it supposed to be.  But, when understood, the rewards are immense.  You’re actually watching mathematics in operation everyday. Just take the news for example.  The weather report is a result of complex equations that attempt to predict if it will rain, shine or otherwise.  Where would the farmers and fishermen and women be without this! 

The financial and political reports are based on statistics and often use graphs to show trends and patterns.  The sports section uses mathematical models to show you how to lay bets, predict results and calculate how teams will perform.  Mathematics are all around you, hidden but also in plain sight.  Performing mathematical operations show you a great deal more than simply the mechanics of the process.  They show you ‘how’ to think about problems. 

These days, mathematics are a required subject for many professions.  The reason for this isn’t because you will be using all of what you learn in mathematics everyday in your job, that isn’t common sense.  Mathematics shows you that you can identify patterns and systems in your world that can be represented in a clearer forms.  That you can make predictions and understand how and why nature behaves as it does. 

If you would like to become a volunteer with Donegal Youth Service, or find out more about what we do please visit www.donegalyouthservice.ie. Contact us: 074 91 29630, admin@donegalyouthservice.ie, or find DYS on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. DYS are a registered charity, charity no. CHY 15027.

This interview originally appeared in The Leader.  Donegal Youth Service have a column in each issue – pick up a copy today!  Available countywide.

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For any press enquiries please contact layla.kuyper@donegalyouthservice.ie

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