Dave Vernier marks a half-century of innovation
Dave Vernier has been making his mark on classrooms for 50 years.
Originally, Vernier started out as a physics teacher in inner-city Cleveland. He was a physics major at the Ohio State University in 1969, preparing to graduate, and with the Vietnam War at its peak, he wasn't eager to be drafted into military service.
"(I) didn't give one thought to what I'd do after I graduated," Vernier admitted. "Not one thought, until about, let's say, April of my senior year."
On a whim, Vernier decided to try teaching.
Five decades later, as it's turned out, he wasn't meant to be a career educator — but he's still having an impact on education. He is now co-president of one of Beaverton's best-known companies, Vernier Software & Technology, which he co-founded with wife Christine in 1981.
Vernier Software & Technology makes sensor devices and graphing equipment that is intended for use in classrooms and science labs.
"I, to this day, am a total believer in hands-on education," said Dave Vernier, adding, "I think kids learn best by doing things — doing a lab, rather than listening to me talk about it."
He applied that to his first teaching job, and the job after that in Hillsboro public schools. After moving to Oregon in the 1970s, he received a computer to use in his classroom from Tektronix, which dominated the high-tech landscape in Washington County at the time.
"The computer was very clearly a big help to me as a teacher," Vernier said.
But he wanted to go further, and he began thinking about ways to get even more out of his machine. He taught himself computer programming, and by 1981, Dave and Christine Vernier were running a small business out of their home. Christine handled the business side while Dave kept teaching.
"If it wasn't for me, he'd be giving everything away," Christine Vernier said, laughing.
In 1984, Dave Vernier took a leave of absence from his teaching job in Hillsboro to help Christine grow their still-new business. He never went back.
Vernier Software & Technology got its own office space in the mid-1980s. It's now based out of what used to be a Tektronix building, later owned by Nike, on Southwest Millikan Way in Beaverton.
It's a fitting name, Dave Vernier said. During the years that Tektronix was fueling Beaverton's rapid growth — the city exploded from about 2,500 residents in 1950, the year Tektronix began building a new headquarters near Beaverton, to more than 53,000 in 1990, and as this decade winds down, it's approaching the 100,000 mark — many of the city streets that were built were named after famous scientists. The namesake of Millikan Way is Robert A. Millikan, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist.
Although he's been out of the classroom for 35 years, his company is based in Beaverton, and he does business with companies and schools all over the world, Dave Vernier hasn't forgotten about Hillsboro public schools. The Verniers sponsor the annual gala for the Hillsboro Schools Foundation, which raises money to support the Hillsboro School District.
One of the biggest focuses of the Hillsboro Schools Foundation lately, as it has been for much of the education community on Portland's Westside, has been on STEM education: science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
Said Dave Vernier of STEM education, "We're total believers." In fact, he argues that he was an early adopter of the model, having published a book in 1984 called "How to Build a Better Mousetrap and 13 Other Science Projects for the Apple II."
Vernier Software & Technology has some believers of its own. It's attracted national attention — then-Sen. Barack Obama visited in 2008, months before he was elected president, and U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer dropped by just last month — and it's received numerous awards. Dave Vernier is particularly proud that Oregon Business Magazine has recognized it as one of the "100 Best Places to Work in Oregon" for more than a decade running.
The company now employs 117 people, and the Verniers are already planning a 40th anniversary celebration in 2021.
By Mark Miller
Washington County Editor
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