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Stanford Life Lessons #1 How an Hour Changed My Life

NoStanford Logo Ste (This is a  Life Lesson I learned while as a graduate Student at the Stanford University Mechanical Engineering Department. While at Stanford, I never dreamed of designing an electric bicycle, but all of these lessons have shaped the way I design the Optibike electric bike today.)

Time is non linear. Sometimes  a day or week or even a year is gone in a flash and at sometimes a minute is everything. This is a story of how an hour and positive attitude changed my life. About thirty years ago, I was finishing my bachelors degree at UC San Diego and was thinking about graduate school. My short list was UC Berkley, Stanford, MIT and UC San Diego.

I approached each school differently. As Stanford was near where I grew up, I decided to visit it during Christmas Holiday, while I visited my Dad. I called the Engineering Department, and asked to have a meeting with someone, so I could tour the department.

I was told to come on a certain date and meet with Professor Ernie Chilton. Just after Christmas, I arrived at Stanford, which was pretty deserted, as it was Christmas break.  After being lost  in the campus for an hour, I arrived at the Terman Engineering Center and walked up to the second floor and knocked on Professor Chilton’s office door.

A voice told me to cEPSON MFP imageome in and I opened the door. Mr Chilton stayed seated and asked tersely, “What do you want with my time”. Mr Chilton had not obviously been briefed on  the nature of my visit or had forgotten. He seemed bothered that he had to meet with me, when the school was so empty for the holidays.

I tried hard to keep my composure and said “I am here to see if Stanford is a good fit for me.” Mr Chilton quickly replied,” Do you know how hard it is to get into the graduate program here? Even Stanford students with 4.0 GPA’s cannot get in. What is your GPA?” I replied that it was about 3.3! I felt myself begin to shrink, but caught myself. Years of professional motocross racing had taught me to stay present and keep my eyes on the direction I wanted to go.

I replied that I had specific needs in a school for what I wanted  to do and would like to see if the Stanford facilities were good enough for my goals. Mr Chilton askEPSON MFP imageed me what it was I wanted to do and I explained I was interested in using my Motocross and physical training  background to merge electronics and  mechanical devices with humans, such as making real life prosthetics.

Mr Chilton then beckoned me to the hall and began to show me the facilities. First the computer room and then other areas. Mr Chilton was in the Design Division, where I wanted to be. As we neared the end of our 40 minute tour, he began to tell me classes I should take in my final quarter at UCSD to prepare for Stanford. What a turn around in his attitude in one hour! We shook hands and parted our ways.

Nine months later, I was at the reception for new Mechanical Engineering students at Stanford. As I mingled around, I saw Professor Chilton and went over to him and reintroduced myself saying, Mr Chilton, “I made it, I got accepted!” He paused and calmly looked at me, and said “Did you ever have any doubts?” Of course I did, especially after what he had said about how hard it  is to get into Stanford nine months before!  Even my own Father said I was wasting my time!.

I became good friends with Ernie, and became his Teaching Assistant. I learned that he was suffering from bone cancer, though he  still came to class everyday. I often  had to take over the lecture, as the pain grew too great for him. Ernie passed away a few years later.

I will always remember him for his positive attitude and faith in me. When I left Stanford PHD program to go work at Ford, he said to me “What is the hurry, stay awhile longer at Stanford”. But I was eager to tame new frontiers. (Which would eventually lead me to start Optibike).

I often look back at that hour. The results could have all been so different. What if I had never set up the appointment? What if I had succumbed to Ernie’s intimidation in the beginning and lost my self confidence?

We never now how important any moment’s actions are, so we should live every moment to the fullest and give our 100%.

I never did build prosthetics, but I feel the the Optibike is a merging of all those skills I learned. To design an electric bicycle well, it takes an understanding of the human body, electronics, and mechanics. It must all merge in perfect harmony for success.

To learn more about electric bikes and the benefits it can offer you, download my free e-book here. And follow our Blog, Facebook, and Twitter to learn more about the best electric bike company.

Jim Turner is the Inventor and Founder of Optibike Electric Bikes

One Comment

  • Court says:

    Great story Jim, thank you for sharing a personal moment from your life. Ernie sounds like a special guy and I really felt a human connection with him when you shared the bits about his health and how you helped him as a TA. It’s encouraging to hear about those challenges or moments of question that others face, especially considering your accomplishments and innovations in the ebike space.