A working scientist now with three graduate degrees, Alex Spear is a former Natomas Unified student whose non-traditional path to college and career is a reminder that where there’s a dream and the will to achieve it, there’s a way.
Dr. Spear, son of “N Magazine” Publisher Dennis Spear, attended several NUSD schools in the 1980s and ‘90s — Jefferson Elementary, Natomas Jr. High, Natomas Charter School and Leroy F. Greene Middle School – before passing an equivalency test and leaving high school at age 15.
Dr. Spear worked at two Sacramento printing shops for nearly six years before returning to school, enrolling at Sacramento City College, first part-time and later full-time. He spent about four years at the community college, where he was so inspired by physics teachers that he set a goal to do fusion research himself someday.
Dr. Spear later transferred to UC Davis, eventually earning a bachelor’s degree in physics and two master’s degrees – in applied science and electrical engineering. Recently, Spear earned a UC Davis doctoral degree through nuclear fusion research in the clean-energy field.
“I like to say I collect skill sets like people collect baseball cards,” he quipped.
At UC Davis, Dr. Spear served under Professor Neville Luhmann Jr. and helped develop a Microwave Imaging Reflectometer, or MRI, a device to spur production of clean energy by allowing researchers to test and track the action of plasma within a plasma fusion reactor.
Dr. Spear’s work at UCD attracted the eye of a Virginia engineering design firm, Durbin Group, which hired him several years ago. He currently is involved in defense-related research and development to bring next-generation technologies to our war fighters.
Asked to describe himself, Dr. Spear said, “I like to think of myself as very sociable. I’ll go up and talk to random people. … I’m also a devil’s advocate – I’m that guy who will play devil’s advocate just because; to make people hone their arguments better.”
Dr. Spear said he also values community service and hopes to do more of it in the future, perhaps a priority gained from his father, Dennis, who for many years has been active in publicizing and assisting Natomas community causes.
Dr. Spear’s advice to current NUSD students? Go to college and get a degree – that’s mandatory these days to get a decent job, he said. “A degree speaks to employers that you were able to start something, get it done, and that you have at least a basic level of education.”
Once enrolled in college, find a field that excites you, be open to learning, and look for internship possibilities to apply your talents, Dr. Spear said.
For would-be scientists, the most important thing is curiosity — you need to keep asking the question ‘why,’” he said. “All you have to do to get into science is to continue down that path – and remember that whatever you think you learn, there’s way more you don’t know.”
Years ago, the former Natomas student vowed to be a teacher someday, a goal he hasn’t yet reached but never abandoned. “I’m still going to teach when I’m older,” he said. Judging from Dr. Spear’s track record, don’t count him out.