Speaker Spotlight: Bob Kolenkow

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Have you ever hung a map on a wall and used pins to show the cities and landmarks you’ve visited? Bob Kolenkow, one of our patient speakers, loves adding new pins to his map of the United States. That’s how Bob tracks his journey as a patient speaker and showcases memories from his favorite places.

Bob’s taste for adventure and learning have always been important to his identity. After obtaining an undergraduate degree at MIT and graduate degree at Harvard (both in physics), Bob began his teaching career at Carlton College in Northfield, Minnesota. After five years at Carlton, Bob spent the remainder of his career teaching physics at MIT , where he received numerous awards for excellence in teaching. He is also the co-author of one of the foremost physics textbooks in the country.

Besides his impressive career as a professor and physicist, Bob is passionate about helping others at patient education events. His favorite part of his tenure as a patient speaker is the opportunity to travel and meet people all over the country. In an article published in the New York Times in February of 2010, Bob was quoted as saying, “It’s very rewarding to me to know that I have turned into quite the traveler. I even take delays and cancellations in stride. Nothing bothers me because I enjoy what I’m doing.”

Screen Shot 2016-08-22 at 1.42.21 PMBob’s map of the United States, with pins for each location where he has presented as a patient speaker.

Bob currently lives in Berkeley, California, but when asked to give his favorite destination he has traveled to for a patient education event, he mentions a locale far from the sunny shores of the west coast: Scott’s Bluff, Nebraska. “I’ve traveled there three or four times now and even had the opportunity to hike to the top of Scott’s Bluff and examine a diary from a traveler on the Oregon Trail”, Bob said. Indeed, the Scotts Bluff National Monument, a prominent bluff that served as a landmark for travelers on the Oregon Trail, make this the perfect location for a history buff like Bob to visit.

Even though he is retired, Bob finds himself busier now than he was during his career as a professor. Bob continues adding pins to his map and circles the spots that are repeat stops, such as Scott’s Bluff. Bob’s friends in the patient program and his VPR POP family relish his love of learning and his positive attitude. The next time we experience an inevitable travel delay, we’ll remember what Bob said when asked what his least favorite airport was: “I really don’t have one. I like them all.”

Here’s to many more pins and circles, Bob!


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