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Vernier Software and Technology celebrates three decades of steady growth

To mark 30th anniversary, the Beaverton company award 30 technology grants to schools
by: Jaime Valdez David and Christine Vernier, above, decided to mark their software and computer company’s 30th anniversary by awarding 30   schools nationwide with a $10,000 technology grant.

David and Christine Vernier knew they wanted to do something big to mark Vernier Software and Technology's 30th anniversary.

They also knew it needed to top giving away one of the Beaverton company's temperature probes to every school in the United States as part of its 25th anniversary celebration.

Since supporting science, technology, engineering and math has been a cornerstone of the business since 1981, the Vernier team decided to give a $300,000 gift to educators.

In 2011, Vernier selected 30 schools to receive one of its 30th anniversary innovation grants of $10,000 worth of Vernier technology equipment of their choosing.

'With nearly 2,000 applications in total, we were overwhelmed by the innovation and dedication demonstrated by educators nationwide for the betterment of STEM education,' said David Vernier, co-founder of the company.

Applicants shared inspiring stories about how they would use the technology and outlined plans for implementation, while also demonstrating financial need. Vernier hired a panel of teachers to judge the entries and award 10 grants to K-8 schools, 10 to high schools and 10 to college or university science departments.

David Vernier was proud to see his company's products make their way into classrooms that otherwise would not be able to afford them and, more importantly, be put to use providing students with hands-on learning opportunities.

Among the grant recipients were Menominee Indian High School located on a rural Indian reservation in Wisconsin, the Manhattan Center for Science and Math in East Harlem and Discovery High School, an alternative school that works closely with the Northern Oregon Regional Detention Facility.

'The 30 grantees are truly deserving of this recognition, and the technology received through this grant will greatly assist with their ongoing efforts to expose students to many STEM disciplines in an engaging and hands-on manner,' Vernier said.

Measure, analyze, learn

Looking back over the last three decades, the former Hillsboro School District physics teacher admitted he never imagined his summer project would turn into one of Oregon's fastest growing technology companies and healthiest companies to work for.

'We never got started with any grand plan,' David Vernier said, as he sat in his office at the company's headquarters at 13979 S.W. Millikan Way. 'If anything, I started out just wanting a nice, little summer job for me to make a little money and come up with computer software that I could use in my own classroom.

'In 1981, computers were starting to get marginally affordable, and I was writing little graphing programs.'

As a teacher, he got frustrated watching students fumble with graphing their results for his hands-on labs.

'They were slow and not good at it,' he recalled. 'By the time they put together their graphs, they had forgotten what the experiment was about.'

During his summer break, Vernier designed a program that would allow an Apple II computer to generate a graph as students perform an experiment. The program eliminated the busy work and had the added perks of instantly providing real-time data on what was taking place, allowing students to make connections while also improving the learning experience and allowing more time to run experiments multiple times under different conditions.

Tapping into his wife Christine's business savvy and legal background, David decided to try selling the programs he tinkered with out of their West Slope home.

The couple founded the company and began selling introductory physics programs for orbiting satellites, charged particles, projectile motion, wave superposition, vector addition, kinematics and graphical analysis with full documentation - including a user's guide, teacher's manual and list - for $18 plus $3 for postage and handling per order.

'We sold a couple hundred dollars worth of programs,' David Vernier said of the early days.

With that initial success, he continued to teach for a year or so while working on his programs at night and on the weekends.

All in

In 1986, the Verniers were making enough with their venture to both focus on growing their family business. David led research and development, and Christine handled the business end of the operation.

As schools began investing in more computers for their buildings, Vernier also grew in product offerings, new technologies, teaching support and more.

The original programs were designed for Apple II computers with up to 64K memory, running at 1 MHz. 'This year we are supporting computers several thousand times faster with a million times more memory,' David Vernier said.

And instead of only seven programs, Vernier today offers an array of data-collection technology and services in a 131-page catalog.

The company gradually started hiring help and today employs nearly 100 people.

'We've amazingly had almost steady growth,' Vernier said. 'In 2002, we had one year where we saw a decrease in sales.

'Other than that, we've been lucky.'

It's not blind luck that has turned Vernier Software and Technology into an Oregon success story.

'Our team is good at listening to teachers,' he added. 'They let us know what they need, and we get it.

'Our products need to be inexpensive and easy to use. They also need to be high quality while affordable for schools. We offer great tech support.'

The Vernier team also has been flexible, Christine Vernier added.

That flexibility comes with adapting software, hardware and textbooks to new technologies that are released, translating materials to different languages, being mindful of what teachers want and following economic trends.

Recognizing that public K-12 schools would not be able to invest in supplies for science and math programs, Vernier expanded its business when the recession hit by offering more tools for college programs to help cushion the economic blow, she said.

'Plus, our international sales are up,' Christine Vernier said. 'We've had some big sales in the last six or seven years to Libya, Turkey, Russia and Canada.'

Those sales include a $5 million contract with Russia to provide Vernier products to all schools in the city of Moscow by the end of this week.

The Verniers credit their company's success to their dedicated team and 'many loyal customers.' As a way to thank them for their support, a letter from David and Christine in the 2011 catalog explains, 'You will find no price increases in this catalog. We feel that this is an important time to keep prices low in light of the many funding problems now facing schools in the U.S.'

For more information about Vernier and the technology grant winners, visit www.vernier.com .