Congressman Bill Foster visits Naperville North, gives students insight into politics, science


Photo by Grace Aigner

Last Friday, Naperville North High School’s Physics Club welcomed Congressman Bill Foster of Illinois’s 11th District to the North Performing Arts Center. He spoke to NNHS students about his experience as a scientist in Congress.

With an audience consisting of NNHS Physics Club members, Junior State of America (JSA) members and interested North students alike, Foster delivered a presentation entitled “What Life is Like as a Scientist in Congress.”He outlined his life’s trajectory from becoming a businessman, to a PhD physicist and now a politician. Zoe Evans, a physics teacher at North and one of Physics Club’s sponsors says the diversity of Foster’s career is what drew the club to inviting him to North.

“Bill Foster I think has a good perspective of how he went into industry but now he’s really focusing on how he can push forward a very science based understanding in government,” Evans said.

Foster stated that he began his professional career by starting Electronic Theatre Controls, Inc. with his brother in 1974, developing more efficient technology and lighting equipment for the performance industry. Foster says two of their company’s crowning achievements were getting a contract for a Disneyland parade controller and Bett Midler touring with their equipment. The company now manufactures more than half of the theater lighting equipment in the United States.

In 1980, Foster said, he returned to his love of science, earning his PhD in physics from Harvard University in 1983. From there, he worked at Fermilab in Batavia, Illinois until 2006 where he worked alongside a team of scientists to discover top quark, which is considered the heaviest particle. He then transitioned into politics—the result of what he refers to as the “familial gene for adult onset political activism” due to the fact that his mother worked for Illinois Congressman Paul Douglas.

Foster’s combination of careers isn’t merely a unique narrative. Evans says it is an excellent opportunity for North students to gain professional insight on what the STEM world is looking for in future leaders.

“It gives the students a perspective different from their parents or different from their teachers saying ‘What are the needs of the future?’ So that is very helpful to give them an idea of where they would like to travel on their educational path,” Evans said.

Students who attended found the experience especially rewarding. Whether their curiosity was sparked by Foster’s experience as a businessman, a scientist or both, students gained valuable insight into the wide range of possibilities a STEM career can offer. NNHS freshman Karthik Prasad said he was interested in hearing Foster’s presentation to explore how a career in science in politics can intertwine.

“Politics is how we as humanity advance and physics is what we advance in our understanding of the world. I wanted to really look at the intersection of that,” Prasad said.

Naperville North junior Adam Al Shekha says he was initially interested in Foster as a businessman, but ended up learning more about the political aspect of his career. Al Shekha recommends a similar experience to all North students, no matter what career path they’re looking to pursue.

“It’s definitely a great way to learn new things, learn about perhaps a future career [students] might be interested in and also, you’ve gotta build your network,” Al Shekha said.

Foster concluded his presentation with some words of encouragement regarding a career combining the STEM field with public service.

“Think about spending part of your career in public service and think about spending it in politics because if you do, you could do something really great,” Foster said.