Buffalo Grove High opens robotics lab named for retired teacher
Buffalo Grove High School on Friday officially opened its state-of-the-art Saul Ploplys Automation and Technology Lab, named after a now-retired AP Physics teacher at the school and made possible by a $1 million donation by one of his former students.
Steve Yacktman, a member of the Class of 1988, made the donation for the lab with his wife, Ellyn, last summer.
The funding and project were coordinated by the Northwest Suburban High School District 214 Foundation.
Yacktman, who is chief investment officer at Yacktman Assett Management in Austin, Texas, attended the ceremonial grand opening alongside the lab's namesake, whom he credits as a major influence.
"Today is a day of thanks to the people who helped us grow into adults," Yacktman said. "May the inspiration that Saul started live on at Buffalo Grove High School."
Ploplys retired in 2003 after 34 years of teaching physics and chemistry at Buffalo Grove and the former Arlington High School in District 214.
He joked that even after all that time, it took only a few years for him to not be recognized as a former teacher when he returned to the school for a meeting.
But that may no longer be a problem for him thanks to the generosity -- and character -- of Yacktman and his wife, Ploplys said.
"Most people making a donation this big would name it after themselves, not some other person," he added.
School officials said the equipment in the new lab is of the sort used by industry professionals and is rare in a high school.
Yacktman said he hopes the lab will help students develop work skills and provide important early training for their careers. He also hopes it inspires others to give back to the institutions that helped prepare them for success.
Though he earned an economics degree and MBA from Brigham Young University, Yacktman said he still has a passion for manufacturing, engineering, science and technology.
Ploplys said the lab should be a place where the importance of combining disciplines is highlighted. He is often consulted by brilliant physicists and chemists because he has a background in both branches of science.
He added that Yacktman, as a successful financial adviser, also demonstrates the ability to look into the future by constantly gathering data and interpreting it.
The lab on the southwest side of the school had been expanded in 2018 and updated during this school year with the equipment made possible by Yacktman's donation.
During the grand opening, visitors toured the lab and saw demonstrations conducted by students that included robots programmed to write and erase "BGHS" on a white board and to perform pick-and-place tasks on a conveyor belt, 3-D printers making keychains with the school logo, a couple of robotic competitors from Robot Rumble, and students using robots to work on a high-mileage vehicle for another competition with other schools.