Monday, July 30, 1990

READ/San Diego

M.A., but he couldn't read 'til now
San Diego Union: June 30, 1990 by Angela Lau

Steve Pilling had made up his mind he was going to walk through the door of Carson Elementary School in Linda Vista, but then he balked.

"I was scared to death," he recalls.

Standing 6 feet, 2 inches tall and looking spiffy in suit and tie, he was faced with this decision -- continue to hide his inability to read complex words, or go into the grade school to learn the skill -- at the age of 30.

Pilling was, after all, the owner of a flourishing telecommunications consulting business in Tierrasanta and had a master's degree in business administration.

"That was the hardest door to cross," Pilling said at a READ/San Diego ceremony yesterday in which he was honored as the best student of the year by the adult literacy program.

Pilling hesitated 20 minutes, but eventually entered the school and met his first tutor.

Today, Pilling -- who often had asked his wife to write business proposals for him -- can read this story about himself, whereas before, he relied on radio and television news to stay informed.

"I never believed I could do this," Pilling said. "I was afraid my clients would drop me as their consultant when they learned I couldn't read. But instead, they applauded me in a meeting when they heard about it.

"I'm not embarrassed about it anymore. And I hope those who can't read will come out of the closet."

Pilling is a "classic example" of the failure of the education system, said one of his tutors, Diane Lin.

He slipped through Millikin University in Decatur, Ill., graduating with a 3.0 grade-point average there, and an MBA program at National University in San Diego, graduating from there with a 3.5 average. He did so by avoiding teachers and professors who test students with essay questions, asking fellow students for help and starting to research term papers "way ahead of time" to make up for his slowness.

"The program's done so much for his self-confidence," said Pilling's wife, Patti. "I'm so grateful."

Also honored at yesterday's ceremony, which marked the second anniversary of READ/San Diego, was Tutor of the Year Milton Dudeck, a 70-year-old retired engineer; and Volunteer of the Year Conchita Gutierrez, a 64-year-old homemaker.