“I was the head of the math department at RPI. And that was really… you know, there were ups and downs, but when I tell people what I am, what I do, what I did, it’s that. And I still do the math, I just don’t get paid for it. *laughs* I’m passionate about math. My field was applied math, so I got to work with mechanical engineers, biologists, and other fields. I was always asking ‘what can I do with math that adds to this field?’ Every time I was successful at that, it was incredibly gratifying.

My desire to learn started back in kindergarten — I was annoyed that they wouldn’t teach me to read in kindergarten. I said, ‘you’re going to teach me to read,’ and they did! *laughs* It’s just who I was. I didn’t think about wanting to push the envelope or anything. I was at school, and I just wanted to learn. My propensity for math came in middle school. Small town, small class. I got a math book and sat in the corner reading it. While everyone else was doing 9th grade math, I was doing 11th grade math. While they were doing 12th grade math, I was doing calculus and other advanced maths. Then I came to RPI which at the time was very friendly to people like me, people who were good, but not great. I got to do a lot of things with people: some were just fellow students, some were professors that recognized I was looking for things to do. 

After a few years of being on the faculty, I started working with a nuclear engineer. He and I looked at the big problems of the day, problems that people were interested in. I could do the equations, but he was my connection to reality. We looked at the stuff that needed to be done, and we did it. We changed the way of thinking from doing experiments and making graphs out of those experiments, to putting information into the computer to calculate the physics of what’s going on in order to understand what was happening. I always said trust the equations. If you’ve got the right equation, they’re going to do what’s right. It was revolutionary at the time.”

“I’m a landscaper. That’s what I do. Been doing it 20 years, at least. I love being outside, working with my hands. Gotta be on top of everything. When I was younger, I used to do a lot of cooking and cleaning, but I started doing landscaping and now I’m doing well with it and staying busy. I’ve thought about getting a desk job before, but I think I’d get bored after a while. I do want financial stability, but it’s not even about the money. I’d just rather be out there working.”

“When the weather’s nice, I play ultimate frisbee. That’s the reason I do a lot of working out, trying to stay in shape, and all that jazz. It’s a big passion of mine, and it’s a lot of fun. I picked it up at a summer camp when I was 12, but it’s one of those things that has always stuck with me and has become a pretty large part of my life. I’m a senior in mechanical engineering, so I’ll probably be going into industry. I’m actually looking into working at a company that helps make prosthetic limbs and organs. They’ve been playing with making heart valves from pig’s hearts because they’re very similar. I’m pretty passionate about sports therapy and physical therapy, probably because of ultimate frisbee. I always say ultimate frisbee players are just people who weren’t good enough to play regular sports. We’re all nerdy engineers.”

“I served in the Marine Corps for nine and a half years—worked on airplanes for Desert Storm and Desert Shield. We did what we had to do. I just don’t like to talk about it.”

“Every day I wake up, I’m very happy to study about and design games. My major is game design. Of course, I like very much to play games too. I don’t exactly have a favorite game, because I have to play them all! But I hope to create a sandbox game. There’s a lot of freedom in a game like that. It’s like a new world for players. I’m into the art: designing the worlds, the world backgrounds, the characters. I’m from China; but I’m studying abroad, and I’m very excited to be studying at this school. Our department directors always send us emails about game development in Troy. Because I’m just a freshman, I have not so much experience… so, I have to wait. But I think it’s all very exciting!”

“I’m a mushroom person. I grow mushrooms, both for work and for a hobby. At home, I grow them to eat and to satisfy my curiosity. At work, I’m a research scientist. We’re using mushrooms to research new materials and develop new technologies that no one else has yet. I love it. There’s always a challenge. My family is from Europe, and people there love mushrooms. There is a lot of culture around mushrooms. People get crazy with them.”

“I’m a kid’s librarian, but I’m not your stereotypical librarian. I’m not really quiet. I don’t shush people. I encourage kids to play. You won’t see me telling people to be quiet at the library. And I love it when kids say they’d rather die than read. The best thing is surprising them with the perfect book. Books give people such joy—if you have the right book, anyway. Being able to do that for people—it’s a good feeling. I deal with stories all day. Really, that’s what we’re all about. Our existence—everybody has their own story. There are things that connect us all. When you come across those tethers… that’s exciting.

My favorite author is E.B. White. What an incredible guy. I would love to have a drink with him. One of my favorite short stories by him is called ‘Bedfellows’, about the ghost of his dachshund. I was really affected by that story, and of course by Charlotte’s Web. Animals are near and dear to my heart. In my spare time, I do some animal right’s activism. I sign a lot of petitions. But I still feel like there’s more that I could do. I just haven’t figured out what that is. It might be writing a book or something. Maybe not a book, per se. Reading E.B. White has made me love essays. I don’t just want to have a life that I enjoy, I want to be a part of something that is larger than me. I’m in my early 50’s, so I realize that time is… well, I hear the clock ticking. So I want to have at it.”

Do you see yourself staying in Troy?


Where to next?

“Don’t really know. Wherever life takes us, I guess.”

“For over twenty years, I worked as a nutrition educator for one of Cornell University’s extension offices. I used to work in a number of different settings: with the elderly, in rehab centers, in children’s summer camps. It was all satisfying, but it was hard. It’s hard to change someone’s diet. It’s such a personal thing. So any little success was very gratifying. I especially liked introducing children to very healthy snacks. To put it in front of them, let them enjoy it, and have them know it was good for them… that was a high point for me.

As I move into old age, I find myself wanting to learn how to do watercolor painting. I find it very comforting. I took art lessons as a child, but I drifted away from it. I’d like to get back to it now and become somewhat proficient before I leave this world.”

“Friends of mine who were like family put me on the bus to Albany from New York City because they knew I was about to do something real wrong. Well, not wrong, really… it was because of something done to me. See, I’ve got this scar on the back of my head. Five or six guys jumped me. I never saw it coming, it just happened. I fell down on my face, that’s why my eye is scarred too. After the doctors went in and fixed it up, some guys I knew brought me two guns and told me, ‘handle your business.’ So I found the corner where they were all together in one spot — that’s the way I wanted it. I had the ammunition to do it, too. But my friend stopped me from doing it. He caught me, and the bullets went into the ground. Those other guys knew it though… they took off. I’m glad I didn’t do it, but it didn’t just feel like the right thing, it was the right thing. People do shit like that to you? It’s not right. I could’ve died, you know what I mean? But if I’d done it, I probably wouldn’t be sitting here, that’s for sure. You take five guys out, what do you think they’re going to do to you? You’re going to jail for life. That’s why my friends knew it was time for me to get out of there.

Purpose in life? Not really. There’s a lot of things you might want to do; doesn’t mean you’re going to get them done. I’m at an age now where that just ain’t gonna happen. I always wanted to be an entertainer. I like to sing, to dance. I’m a comedian if you could believe that… a dirty comedian, you know, not stuff I can really do in public. I can do some clean material, but when I get into it, I’m going in deep. That’s just the way I am. Sometimes, I even do it out here on the streets. If I’ve got people around me and I’m in a good mood, I’ll have everybody on the ground.”