Faculty and Staff Tackle the Supplement
Each year we ask students to take on our supplemental essays with their own voice and style. For the first time ever, the faculty and staff couldn't wait to get in on the action.
Celebrate Your Nerdy Side
by Anthony P Monaco - President of Tufts University
The last time I formally studied mathematics was in high school. After placing out in college, I was never advised to continue into further mathematics. What a pity!
Therefore, it was with some trepidation that I read “17 Equations that Changed the World” by Ian Stewart last summer. This book was a revelation. I found myself not only intrigued but also impassioned to learn more about modern mathematics, its history and impact on today’s world. I was particularly excited about chaos theory and read (twice) a whole other book on the subject. Chaos theory was an innovative transformation in mathematical circles, which shed light on many previously unexplained behaviors of dynamical systems that seemed random but perhaps could be elucidated. Then there were fractals, the study of infinitely complex patterns all around us in nature based on the geometric structures of irregularity.
I quickly turned my attention to mathematics and life sciences. As a geneticist, I already had a deep (and self-taught) appreciation of the importance of statistics in biology and medicine. But new mathematical areas were increasingly being used to understand evolution, protein folding, molecular interactions, cell networks and the dynamics of ecosystems.
After reading around the subject, it became obvious that we are only scratching the surface of probably the biggest revolution of the 21st century. Large datasets are now available on whole genomes and systems in biology. It is essential that mathematicians and computer scientists embed themselves in the life and health sciences, working alongside experimental scientists to develop the models that will drive our understanding and experimental approaches in the future.
If I could do it all again, I would have continued my study of mathematics in college. My nerdy side feels cheated!
What Makes You Happy?
by Lee Coffin, Dean of Admissions
I’m an optimist, one of those people who smiles when the alarm clock buzzes (or, in my case, KISS 108 erupts into my darkened room). I know: I’m a freak of nature. When I was a kid, my persistent morning cheer was a vile tonic for my sister, who apparently plucked the grumpy gene off our gnarled family tree. But I embrace my sunny disposition as a defining element of who I am. I like to laugh and make others laugh. I love quick wit, wordplay and puns (Shakespeare’s dismissive categorization be damned). I’m the uncle who crawls around on the floor with my nephews and nieces during family gatherings. My puppy is irresistible. So are potato chips. I will find the up side of a situation rather than its worst-case scenario. In fact, a friend once marveled “You’re so eternally happy you would have been singing ‘Tomorrow’ rather than crying for help if you were the girl trapped in the pit in ‘Silence of the Lambs’.” (It’s an awful scene in a thrilling film.) He’s probably right. Some people see an empty glass; I say, “No, there’s a couple of sips left.” Happiness is relative. It’s a degree of comfort in one’s own skin, an ability to appreciate moments big (a ticket to “Book of Mormon” on Broadway with the original cast) and small (an open bag of sea salt and pepper Kettle chips), a capacity towards kindness. (Kind people tend to be happy.) I’m a happy guy.
Let Your Life Speak
by Ben Hescott, Assistant Professor of Computer Science
My hometown in rural Michigan is famous for its blueberry festival. To be honest, I am not sure why---by my count, this town of 6,336 people has fewer than 20 blueberry bushes. Sandwiched between Flint and Saginaw, it is a place that has evolved from farms to factories in such a short amount of time that the growing pains are obvious. “The Shop,” as General Motors is called, employs most of my extended family and my friends’ parents. Working at The Shop is considered a great job. Everyone in town thinks going to college is for eggheads.
Wanting to go to college is not the only thing that makes me stand out. I am one of three people taking AP calculus and the only one to ever take the AP Literature exam. I am probably the only student to be called into the principal’s office because of concerns about my lack of faith. I hope that I am the only one that’s been called a “pinko-commie-faggot” by his psychology teacher in class. Now, calling our football coach who reads directly from the textbook a “teacher” is a bit of a stretch, the story is true. No one is surprised that I want to go away to college. What may surprise them is why. I am not trying to find people like me, quite the opposite, I want to find people different than me.
And in case you’re wondering, this pinko-commie-faggot likes blueberries.
What Makes You Happy?
by Daniele Lantagne, Assistant Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering
My son's toothless smile and laugh when I zorbert his belly, watching his brain turn on and learn, holding him while he’s sleeping. Reaching the top of a mountain. The light as it falls through trees on a hike, particularly in leaf season. The crisp, cool winter ocean air of Boston and London. The feel of the air and color of the trees and sky in Seattle. Local food - berries in summer, apples in fall, cider in winter. Cooking a meal with my partner and sharing it with friends. Conversations over wine late into the night. Playing games – Settlers and Pandemic. Working out hard on the elliptical; figuring out how to top out a rock route; the clarity of mind and body after yoga class. Finishing a project; finishing a late project; crossing things off the to-do list; days that end with less things on the to-do list than they started with. My inbox at zero emails. Knowing my work has meaning; interactions with colleagues; feeling like I’m making a difference. That anticipatory feeling of opening up a dataset to learn what it has to tell you. Teaching, mentoring, helping people learn. Traveling, seeing new places, learning from people in other cultures. Conversations, debates, interchanges of information and thoughts and feelings. Raising our son together and sharing my life with my partner. The insanity, craziness, sorrows, and joy of life.
Let Your Life Speak
by Brian Hatcher, Professor and Packard Chair of Theology
I grew up in suburban Minneapolis in a 1960s subdivision where the streets had names like Brown, Colgate and Dartmouth. I lived on Brown Lane and for years I thought it was just a reminder of an otherwise unremarkable childhood. It wasn’t until I was in high school that I realized the streets were named for Ivy League universities.
My father grew up in England before World War II. He joined the RAF and came to North America to train pilots. He never went back home. After serving in Korea he joined a Minneapolis milling company. He had by this time married my mother, who had grown up in Virginia. She had a degree from a teacher’s college and taught junior-high Spanish for many years. I was a minor celebrity in my neighborhood both for the crazy accents my friends encountered when visiting and for the way my mom used to stand on the back porch and holler my name at dinnertime.
Who knows how any of this shaped me? I suppose there was a kind of modest cosmopolitanism about my background. My father ended up working in international business and regularly brought home tales and trinkets from places like Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Venezuela, and Hong Kong. I think maybe the accents, languages and travel must have quietly set me on a path to study what we used call ‘foreign cultures.’ And I suppose unbeknownst to me Brown Lane ended up pointing me not just east but into an academic career.
Pick a Law
by Susan Ardizzoni, Director of Undergraduate Admissions
“Be sure you’re home when the streetlights come on….” This welcome refrain was music to our ears in the summer as we ran back outside after wolfing down a home cooked dinner. Life in suburban Pittsburgh, living on a dead end street (our middle class neighborhood wasn’t fancy enough for it to be called a cul de sac) with lots of kids meant endless possibilities of kickball, wiffleball or an all boy hockey game. As the oldest of five kids in a Catholic family, I was part time babysitter, game organizer or tattle tale depending on the situation (my siblings might have other descriptors….). The steep S-curve that led to most of the houses saw daredevil bike races (if you were really brave, you started from the second telephone pole – and if you ask my sister, not always the best decision) in the summer and awesome sledding in the winter. We all grew up with Pittsburgh pride, sporting the Black and Gold each Sunday (I’m still known to do that) during football season. For a short moment in time were the coolest kids in the neighborhood - Lynn Swann and Franco Harris (Steeler gods) stopped by a neighborhood party being held at our house, having accepting an invitation extended by my father. It was fun to be a cool kid for that quick moment. Other than a week or maybe two at the Jersey shore, life on Glen Oak Drive was my world – happily.
Let Your Life Speak
by Benjamin Baum, Associate Director of Admissions
In my hometown of Plymouth, Massachusetts, people dress like pilgrims and march in the Pilgrim Progress. Yes, that’s right—I’ve worn a broad-brimmed hat with buckle and paraded in public. The progress goes past the basilica that houses Plymouth Rock, the Mayflower docked in the harbor, and the graveyard where pilgrim remains are buried. I have even worked a summer at Plimoth Plantation, where actors dress and speak (and spell) as though they were settlers in 1627. Spending a 90 degree day in wool breeches mending a fence, all while pretending you’re a 380 year old English man, takes a certain passion—and lunacy. Don’t ask me to do the accent.
When you grow up among pilgrims and thatched roof houses, history becomes a normal part of everyday life. I can spend a day with my 1930s globe, where Africa is a nebulous blob of faded blue marked French West Africa, the Philippines are colored the United States’ forest green, and Poland slices the Weimer Republic through the middle. Thanks to a trip to the twelfth-century island town of Kuressaare, Estonia (population 14,000 but feels more like 10), I have visited the houses where my great, great grandparents once lived. Between the books and movies, I must have read and watched a dozen biographies of Edward VI, king of England as a child between 1547 and 1553 (and the inspiration for The Prince and the Pauper). When you’re surrounded by it, history stops being some abstract academic study and becomes tangible. I owe that perspective to years dressed as a pilgrim.
by Meredith Reynolds, Assistant Director of Admissions
Here, I could leave dinner with friends determined to take a class in feminist theology, and at breakfast the next day our conversation could convince me to study abroad in Barcelona. Walking around campus, I had this ever-present feeling that I was just about to hear something that would change my whole life forever, simply by piquing my interest. Here, it’s understood that collaboration doesn’t mean study buddies and class participation. It means sharing knowledge in the hopes that what you learn will change the lives of others, not just your own.
Let Your Life Speak
My parents square dance on Sunday nights. Stop laughing.
Yes, they are part of what is ever-so-cleverly called “the square dance group” – five couples that met in the 70’s (when, let’s not forget, square dancing still wasn’t cool) and have been Right and Left Grand-ing ever since. They’ve all had children, who became known as – you guessed it - the square dance kids, though let’s just keep that between you and me.
Since I was born I’ve known the comforting thud of a Right-Hand Star on our hardwood floor like I knew my own heartbeat. I’ve known how to Dosado since before I realized what it was, which come to think of it is probably why I let my dad teach it to me. Let me emphasize that I was raised in the northeast, where square dancing was taught in exactly one day of gym class and never spoken of again, if you knew what was good for you. And I’ll admit this wasn’t an intense square dance group… there were no cowboy boots or strict rules, and it mostly served as an excuse for good company and a whole lot of laughing. My parents may not even be more embarrassing than yours, in fact. But it was a strange reason for friends to get together nonetheless, and it has taught me quite a bit.
The square dance group may be the reason I embrace offbeat opportunities, or the reason I easily laugh at myself. It probably taught me about old friends, and having fun, and trying new things with the people we meet along the way. But that’s not really the point of this essay. What I’m actually trying to tell you is that I know how to Left-Hand Allemande, and I could teach you how if you want me to.