Rochester Graduate Student Pursues A University First

By Bob Marcotte
University Communications

From an early age, watching his older brother endure the childhood teasing and other disadvantages that come with wearing glasses, Daniel Savage decided he would one day try to find better ways to improve vision.

By pure serendipity, the Webster, NY, native grew up just a few miles from what he believes is the best possible place to pursue that dream.

Now a Ph.D. student at the Institute of Optics, Savage is about to undertake something that’s never been done at the University of Rochester – a dual Ph.D. at The Institute of Optics and M.D. from the School of Medicine (MD-PhD Program).

By doing so, he hopes to improve vision at two levels: as a research scientist who can contribute new knowledge – and perhaps new technologies – that benefit mankind as a whole, and as a physician who can treat the specific, individual needs of patients. Ultimately he would like to apply both sets of skills in underdeveloped countries.

“It’s an incredible privilege and honor to be studying here at Rochester,” Savage added. “You have The Institute of Optics, which is one of the top, premier schools for optics. You have the Center for Visual Science — what a hotbed that is for visual science. And you have the Flaum Eye Institute. You couldn’t ask for a better place. I could not do what I want to do anyplace else.”

The Medical Scientist Training Program, which has accepted Savage, has offered a federally funded dual M.D./Ph.D. program here for nearly 40 years to train physician-scientists. But the students most often involved from the River Campus have come from fields such as biology, chemistry and biomedical engineering. Those disciplines include classes that can help satisfy premedical requirements.

The MD-PhD option has not been tried before with The Institute of Optics. After meeting with M. Kerry O’Banion, Director of the Medical Scientist Training Program, Savage proposed a unique program of study.

“Daniel is embarking on something that is very unique; to my knowledge no other MD/PhD program in the country offers a dual degree in Optics and Medicine,” O’Banion noted. There are 80 such programs, 44 of which are supported by Medical Scientist Training Program grants.

Starting this fall, Savage will spend two years in medical school, take a break for two years to finish his optics Ph.D, return to medical school for two years, then seek a residency.

“A lot of people say that’s a long time to be in school,” says Savage, who entered the Optics Ph.D. program in 2010. “But I look at all the opportunities it opens up.

Being in a Ph.D. program or a residency is really not a lot different than being in a job. Sure, it’s kind of a low paying job, but that’s a small price to pay for being able to do something that you love, something that provides such unique opportunities.”

After transferring to the University from Monroe Community College, Savage quickly became involved in optics research. Prof. James Zavislan, now Associate Dean of Education and New Initiatives for the Hajim School, helped him obtain a summer internship at Optimax Systems, a manufacturer of precision optics in Ontario, N.Y. He continued interning there throughout his undergraduate education– full time during the summer, part-time during the school year. He worked on a variety of research projects involving metrology and manufacturing processes. As a Ph.D. student, Savage has become involved in research “that is not only exciting for me personally, but also has the potential to be high impact, positively affecting the lives of countless individuals.”

The project, a collaboration between Wayne Knox, Professor of Optics, Physics and the Center for Visual Science, and Krystel Huxlin, Professor of Ophthalmology, Neurobiology & Anatomy, Brain & Cognitive Sciences, and the Center for Visual Science, explores a novel application of femtosecond laser beams that could correct vision problems noninvasively, without the cutting involved in Lasik surgery. “It sounds magical, but if this works out you could literally sit in a chair, look at a fixation point for a few minutes while we shine a special type of laser light into your eyes, and walk away with perfect refractive vision,” Savage said. It could even potentially be done outside the operating room. This could have enormous impact, not only in this country, but also in Third World nations where access to health care is limited.

“Giving people in underdeveloped countries glasses is a phenomenal thing to do, but they may lose them, or people may step on them,” Savage noted. “But with this technology, it might be possible to take a machine over to these countries and literally correct peoples’ vision very simply. It would be a very elegant solution.”

Savage, who was home schooled, says his religious faith has helped foster his desire to serve others. “I think a lot of people find that they are most happy in life when they’re not focused on themselves, but rather when they experience something bigger than themselves.” He likens it to gazing out over the Grand Canyon. “By helping other people, especially in medicine and through a research career, it’s very similar to that Grand Canyon experience. My faith and personal experiences have taught me that you can look out and help others without any thought of yourself, and derive great joy and purpose from that.”

Optics Students Win $10K at Pre-Seed Workshop

For the past 10 years, High Tech Rochester’s annual Pre-Seed Workshop has provided inventors, entrepreneurs, and technology professionals with resources for quickly assessing their specific market opportunities and identifying the next steps to be taken in creating a start-up business around their technology innovation.

On Friday, Nov. 1 at the conclusion of this year’s Pre-Seed Workshop, five current and former University of Rochester Optics students found themselves the recipient of such resources. The student-driven team Ovitz was presented with the Excell Challenge Award of $10,000, given by Excell Partners, a Rochester venture capital firm.

Working with technology developed at the Flaum Eye Institute, Ovitz is hoping to commercialize a portable eye diagnosis instrument that is smaller, cheaper and more accurate than existing devices and is especially suited for use among children. They were chosen because their project was best suited to Excell’s criteria and at a point where the new venture would benefit from an outside investment.

The Ovitz team members are senior Felix Kim, junior Pedro Vallejo-Ramirez, doctoral students Aizhong Zhang and Len Zheleznyak, and Samuel Steven (’13). Both Steven and Zheleznyak are enrolled in the Technical Entrepreneurship and Management (TEAM) master’s program.

“We congratulate Ovitz and all of the start-up innovators and entrepreneurs participating in the 2013 Pre-Seed Workshop and expect to hear big things from them in the future,” said Theresa Mazzullo, chief executive officer of Excell Partners, Inc. “Given our mission of providing pre-seed and seed stage financing to high-tech start-up companies in the Upstate New York region, we felt we could give a boost to the start-up idea showing the most potential for commercialization as developed and presented at this workshop.”

Designed as a hands-on program, not a lecture series, “the Pre-Seed Workshop involves highly focused activities and exercises directed toward determining if a technology-based business concept has high potential for commercial success,” says the workshop’s organizer, Mike Riedlinger, High Tech Rochester’s Technology Commercialization Manager.

More than 100 people participated in the 2013 Pre-Seed Workshop: 13 teams (culled down from 18 applications), including teams from the University of Buffalo, Rochester Institute of Technology, University of Rochester, and the Rochester community at large. The Workshop involved 32 coaches, contributors, and subject matter experts, and the six investors and industry experts who served as feedback panelists.

This isn’t the first time the Ovitz business plan has found success. It also took first place in the Forbes Entrepreneurial Competition and third place in the Mark Ain Business Model Competition this past spring. The students are now looking for NGOs who can put their device to use to benefit people in underdeveloped countries.

Article courtesy of High Tech Rochester. To read their full press release, visit http://htr.org/excell-partners-awards-10000-start-team-high-tech-rochester%E2%80%99s-annual-pre-seed-workshop

Spotlight on Natural Sciences Alumni: Kathrine Kraft

kkraft

Name: Kathrine Kraft

Occupation: Stay-at-home Mom

Education (UR and additional): BS (Optics), University of Rochester, 2003; MA (Secondary Education), University of New Mexico, 2010

Current city/state of residence: Albuquerque, NM

Community activities: Preschool Co-op, Volunteer activities through Bosque School (former employer), UR alumni interviewer


When and how did you choose your major?

I always loved physical sciences, and I was pretty sure I wanted to major in physics.  When I was in 10th grade, I participated in the PREP summer program through the UR Physics department.  I learned about so many different related fields I had never even considered.  We did an open house in the Optics department, and I fell in love!  To focus one’s study solely on *light* was just the coolest thing I’d ever heard.  I was amazed, and never wavered in my decision to be an optics major!

What resources did you use on campus that you recommend current students use?

The POA Library!  (Boy, I hope it’s still there…)  I found that collaboration was a very important part of my studies at UR, so to have a place full of people studying in the same field was great.  We spent more hours in the POA than I’d ever care to count…it was like a home away from home.  Also, I can’t say enough about taking advantage of any and all office hours.  Even if you’re not studying for an exam or struggling with a problem set, office hours are an opportunity to talk with your professors and form valuable relationships (just go ask about their research if you don’t have anything else on your mind)!

What did you do immediately after graduation? How did you decide to take that path?

Immediately after graduation, I made the best decision of my life: to study in Germany as a Fulbright Scholar.  I almost didn’t apply, but Betsy Benedict encouraged me to go for it, and I’m so glad I did.  I was able to take Optics courses in German at the Friedrich-Schiller University in Jena, Germany (home of Ernst Abbe and Otto Schott, among others).  I even took a class on Nonlinear Optics that used Professor Boyd’s book!  Not only did I get to see how another university taught my major, but I was able to become nearly fluent in German, and I learned a lot about culture, community, and myself.  I was often pushed out of my comfort zone, and I learned just how independent I could be.

What do you do now and why did you choose this career?

My career path has taken a few twists and turns in the ten years since I’ve graduated!  When I got back to the states, I started working at Intel as a Defect Metrology Engineer using darkfield microscopy.  The technology behind the job was really cool, but the day-to-day activities wore pretty thin.  Jim Zavislan warned me that I might not like working for a large corporation…listen to your mentors!  After three years, I left Intel to return to grad school for a degree in Secondary Education.  I became a high school physics teacher, and, most recently, was working at a small independent school teaching Conceptual Physics to 9th-graders.  I LOVE being a teacher!  I’m currently taking a break from teaching to focus on being a stay-at-home mom, which I think is the most important job I can have.  I know that I will go back to teaching once my own kids are in school, and I’m happy to have such a flexible career that allows for this kind of time off.  I’m sure that if someone had told me what the future held when I was back in college, I wouldn’t have believed it.  I was a very driven student and knew I had a bright future ahead of me.  Priorities change, and I’m glad I’ve never been afraid to acknowledge that.  Even though I’m not directly working in Optics anymore, I still use what I learned as an optics major all the time…maybe I’m not solving differential equations, but my daughter certainly knows more about rainbows than any other toddler we know. 

What skills, tools, or knowledge from your major have been most useful to you since graduation?

The most important thing I learned in college was the value of hard work.  I remember Professor Brown told us to treat math just like we would music.  You don’t expect to play a perfect concerto the first time you look at the sheet music, so we shouldn’t expect to solve a problem right off the bat, either.  That really stuck with me.  So many people feel like you either “get it,” or you don’t.  I no longer believe that’s true.  This kind of reminds me of the Einstein quote, “It’s not that I’m so smart; it’s just that I stick with problems longer.”  I also learned from Professor Berger to always be ready for questions!  He actually taught me a lot about being a good teacher.  He was *tough*!  But his constant quizzes and questioning made it so that we were always studying, and not just for tests.  I think, beyond those specific examples, I also learned from all of my professors and TAs how to talk to and work with adults and authority figures.  I have definitely developed some really good communication skills that have helped me be an asset to teams I’ve worked on.   It may sound arrogant, but I think I’m a really great employee, and I know that’s because of a lot of the things I learned as an undergrad.

Where would you like to be in five years?

In five years, my youngest child should be in school, so I hope to be going back to the classroom, too.  I love teaching, and I miss it when I’m not working.  Personally, I hope to be traveling more as a family and exploring the world at large.  Five years is too soon, but sometime after that, I’d also like to start thinking about pursuing a PhD in Curriculum Development.

Spotlight on Natural Sciences Alumni: Roger Smith

Untitled1Name: Roger Smith
Occupation: Graduate School Student
Education: BS (Optics), BA (Physics), University of Rochester, 2009; MS (Physics), University of Oregon, 2010; PhD (Experimental Quantum Optics), expected 2015, University of Oregon
Current city/state of residence: Eugene, Oregon
Community activities: Outreach activities presenting science to young students; city-league ultimate frisbee


 

Why did you choose to attend the University of Rochester?

When I was in eighth grade, my family drove to UR to attend the “Fall into Rochester” program for my sister, then a senior in high school. During an academic open house, my father and I were looking at the engineering departments and I distinctly remember seeing a tall, lanky student standing at a table that said “Optics.” At the time, I had no idea what this was, so we ventured over and asked the student what he studied. The student cracked a large grin and replied simply “Lasers. I play with lasers!” Instantly, I was hooked and never forgot about UR. In high school, my favorite subject was physics and the prospect of playing with lasers was just too enticing to pass up so I applied Early Decision and was accepted in late December. The beautiful campus and high academic standards were also a large draw for me.

What activities were you involved in as a student and what did you gain from them?

One of the best experiences I ever had was going into local middle schools and presenting demos on optics to fifth and sixth grade classrooms. Working with children that are so eager to learn and excited to go and teach their parents was so rewarding to see.  The smiles on those faces were so uplifting and something I’ll never forget. It has shaped what I try to achieve and has helped me to see some of the bigger issues in my field that I am now actively trying to address.

What did you do immediately after graduation? How did you decide to take that path?

I enrolled in a physics PhD program at the University of Oregon in the fall after graduation. In my junior year, I realized that I was less interested in designing optical systems for industry and more interested in the fundamental principles underlying why light does what it does. So I began taking more classes in physics (and ended up with a second major) to prepare for a future academic program in physics. I have always had the aspiration to gain a PhD and as graduation grew closer, I realized that I wanted more skills in experimental physics and a better intuition for the subject before I tried to do independent work. I also relished the university atmosphere, working with students, and constantly learning that I wanted to eventually become a professor at the time.

Where would you like to be in five years?

In five years, I would like to have graduated my current PhD program, completed a Post-Doctoral position in ultrafast laser physics in either Germany or Switzerland, and be looking for a more permanent position in the US. At this point, I’m leaning toward either working in industry or a national laboratory, but who knows – five years is a long time from now.

What advice do you have for current students?

It’s hard to know what exactly you will want in a couple years – maybe your career goals will be the same as they are now, but chances are that your ideas and desires will change. When I entered the UR as a bright-eyed freshman, I had very different ideas and desires from when I left with my degrees. So always make long range goals and shoot for them, but don’t be concerned if your path and your end goal change. As long as you’re always making steps forward and always doing what you love, then you’ll end up somewhere happy and rewarding.

Optics “Focuses” Efforts to Defeat Physics in Photon Cup

Members of the Optics Department focused their efforts on the soccer field to defeat members of the Physics Department in the third annual Photon Cup.

A match between Optics and Physics, the Photon Cup features undergraduate students, graduate students and faculty from each department in a friendly rivalry to name the best department of the year.

And, while Physics might have thought their knowledge of buckminster fullerenes would lead them to the win, the control of this particular soccer “buckyball” proved too much. Perhaps it was one group of atoms they couldn’t control with much “coherence.”

Optics triumphed over the department 4-3, coming back from a 3-0 half-time deficit. After some tactical adjustments at halftime, Optics went into an “excited state” and was able to control the run of play in the second half.

By all accounts Steve Gillmer of Optics was athlete of the match, scoring twice. One goal was a brilliant 30-yard half-volley.

Physics has yet to hoist the Cup with Optics winning the past 2 years and the first contest ending in a draw.

Watch Highlights from the 2012 Photon Cup

Spotlight on Engineering Alumni: Katie Schwertz

Name: Katie Schwertz
Age: 26
Education (UR and additional): B.S. in Optics, University of Rochester, 2008; M.S. in Optical Sciences, University of Arizona.
Current city/state of residence: Tucson, AZ
Job Title: Design Engineer
Employer:  Edmund Optics


When and how did you choose your major?

I started at UR with the intention of doing statistics and decided to take Optics 101 as an elective after hearing about the field of Optics from an upper classman in the program because it sounded pretty cool. After learning about all the cool effects in nature that can be explained by optics and all the applications and fields that rely on optics technology, I decided to stick around.  Wayne Knox was a pretty fun person to learn from!

What did you do immediately after graduation? How did you decide to take that path?

I spent the summer after graduation traveling and relaxing (and going broke…) before I started the Master’s program in Optics at UA. I had a tough time deciding whether to go find a full time job or continue school, but in the end, I decided I wanted to solidify my technical knowledge more and take the opportunity to live someplace different and explore different areas of optics.

What do you do now, and why did you choose this career?

I currently do opto-mechanical design for Edmund Optics. In grad school, I focused on opto-mechanics since I thought it was an interesting cross-discipline, and there weren’t a lot of people in that field. I find design work challenging, but very rewarding, especially since I get to see some of the products I work on being used by customers and in our labs.

How do you balance your work and personal life?

I don’t know if I do… it’s not easy! I love my job, but I try to make sure my job is not my entire life. I keep up on hobbies outside of work and try different activities when the opportunities come up.

How are you still connected with the University?

The company I work for recruits from the University of Rochester, so I’ve had the opportunity to come back to campus a few times and meet current students in Optics. Also, I try to keep up reading the Rochester Review and any alumni emails that go out. I run into a lot of alumni as well at different industry shows, so it’s nice to keep up with other alums and see what they’re up to.


Spotlight on Engineering Alumni: Ankur Pansari

Name: Ankur Pansari
Age: 30
Occupation: CEO & Founder of Artillery Games
Education (UR and additional): B.S. in Optics and B.S. in Applied Mathematics with minor in Physics, University of Rochester, 2004.
Current city/state of residence: Silicon Valley, CA
Community activities: Big Brothers / Big Sisters.  Former big-brother, now fund-raiser.


What do you do now, and why did you choose this career?

I recently founded Artillery Games, and through the company, we are trying to build the next generation of browser based games.  There are three of us that founded the company, and all of us met by working at Google together.  We’ve raised an investment round already and are really excited about what we’re doing!

Prior to Artillery, I spent four years at Facebook working on partnerships and implementing them technically where I was a partnership engineer.  Likewise, I did something similar at Google for two years prior to that.  After college, I worked as a sales engineer at an optical engineering company for a year before ending up at Google in Silicon Valley.

I do what I do because I love it — I’m the luckiest guy on earth.  Technology is something that I do for fun.  In high school, when cool kids were probably going to parties, I was disassembling my computer or installing Linux.  To me, my job isn’t a job, but something I would do even if I didn’t get paid to do it.  I’m so thankful that the whole Internet thing became popular because I’m not exactly sure what I would have done with my life otherwise.

What activities were you involved in as a student, and what did you gain from them?

I founded a software development firm called Treosoft in college.  We built the now infamous Campus Club Connection.  It was a great learning experience of how to build a startup, even if we weren’t ultimately able to make it successful. Also, I founded the Business and Investment Club and played squash.  All of these were really fun and kept me busy.

What did you do immediately after graduation? How did you decide to take that path?

After Treosoft failed, I had a bit of a difficult couple months.  Ultimately, I took a sales-engineering job at an optics company in Pittsburgh, PA while trying to build another software startup in my free time.  After about a year, my brother referred me to Google and found that there were sales-engineers, so I applied and ended up with an offer a couple weeks later and moved out to the Valley!

What skills, tools, or knowledge from your major have been most useful to you since graduation?

Day to day, I don’t use the specific skills from my degrees, but most important are the tools that we learned of “how to learn.”  Meaning, the incredibly challenging problems we faced in college aren’t any different from trying to build a company.  It just takes patience, resolve, time, and tons of hard work.  My freshman year, I was pretty lazy and unmotivated, but once optics started to get really challenging my sophomore year, it taught me how to step up, learn how to work hard, and love it.

How do you balance your work and personal life?

It’s always a challenge, but I tend to burn-out easily, so I try to give my job 40-50 hours a week of focused time, meaning, completely focused with no distractions, and when I come home, I’m completely separated from the office.  In this way, I’m able to recharge.  I’m probably still “thinking” about things, but that time is for me to decompress and do other things.

Going to the gym and spending time with family have been important things that help keep my life in balance also.  I’d encourage students to develop hobbies in college that they can continue the rest of their lives.  Balance is important.

How are you still connected with the University?

I have hosted alumni get-togethers in the Bay Area in the past, and I have helped interview students.  Now days, I try to attend all of the alumni get togethers.  It’s great to meet all of the bright young students graduating from the alma matar.

What advice do you have for current students?

Tough question … I’d say, “explore everything that you can, and see if you can find something that you love.  Don’t chase money, but chase your passion.  If you can work on something that you love every day, it doesn’t feel like work anymore.  If you happen to become successful at it, that is great, but even if you don’t, you just spent your life working on something that you love!”


Spotlight on Engineering Alumni: Gretchen Bauer

bauerName: Gretchen Bauer ’10

Occupation: Systems Engineer

Education (UR and additional): BS (Optics), University of Rochester, 2010

Current city/state of residence: Hoboken, NJ


Why did you choose to attend the University of Rochester?

My older brother and cousin were already students at Rochester when I decided to attend. I actually went to Lehigh my freshman year and it was not a good fit for me, so I came and spent a weekend with my cousin Meaghan at Rochester and found it was the perfect fit for me so I transferred in the fall of my sophomore year. The positive experiences my family had at Rochester as well as its great reputation for its Optics program made it an easy decision.

When and how did you choose your major?

I always loved math and science so I knew that I wanted to go into the Engineering field. I transferred to Rochester after spending my freshman year at Lehigh where I had taken general engineering courses which had helped me define which field I wanted to go into, Math/Physics. When I came to Rochester my sophomore year the Optics program was a natural fit for me as it combined my two favorite subjects.

What do you do now and why did you choose this career?

I work as a Systems Engineer for  Exelis, a defense contractor. I work on radio frequency systems that are in the development phase. I really enjoy what I do as I get to work on all aspects of the system including development, build and test. I chose this career as it allows me to use my basic engineering skills, and I started doing optical design test and integration. Due to new opportunities within the company I have become a true systems engineer, integrating digital, radio frequency, and mechanical designs into a functioning system

What skills, tools, or knowledge from your major have been most useful to you since graduation?

I use a lot of what I learned at the Optics program at Rochester at work. The test equipment I use at work is similar to what I used in labs at Rochester. I also do a lot of modeling and data analysis using software tools that I was exposed to during undergrad. The most important skills I use are organization and time management as I now run a team of engineers and am responsible for getting products tested and delivered on time to customers.

How do you balance your work and personal life?

Since I work in a field where you cannot take your work home with you it is nice in the aspect that once I leave work, my work stays at work. I dedicate as much time as I can to building my very young career and I am very lucky that I ended up in the New York City area surrounded by many of my friends from college, one of which is my current roommate, that I can see often outside of work. I have joined local sports leagues in order to maintain a scheduled weekly event that I have outside of work.

How are you still connected with the University?

I often attend Rochester Networking Events and other alumni events the university offers in the NYC area. It’s a great way to catch up with old friends and meet other people that share a love of Rochester.


Spotlight on Engineering Alumni: Dan Gray

Name: Dan Gray ’02

Education (UR and additional): BS 2002 Optics, MS 2003 Optics, PhD 2007 Optics

Current city/state of residence: Niskayuna, NY

Job Title: Lead Optical Engineer

Employer: GE Global Research


 


 

When and how did you choose your major?

I chose my major at the end of my freshman year. In that year I took several types of engineering courses, one included an overview of optics. Through talking to older friends who were in the optics program at Rochester and seeing some of the hands-on lab work they were doing I decided to enter the program. Even in my junior year I questioned the choice to study optics but I’m certainly glad I stuck with it, as I find it a very fulfilling field to work in.

What did you do immediately after graduation? How did you decide to take that path?

After I finished my undergraduate degree in optics, I entered the PhD program at the University of Rochester. Initially I had only planned to get a only Master’s degree, but once I discovered the depth and exciting research opportunities at the Institute of Optics I decided to stay on for the full PhD. An additional factor that influenced my decision was the economic down turn from telecom bubble.

What do you do now and why did you choose this career?

I am an optical engineer in the Applied Optics Lab at General Electric Global Research. I work on research and development for short and long term product development in several different optical fields.  I particularly enjoy this type of work because of the balance between academic style research and industrial product development.

How do you balance your work and personal life?

The balance between work and personal life can vary depending on your personal life status as well as specific demands in the workplace. My approach is to remain flexible and to make sure both aspects are fulfilled.

What advice do you have for current students?

My advice is to take every opportunity in your undergraduate experience to explore different career options. Industry, academic, or national laboratory summer internships are especially valuable, as well as opportunities to study or work abroad.


 

Spotlight on Engineering Alumni: Thomas Kraus

Name: Thomas Kraus
Age: 28
Occupation: Optical engineer
Education (UR and additional): B.S. in Optics, University of Rochester, 2005; Take Five, University of Rochester, 2006; M.S. in Optics, University of Rochester, 2007
Current city/state of residence: Springfield, VA
Family: Wife, Emily (LaDuque W’05); Son, Ben (Class of 2032?)
Community activities: Alexandria Harmonizers – an all-male babershop chorus


What activities were you involved in as a student and what did you gain from them?

My two biggest activities were The Midnight Ramblers and The Meridian Society.  Through the Ramblers, I was able to help organize and execute three national spring break tours, a variety of on and off campus events, and too many other things to mention.  I learned everything from organization and event planning, large scale logistics (i.e. How do you feed and house 15 guys for 10 days in a place you have never been before?).  Most importantly, how to think, define, and execute on my own.  The Meridian Society gave me a great opportunity to better my speaking and presentations skills in front of large crowds.  And of course, walk backwards!

What did you do immediately after graduation? How did you decide to take that path?

I headed down to Washington, D.C. to start at Areté Associates, a R&D firm doing government research.  They offered me a great job that is very challenging, but also very rewarding.  And traveling to the beach (i.e. Outer Banks, Hawaii, etc.) for great research opportunities isn’t bad either!

What skills, tools, or knowledge from your major have been most useful to you since graduation?

Optics majors know all too well that we take all of these classes that, on the surface, appear to have minimal overlap.  I mean, what does quantum optics, image processing, and fluid-dynamics have in common?  Well, learning how to take a variety of ideas then piecing them together in an unusual way is at the core of my job.

How do you balance your work and professional life?

It is tough.  After graduation it was just me; now I have a family, home, and other commitments.  It took some time, but I now know how to say no to personal and professional commitments and prioritize.  You can’t be everywhere and everything to everybody, but you can choose to make the most of what time you have.

How are you still connected with the University?

I volunteer my time with the Young Alumni Council (YAC) where we help organize and develop alumni programs directed towards alumni 0-10 years out.  I recently served as the committee chair for the 2005 5th Reunion Council and helped to plan events and fundraising for our class.  I am also involved with URInvolved and volunteer to staff college fairs in my area, interview prospective UR students, and make follow-up phone calls to accepted students.

What advice do you have for current students?

The best advice is what I heard from Stephen Fantone (’79 Optics Ph.D.).  To paraphrase his talk to us: Push yourself to failure now, not later.  Take too many classes and be involved in too many activities and see what you can handle, then push yourself some more.  What is the worst that is going to happen?  You get a bad grade in a class? Take it over.  You have to stay up all night?  Have some coffee.  After college is the wrong time to find out exactly how much you can handle.  The consequences are much more severe: loss of job, family, home, etc. NOW is the perfect time to test yourself!