I grew up about an hour south of Chicago in Bourbonnais, IL. As a child, I loved playing outdoors in the neighborhood and at the Kankakee River State Park. I also spent hours spinning stories around my toys and filling sheets of printer paper with the interactions of tiny imaginary creatures.
When I was a bit older, I became interested in skateboarding and spent most of my time out on the streets skating. (I still have a skateboard, but mostly it just gathers dust!) I loved feeling independent. Skating is an interesting combination of things. On one hand, it is fast-paced, often illegal, and can be dangerous. On the other hand it requires fine control, style, creativity, and allows for a lot of personal expression.
My next significant interest was punk rock. I dug into the various strands and waves of the movement from the late 70s in the UK to the much different take on it in my town at the turn of the millennium. I played with punk themes in my artwork and played bass guitar in several bands. (Here is a song from one of my bands, All Charges Dropped.) Later, I developed an interest in electronic music (drum n bass and IDM in particular), jazz (saxophone greats like Sonny Rollins and Coltrane), and classical music.
I have one sibling, my brother Kael. When I was 19 and Kael was 17 we hitchhiked to San Jose, CA and back (from Bourbonnais). It took us five days each way and we met a host of interesting people. A few years later, Kael took to the roads again and worked his way from Boston to Patagonia. During his trip, I flew to Columbia to meet him and we spent an unforgettable week exploring Bogota and some of the surrounding country. Bogota was exciting and gritty in a good way and it was amusing being a foot taller than everyone else.
It wasn’t until college that I learned to like mathematics. At the end of high school, I had to make up my mind between making a go of art school or trying to do computer science. I couldn’t see myself ever being disciplined in art, so I went to University of Illinois to get an engineering degree. The first year, I took the discrete math sequence for CS majors. I loved everything about it and switched majors. (Of course, I became an algebraist, but eventually I even came to love analysis!) It felt great to be unwaveringly enthusiastic about something. I ended up taking graduate math classes, participating in a research project, and even competing in math contests. I lived for the warm summer evenings walking around campus turning a problem over in my mind.
I ended up going to graduate school in Chicago with an extraordinary group of people. The atmosphere my class created rarely departed from friendly playfulness. We were all happy, united by our enthusiasm for mathematics. We spent our time working on problem sets, finding advisors, and seizing Chicago’s various opportunities. We experienced the transition from green (and immature, in my case) beginners to proto-mathematicians and stores of department lore. I don’t see my classmates very often, but I am happy to see them living interesting lives.
During my time at Michigan, my friends Khalid Bou-Rabee, Blair Davey, and Mark Shoemaker introduced me to climbing. I had done some skateboarding and enjoyed squash and racquetball, but I never imagined I would come to love a sport which requires upper body strength. Now, I go climbing as often as we can. I have climbed in the Red River Gorge and American Fork, but we mostly climb in gyms. I love those moments climbing where I come to what seems to be my physical limit and extract 10% more from myself. During climbing and hiking trips, I also stay alert for photo opportunities.