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Merging Lenses: Humanities and Science

Merging Lenses: Humanities and Science

By Marcus Greer

10276036_10203599237324232_2346572052018785401_nI was in Egypt a year before the Arab Spring and saw deeply rooted social divisions well before the country cracked like an egg in January 2011. I stepped off of the plane into blistering Egyptian heat to meet my tour guide, Tarek. I admired his incredible passion and broad mind. In addition to his encyclopedic knowledge about the country’s history, he had volumes of criticisms about the Egyptian government. Between ancient monuments and inside archaic tombs, he allowed his contemporary protests to slip as whispers because, as he often said, “The walls have ears.”

Tarek’s ability to be so much more than his job title resonated with me. The versatility of his passions and his awareness mirrored who I am and who I am becoming. Tarek preached that Sadat was Egypt’s only great president, and that “like all great men causing change, Sadat was doomed to be assassinated,”  which led me to a very simple formula, like Leibniz’s energy equation. (rant = ½circumstance x frustration^2)

In his elegant rage, Tarek was more than a tour guide. He was a political philosopher, a storyteller, and a political activist and, inadvertently and ultimately, a model for my life. I have always been devoted to math and science, but this has never turned me off to history and humanities. In fact, I see the humanities as being imperative to my understanding of science. This inspires me to write English essays as parodies of scientific research, and Physics labs in the style of rich narratives. These combinations led to an unexpected discovery: imagining scenes with my physics material made it easier to relate to the subject, while a more systematic approach to literary analysis allowed me to more deeply scrutinize texts. The fact that a creative and a technical mind occupy space in the same brain seems an invitation to find ways to use them in tandem, not to build walls between them.

Tarek’s ability to relate seemingly unrelatable concepts helped me see how important considerations of the human heart and mind are in relation to technology. Pointing to a complicated ancient sword called a khopesh, he told me it was an excellent tactical device, but it rarely brought the Egyptian army success because its soldiers had no idea how to use it. “Technology is the way of the future, but only when you create it with people in mind,” he said, almost foreshadowing my experience in the Lemelson-MIT program. There, I am helping to design a GPS watch that will help caretakers keep track of Alzheimer’s patients, who tend to wander off and get lost. I am on a team to provide a scientific solution to a human problem. In designing the product, we talked with people with early onset Alzheimer’s. I saw they had a common fear of being trapped in their own minds. I presented to the team that we should strive to make our product empowering for the patient rather than making the watch seem like an invisible leash. I want the patient to look down at his or her wrist and think: “I have the freedom to safely leave my house.” We continue to keep in mind these human fears and desires as we design the device.

As a person trying to gain a comprehensive understanding of the world, I cannot just stop at science. If science is the study of the universe and the humanities are studies of our place in it, is it not logical for me to have an appreciation for both? The two disciplines are inextricable. Still, some people prematurely dismiss my arguments for versatile interests and say, “Oh, so you don’t know what you want to be?” That’s fine. I just respond, “Oh, no. I am both an aspiring engineer and an aspiring renaissance man.” The world is not made for people with one track minds, and I’m going to continue embracing this reality.

Marcus Greer, a graduate of Tenafly High School, is currently a freshman at Carnegie Mellon University.

Dillon’s Sneakers

by Dillon Johnson

On many days, I may be the only teenager with the slight wonder that I might die en route to Champs. Or more specifically, I wonder if someone will stab or rob me waiting in front of the Times Square store with a shoebox in my hands. So far, the strangers always have arrived without a weapon, but with money. After inspecting the shoes, the stranger pays and we both walk off satisfied. I buy the shoes online or from a store on release days, and sell them for a profit a few months or more later. I later learned that the explanation for my success was rooted in the laws of Supply and Demand when I took one of my favorite classes, Economics.

I am an entrepreneur, fencer, car builder, aspiring engineer, and stock market aficionado who placed in the top 5 in a simulated schoolwide stock market competition. I am also a foreign language enthusiast who has completed immersion programs in Barcelona and various parts of China and a student of global cultures. Fencing, like Physics, cultivates a passion for angles, precision and force. The stock market competition draws on the interplay of math, technology and business. The foreign language immersion programs broadened my cultural exposure and appreciation of the new global economy. Yet, it is my life as a sneaker collector that merges and reflects so many of my interests: math, engineering, computer science, business, my sense of entrepreneurship and adventure.

If I were a sneaker, I would probably be a Nike SB Ebay Dunk. There are only two pairs of them ever made and yet there is nothing extravagant about their design. I identify with the sneaker’s modesty and profitability. The sneaker’s colors are basic: white, red, green, blue and yellow, and the first pair made auctioned for over $100,000. That pair was then cut into various pieces and discarded. Another pair was created for the auction winner in his shoe size. Now, only one pair of these sneakers exists on earth, which is also like me: there is only one Dillon Johnson in the world.

At 14, I first saw the entrepreneurial possibilities in sneakers when I purchased the Nike SB Batman. I paid $80 and realized that they were worth twice that much three months later. I decided not to sell the pair, because I loved the simple black and grey theme. Instead, I purchased and sold another pair of sneakers for a $100 profit. I began searching for the best deals, and using eBay and other websites to market my wares.

The road to becoming a sneaker entrepreneur is one guided by years of studying engineering and design. My first exposure to engineering was at age 13 and was automotive in nature, albeit with much smaller cars.  These automobiles were scale models, and some can be quite large and powerful, using gas or high voltage batteries to exceed 40 miles per hour.  Constructing and maintaining a RC car is very scientific, but there is also a very artistic aspect to it in the details of each person’s model. I carry that sense of detail into the world of sneakers.

My passion for engineering has grown from the mechanical into the virtual. This year, I decided to take an AP computer science course based on the programming language Java. I wrote a complex code for a game and spent hours writing, rewriting, and refining each aspect of the control system and in-game features. Similar to collecting sneakers, writing this JAVA code drew on my individualized sense of detail. Like a sneaker collection, each programmer’s code is never exactly the same.

The synthesis of my engineering and design interests bolsters my drive for collecting and selling sneakers. I love vintage sneakers for their intricate details and color combinations: purple, green, gold, quilted, striped, glow in the dark. They are everywhere I turn at my favorite store–Flight Club New York, where sneakers  glisten like a sea of stars in the night sky. Style becomes art and a science when various geometric figures are filled with color and are strategically combined on something that runs and walks the earth. My mind walks around the stationary sneakers as colors appear on their shapes and stitched patterns emerge, ultimately leading to a commulative design construction. To me, a sneaker is not just something to wear on your feet, but a nexus of math, design, and business.

Dillon Johnson, a freshman at Carnegie Mellon University, is a graduate of Hunter College High School.


A Chinese-Jewish Christmas

by Saru Nanda

I am a Hindu who always wanted to trade in her religion during one month of the year: December. I could never resist my adoration of Christmas. As a child, I thought it was unfair that I could not have a Christmas just because of my primary religious beliefs. Though my family never celebrated the holiday, I secretly honored the season in my heart; loving the music, the trees and the glowing lights I saw throughout the city. But I was never able to outwardly celebrate the holiday until I acquired my second family in my junior year of high school.

Members of my second family are Jewish and Atheist. In fact, none of us are actually Christian. We all love the trappings of Christmas and decided nothing could stop us from celebrating the holiday. On Christmas Eve last year, we met at my friend’s apartment on the Upper West Side. We dressed in our finest and set the table with fancy plates, beautiful silverware, and the embroidered napkins. We spread Chinese take-out on the plates and ate fortune cookies for dessert. In a sense, we were celebrating our friendships and diversity more than the holiday itself.

For me, the Chinese-Jewish-Christmas was an affirmation of a newfound independence that inadvertently came into my life with my second family. Before then, I had grown socially dependent on my six-pack.I became friends with six girls from Southeast Asia, other “Brownies.” We were inseparable in my freshman year. I always dreamed of attending Stuyvesant High School but it seemed like a foreign place in my first days of Ninth Grade. Initially gravitating towards people of my “kind,” other Southeast Asians, other “Brownies,” made the adjustment easier.

During the summer apart, I discovered more of my self beyond the group through my notebook. I started writing. My notebook started off as a diary almost, but it quickly became more. I filled it with everything I could: quotes I liked, scans of passages from books I loved, doodles and drawings, my own writing, lists of what my mother needed from the grocery store; anything. I let everything pour onto those unlined, recycled pages. These pages gave me a new view of what I wanted my life to become. So when I returned to school in the fall, it wasn’t a surprise when I pursued my interests more aggressively.

In the beginning of my sophomore year, I wanted to join so many clubs.  As I branched out into activities that my six-pack blatantly rejected, I made new friends and ultimately found my diverse second family. I joined the school newspaper, read my prose at Open Mic, and danced in a school performance. Though those experiences, I met the new friends who became my second family. When rehearsals ran late, I ate with them and took the train home with them. After the shows, the bond between us continued. We live in different parts of New York City but we make it easy to hang out by choosing a location that’s an even commute for all of us. To this day, they’re my best friends; they’re my second family. We may not agree on everything, but that’s why our friendship is so strong: we respect each others’ views and opinions.

I don’t avoid friendships with people who are racially like myself, but I have learned to see the limitations when I confine myself to a friendship based on skin color. Through my second family, I learned I can adopt elements of any culture I choose to embrace on my terms. I can be happy eating Chinese food on Christmas Eve.

Saru Nanda, a 2013 graduate of Stuyvesant High School, will be a freshman at Carnegie Mellon University in the fall.


The Asset in Failing to be a Master

by Courtney Armstrong

I’m sixteen years old and hiding in a garage in Grand Central Station. There are about fifty of us total, although I’m hiding with only eight at the moment–all wearing Mardi Gras outfits. We’re playing Hide and Go Seek as a way to both celebrate Mardi Gras and kick off the weekend. This isn’t my sole definition of a satisfying Friday night. I’m perfectly fine just talking to my penpal in Canada, or simply sitting in my room listening to the “Top 25 Most played” playlist on my iPod, which probably says more about me than words ever can. There are a few songs of Japanese electronic pop music I can’t understand. There’s Nirvana and Alice in Chains. Eminem, the Foo Fighters, and Within Temptation are also on the list. What movies do I love? The Hangover and Princess Monoke are in my Top 100; I can’t decide on a top ten. After all, any movie amuses me as long as the acting is good and it won’t give me nightmares. Actually, I would probably be a nightmare for those college admissions consultants who see the gold, or say crimson, in applicants who excelled beyond teenage normality in one single passion. Helicopter parents trying to package their prized college applicant/child with a neat and safe profound area of expertise would wish they had given me up for adoption.

It wasn’t a big deal when I was little. If anything, the fact that I had basic knowledge of how to play four different instruments and  knew the rules of seemingly every sport came off as cool to my classmates. However, as I became an adolescent and started high school, my classmates–once so impressed by my versatility– no longer admired my variety. Sure, the bass guitar was my fifth instrument, but what was that worth considering my mediocre talent? Myself excluded, everyone seemed to have something they had mastered that set them apart from everyone else. They settled on a passion or simple hobby.  George was known throughout our school as a professional-level pianist. Kim was one of the most amazing artists. Ellen was the tri-varsity athlete and Cathy made her own clothes.  What did I have? Nothing! Because my interests were spread so widely, I deemed myself as passionless at a time when everyone said the best colleges favored those with a single passion setting them apart from normal teenagers. I did not see my numerous experiences as assets. I saw myself as a girl without definition just blending into the crowd. Who else to blame but my parents? After listening to George play piano one night, I furiously asked myself:  Why did those parents of mine listen to me when I asked to drop piano? I was also mad at myself. Why didn’t I have the vision to see versatility as the destruction of my future? I saw myself as damaged goods, and unable to tie myself down to one thing as a teenager. I was a jack of all trades but a master of none.

Then came an interest that I could not drop: film. I fell in love with film in the middle of my high school career. Inspired by the trailer for comedy sketch group, “Derrick Comedy’s” new movie, “Mystery Team” on Youtube, my good friend DJ and I set out to make a movie of our own. We borrowed cameras and tripods from the school’s computer and technology lab and the rest was in the palm of our hands. Suddenly my variety proved itself to be an advantage. It seemed easier to think outside the box and my way of jumping between ideas saved our first film from monotony. In film, being a jack-of-all-trades did ultimately help me to become a master. No, I have not won an Oscar or even directed a full- length feature film yet. However, when I enter college, I will be able to use film to strongly explore my interest in psychology. Film’s assorted nature also complements my own, which keeps me both constantly excited and motivated.  I’m never bored with film. It is too soon to say whether I have found my permanent passion in making movies. For now, I can wish that my experiences one day demonstrate that there is hope for those who do not discover their defining factor in life before graduating from high school. Perhaps I am also a model for those who do not consider a single hobby as the only way to measure self-worth.


Courtney Armstrong is a sophomore at Carnegie Mellon University. She is a psychology major with a minor in creative writing. She is a 2011 graduate of The Trinity School in New York, NY.