Friday, May 22, 2009

Utah man sir, will be til I die! Ki-yi!

Just picked up the final printed/bound copies of my dissertation. I'm not 100% sure, but I think this means I'm all done. And by all done, I mean ALL done. All DONE. ALL DONE. After approximately 10 years of being a student at the University, I think I may have finally finished up with that.

I was up at the U last month for a concert and my friend asked me how long I'd been familiar with the U campus. I really had to think about that, because it's been a part of my life for so long -- well before I ever was a student there. When I was a kid my dad would take us to the Natural History museum to look at the dinosaur bones on a Saturday or a day we were out of school. A little later, we took some youth education courses there at the Museum, including one that my saintly mother had to lie about my age to get me into.

Anyway, aside from those classes (I remember taking one on animal intelligence, but don't remember if we went to others), I also remembering going to Utah football games as a very young child, and my dad making us walk what seemed like miles and miles (he parked at the old Armory on Guardsman Way), and then feeling like the games lasted for hours and hours. What I mostly remember was that we had candy, and eating too much of it. When I was a little older we went to a Utah football game for my birthday one year. I continued going to Utah football and basketball games off and on as I was growing up, and we always watched the teams on TV.

When I was in 7th grade, I participated in something called Utah Talent Search where they let middle school kids take the ACT, and I won a scholarship to a summer youth education program called the Youth Academy of Excellence, (nerd camp basically) at the University of Utah. My parents bought me a bus pass and for two weeks I would ride UTA in from Grantsville to downtown Salt Lake and then transfer up to the U. Our group would meet in the Union building and we often take field trips off campus or to labs on campus to learn about interesting stuff. I usually got to the Union a little before things were going to get started, and loved to watch college kids play NBA Jam and try to see what codes they used to unlock secret players or other upgrades. One time I even saw two guys open up a weird mode where they were driving polygon tanks and shooting at stuff. But I digress. I participated in the Youth Academy of Excellence the next summer as well, and I have to say I miss some of the fountains that used to be on campus. When I was up there today, I noticed that the fountain between Student Services and the Union, which hasn't had water in it for years is now gone. There also used to be one over by the old business loop, where the Museum of Fine Arts is located now.

As I moved on to high school, I think most of my interaction with the U surrounded coming to sporting events. I remember one year my friend's dad had a tailgate permit and we used to come up before the games in their van and eat KFC in the parking lot. One game it the weather was terrible, and I'm not ashamed to admit we stayed in the van listening to the game on the radio rather than go out and sit in the rain. Obviously I outgrew those days. :)

As I neared high school graduation, I received lots of mail from lots of colleges all over the country. Not sure how they find out about you, but somehow they do. I went to USU for Engineering State the summer after my Junior year and had a lot of fun at that, and went back the following December to test for their uber-top scholarships (didn't get one). My brother was already a student up there and I thought that might be a fun place to go. I even went on a recruiting weekend at BYU. The U never invited me up for anything as far as I can recall, but when it came to apply for admissions I only sent apps to Utah and USU. I was accepted at both with a marginally better scholarship offer from the U. I'm not 100% sure how I ended up deciding to go there, but I do recall my dad suggesting that quality of school might matter more in the long run than just having lots of fun.

Anyhow, I ended up choosing the U, and also getting into a summer high school research program where I "got to" live in the old dorms during the week. I had a room in Van Cott Hall and let's just say generations of student will forever underappreciate the quality of the new dorms/Olympic Village. I spend the summer working in a genetics lab up in the Eccles Human Genetics building, where among other things, I fed fruit flies and harvest larvae. Something about the experience led me to decide that I didn't want to be a geneticist. Which left me in a bit of a quandry about what I ought to study in my time at the U.

That fall I got an apartment with a couple of my high school friends who were also going to be going to the U (I think there were only 3 of 4 of us from my graduating class who came to Salt Lake, most college-bound folks went to USU, BYU, SUU, or elsewhere), and for about a month we were just chillin' in our super cheap bachelor pad (we were paying $500/month split 4 ways). I had a variety of one-time payment scholarships, so I didn't have to work that year and just got used to the college life of homework and tests and what not. I met one of my best friends, Shawn, in my biology and calculus class (taught by KG himself, Ken Golden) and we've been great friends since then. He just lived down the hill from campus and often after classes we'd hop in my silver shuttle (1987 Toyota Mini-van) and cruise down to his place, which was infinitely nicer than mine, and then he'd kick my butt at SFII. My high school friend roommates got into a fair amount of booze and a little bit of drugs, so I was glad to have an LDS friend to relate to. Two of the four moved out at the end of the first quarter and we found random roommates by posting openings up on campus.

I was a biology major for just one quarter (this was the last year the U was on quarters) and then decided Computer Science was the life for me. Unfortunately because we were now 1 quarter into a 3 quarter year and when I got back from my mission the U would be on semesters, I couldn't really get started on coursework for my pre-reqs, other than finishing up my Calc series and taking a bunch of generals, along with an Intro CS course, taught by one of my all time favorite CS profs, JZ (Joe Zachary). The Runnin' Utes advanced to the national title game that spring, nearly winning the title.

In the spring, I got my mission call to Argentina, and enjoyed what would be the last Mayfest (what with the changing of the schedule), where Everclear came and played on the Union lawn for free, and other bands were jamming all week long. In June, I headed back home to G-ville for a couple weeks and then hit the road for two years of awesome missionary life.

Upon returning to the U, School kept me busy as I finished pre-reqs and got into the CS program. I got a job as a receptionist at the College of Pharmacy, one of my all-time favorite jobs. If only $8.00 an hour were enough to live on. :) I worked there full-time in the summer and then part-time when school was back in, including walking up there from parking down at the old dorms during the Olympics when everything up by the village was fenced in. Every day, I would watch inspectors check cars with more access than mine for explosives while I walked past with my backpack unmolested. After two summers of working there, I applied for and got a job as a Teaching Assistant in the CS program and did that for the next year and a half or so. I worked a summer job as an intern for the LDS Church doing software development and testing in the Temple Department and made some great friends there, even some who were big (but rational) BYU fans.

I still found time to see my fair share of basketball, football, and volleyball games, and still remember the first pep rally that Urban Meyer came to and had his coming out party at. In my previous years I'd never seen a coach reach out to the student body like that and his enthusiasm and confidence that something special could happen at the U were contagious. His motto of "Why not us? Why not now?" set the tone for two amazing years, spanning my last year of undergrad and my first year of grad school.

That last summer before my last semester, I started thinking that maybe grad school was something I ought to do, since people kept asking me what I was going to do with my CS degree and I didn't really know other than "be a programmer". I just wasn't sold on doing more in-depth CS stuff. Another friend of mine was telling me about this Medical Informatics thing that was like a go-between for programmers and doctors and I ended up applying for that program and getting accepted. Now, my friend Jon just started his PhD in chemistry and he spend all spring flying out to visit various programs and getting wined and dined and recruited. I didn't even know if there were other schools that had a program called Medical Informatics and whether or not the U's progras was even a good one. Turns out it's perhaps the oldest or 2nd oldest program in the country. So, I guess I could have done a better job researching my options, but I really didn't even know what I was going to be studying to be honest, much less what kind of research I would be doing to get my degree. My initial plan was just to get a Master's degree (what would I do with a PhD?) but the department made me a funding offer that I couldn't refuse that was tied to my getting a PhD. So that's how I ended up doing 5 more years of school at the U.

During my time as a grad student, I spent a lot of time off-campus, working on my research project with Intermountain Healthcare. However, I also enjoyed being a member of the Muss, and seeing the Utah football team go to, and win, 2 BCS bowl games -- twice in my 5 years, can you believe it? I enjoyed going to see Yellowcard, Mos Def, Shiny Toy Guns, Girl Talk, and Lupe Fiasco live in concert, at free or low-low prices, on the Union lawn.

Long story short, I now have a great job working for Intermountain Healthcare, one of the worldwide leaders in Informatics and Electronic Medical Records, and I'll be getting hooded this weekend, bringing an end of sorts to my time at the U. However, as you can tell from this essay, I think it's pretty clear that the U will always have a special place in my heart and I'd be very surprised if I don't still make a habit of heading up to campus on a fairly regular basis, if for nothing else, to watch the football team kick some butt. Now if I could only find season tickets for less than $300/seat.

No comments: