As anyone who has tried to learn a second language knows, languages can be tough to learn and even more challenging to master. CEMS student Owen Brady has taken great strides in the Spring 2009 semester towards mastering his language of choice: ballroom dancing.
Owen has always been comfortable discussing his passion for ballroom dancing and the large role it plays in his life. Since this Spire interview, Owen and his partner Kyriel Pineault (a biology major in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences) have made a large impact at several prominent ballroom competitions.
They placed second in the nation in the smooth category at the USA Dance National Dancesport Championships in Baltimore, MD. (The couple that took first was also from UVM.) And the weekend of April 25-26 at the MIT Open Ballroom Competition, the largest ballroom competition in the country, they beat out up to 150 other couples per dance in eight dances to place first in five dances, second in two, and fifth in the eighth dance, which ranked them first overall in the bronze standard category.
While languages are never easy to learn, especially in the midst of a rigorous engineering curriculum, it seems that Owen is well on his way to fluency.
"Dancing is a universal language. You can go anywhere in the world, and if someone knows the foxtrot, you can dance with them even if you don't speak the same language."
So says Owen Brady, a CEMS junior in the School of Engineering. This is not a typical quote from someone who is majoring in mechanical engineering and is a certified auto mechanic, and who is 21 years old! But Owen, who hails from Northampton, Massachusetts, is not your typical student.
Owen's father is a professor of geology at Smith College, so he has always been exposed to academia. The Northampton area boasts five large colleges (Smith, Amherst, Mt. Holyoke, Hampshire, and U. Mass Amherst) and this atmosphere provides lots of cultural and educational diversity. Though Owen played soccer and baseball as a youngster, he also spent many summers in Montana and Wyoming where his father would be conducting research or teaching classes.
"As most engineers would probably say, I was greatly interested in Legos, K'NEX, and any other building materials I could get my hands on," says Owen. "I was also always interested in math and solving puzzles. When my family and I were skiing at Smugglers Notch each winter, I would have my father ask me math questions during the chair lift ride."
Owen was doing well as a student, but in his junior year of high school he began to feel a sense of disenchantment with public school and the way that the curriculum was constructed. With the help of the guidance staff and administrations of both his high school and the local vocational school, he was able to help form a cooperative program between the two. This allowed him to be the first student to attend both high schools simultaneously.
"Being able to influence my education gave me a sense of ownership that helped me to get back on track," Owen explains. "And my academic performance improved significantly. I graduated with a degree from Northampton High School and a degree in automotive technology from Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School."
After high school, Owen moved to California to continue his automotive education. But he came to realize that, despite his aptitude for automotive repair, he didn't want to spend the rest of his life working on other people's cars. So he moved back to Massachusetts and attended Springfield Technical Community College in their engineering program.
Yet the program lacked the challenges he was seeking, so he applied to UVM and Dartmouth. And what made up his mind between the two? "Seeing the progressive work that Dean Grasso was doing regarding holistic engineering education," Owen says, "along with falling in love with Burlington on my campus visit day, made the decision to attend UVM an easy one."
During his time at UVM, Owen has kept busy with his studies and extracurricular activities. He is a rock climbing trip leader for the UVM Outing Club, and he is the fundraising chair for the Salsa and Swing Society. In addition to that, he competes all over the country as a member of the UVM Ballroom Dance team. He is also the founder of the Society for Holistic Engineering Academic Reform (SHEAR), a student society that focuses on educating students about holistic engineering, providing an opportunity for students to experience design in an informal engineering setting, and establishing a line of communication between students and faculty to ensure that they are working together to achieve common goals.
When asked which CEMS professors have been most influential to him, Owen does not hesitate. "The professor who has inspired me the most would be Professor Michael Rosen. My discussions with him have never failed to provide ample ideas to consider and have changed the way that I approach my education. I eagerly anticipate working with him on the senior design project. Other than that, I have been helped a great deal by Professor Robert Jenkins and Professor Ken Golden. Their commitment to teaching and the success of their students exceeded all of my expectations."
As you might expect from someone who started a student chapter to promote academic reform in engineering education, Owen believes strongly in Dean Grasso's efforts to do the same. "I am completely supportive of this approach to engineering. In my own education, I have seen the positive effects of a diverse education, and I strongly feel that any student would benefit from it. There are some who would say that it is a waste of time to take a class in a subject matter that does not directly contribute to their degree. But the ability to think creatively, to analyze a problem drawing on the principles of art, history, sociology or any other discipline, cannot, in my mind, be considered a waste. I truly believe that holistically trained engineers will take the leadership roles in the coming years and I'm very happy that I'm able to be in our college at this time and able to support this transition."
Ballroom dancer, mechanic, engineer-to-be it's clear that Owen Brady will continue to blaze his own path. With his work ethic, personality, and people skills, he is sure to succeed beyond college. In the meantime, he plans to make the best of his time at the College of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences.
"The culture at UVM is one that is unmatched anywhere else," Owen says. "There are people from all geographical areas, walks of life, and economical backgrounds, and because of that, there is a depth of character to the university that is hard to beat. I feel that character carries over to the faculty as well as the student body. CEMS and UVM are wonderful places to come and grow, as both a student and a person."