Tell me about your research.
I am interested in the spatial characteristics of knots and developing mathematical theories based upon them.
What brought you to UCSB?
I grew up in Wisconsin and worked at MIT—both of those places are cold and snowy, so Santa Barbara’s great climate definitely drew me in. I’ve been very blessed to contribute to UCSB’s growth and interacted with my amazing colleagues over the years.
What did you study as an undergraduate and graduate student?
As an undergraduate at MIT, I started out wanting to be an engineer, but when I discovered math, I decided to major in it since I loved it and excelled at it. After graduating from MIT, I went to the University of Wisconsin to get a PhD in math, and finally back to MIT for my postdoc.
When did you realize you wanted to be a professor?
I never really had a vision to be a professor, I just really enjoyed teaching, doing research, writing papers, and working with my colleagues. I guess I’ve always I enjoyed the aspects of being a professor. But my transition from MIT to UCSB is when I came to grips with making education a career.
How did you get involved with CSEP?
I recruited the current director of CSEP, Ofelia, to UCSB to help me with programs dedicated to recruiting, supporting, and enabling underrepresented students to be successful in engineering and science. I myself was an underrepresented student from Wisconsin, and without the support of the institute at MIT, I never would have been able to survive.
What motivated you to start the SIMS program?
The guidance I received as an undergraduate was incredibly helpful to me, and as a professor I wanted to provide that to my students. I want to help students be successful and feel at home at UCSB.
What is the most rewarding part of being involved with SIMS?
Definitely thinking of the students who have benefited from the program makes me feel like I've done something useful.
What is the most rewarding part of being a professor?
For me, the most important thing I do as a professor is interacting with the students. I am very curious, and I get to do lots of research with my friends and colleagues to generate new mathematics, but to know something I’ve done makes a difference in a students’ life very humbling and rewarding.
What is one of your proudest accomplishments?
I think I would say being the “M” in the HOMFLY polynomial. That was one of the most amazing opportunities I’ve had—to discover something that has created new research fields and impacted research all over. Knowing my name is going to live forever in mathematics and is really amazing considering I’m just a farm boy from Wisconsin.
What is your current involvement with CSEP?
Long ago I stopped submitting research grants and began putting my energy and money into writing proposals to support CSEP programs like SIMS. I want to devote my time and effort to helping students.
How is it working with the CSEP staff?
It’s great to work together with CSEP to put together programs that really make a difference to students. Last year I organized an international mathematics meeting in Greece, and I felt that we should really bring students to it. With CSEP’s support, I was able to get a grant with enough money to support students from all over the US to go to this meeting and it was absolutely superb.
What do you like to do for fun?
I love to scuba dive; my daughter got me involved in it many years ago. My favorite place to dive is always the next place! But I must say my favorite places I’ve dived are French Polynesia and the Maldives.