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Alumni Profiles

Head shot of Alax Altair
Class of 2004

Current Name:

Alex (Powell) Altair

Graduation Year and years at MSSM:

2004 after 3 years at MSSM  

Hometown/Sending School:

Thomaston

Where did you go after MSSM?:

I spent some time at both Worcester Polytechnic Institute and UMaine Orono, but didn't graduate from either. Instead I found my way to Berkeley, California, and joined a growing community called the "rationalists". I spent several years as a software engineer.

What are you doing now?:

In 2022, I finally went full-time as an independent researcher in a new field called agent foundations. (You can read more about my research here.) I'm essentially trying to put myself through grad school (which I think is going quite well) while seeing if I can usefully contribute along the way. So after many years of not doing math, I'm back in the full swing of it.

What is your favorite (or one of your favorite) memory from MSSM?:

One night, someone came into our room around 3am and said, guys, you have to look outside! We opened the shades, and there was the aurora borealis! We were awestruck. I called my girlfriend on the phone (the landlines that each room had) and said, hey I'm sorry to wake you, but you have to look outside! The guys in my wing decided that we had to go out onto the fields to see the whole sky. I was a pretty rule-following kid, but I knew we wouldn't be blamed for this. So we snuck out the window and watched the streaks in the sky for a while.

What class/teacher most sticks out in your mind?:

Mr. Sid. His linear algebra class was my first exposure to rigorous mathematics, and you could see that he loved every minute of teaching it. After we learned about Boolean algebra in Intro to programming, I came to Mr Sid and said, this feels kind of like a vector space. How is it related? He led me through the axioms, and we could see that it was *not* a vector space. We looked it up and found that it was a "distributive lattice". It had its own axioms, some of which overlapped with vector spaces, and some which didn't. This was when I started getting a sense of what it was like to explore mathematics, and not just be taught it.

If you could go back in time, what would you tell your past self as you prepare for MSSM?:

I'm not sure what would have been helpful here. It went quite well overall. I had more or less One Big Problem, which is something about attention control. And I've built some functional systems accommodating for that, but it would take a while to usefully convey it to my younger self, and it also seems to be pretty idiosyncratic.

Otherwise, I'd tell myself to pay more attention to people.

What role did MSSM play in who or where you are now?:

All the conversations with my peers helped me work out a lot of my worldview; things like how the universe works, where values come from, how society should be organized, what the future might look like, and what we should do about it. I think I would have ended up in a similar place without MSSM, but MSSM enabled me to work through it much earlier and with more people. MSSM also showed me that there were other people "like me", and gave me my first sense of a community.

What is the best book/movie/tv show you can recommend to your fellow alumni?:

One book I enjoyed reading recently was The Anthropocene Reviewed. It's entertaining, it's full of nerdy tidbits of information, and it infuses everything around you with a sense of meaning and wonder, without imposing on the reader what that meaning is exactly. It prompts the reader to reflect and then to use those reflections moving forward.

 

Professional photo of Heather Merriman
Class of 1998

Current Name:

Heather Merriman (she/her)

Graduation Year:

1998  11th + 12th grade (back when it was a 2-year program)

Hometown/Sending School:

Harpswell, Mt. Ararat High School

Where did you go after MSSM?:

I attended the University of Maine, and graduated with a B.S. in Civil and Environmental Engineering. I stayed in Maine after college working for over a decade at a New England-based engineering firm (where I interned while at MSSM, and again in college) before changing course and going out on my own. During that transition I served as the general contractor overseeing the construction of my home in Harpswell--a move back to my hometown where Merrimans have lived for many generations, started a family and a new career path.

What are you doing now?:

I run my own environmental engineering business specializing in wastewater treatment and disposal. For me, it's work that is never dull. Each project is a unique puzzle, and I choose when, where, and with whom, I want to work (most of the time).

I don't think it's a bad thing to have more than one passion. I volunteer in support of innovative education across the state, including serving on the MSSM Foundation board. Becoming a parent is what sparked a calling to contribute to making the educational landscape in Maine the best it can be. Making space for kids to play in and study nature to find their sense of place and path to benefiting society is part of what gets me out of bed in the morning. Once I'm up, I also like gardening, hiking, working on a home improvement project, and being in a boat along the coast of Maine with my husband, daughter, and any other friends or family that want to tag along.

What is your favorite (or one of your favorite) memory from MSSM?: While the cafeteria was available for all the meals, I fondly remember cooking food with friends in the dormitory kitchen (which was much more basic than it is today). How about fresh avocado on top of that pizza with premade crust? While I've graduated to better cooking skills (and knives), being with friends and making them a meal has remained deeply satisfying in my life, and it's even more sweet when my classmates from almost 30(!) years ago are the people gathered at my table.


What class/teacher most sticks out in your mind?:

I enjoyed the contrast and connection that existed to the classes that were not the classic math and science courses. I will always be thankful that I took anthropology. In my undergraduate program, only 3 non-degree-associated elective slots existed over the 4 years, and I had an AP credit for one of them. My high school exposure to anthropology led me into some interesting upper-level courses that I would have never explored (or gotten into without the prereq) as my college electives if it wasn't for the chance to find out I was fascinated with anthropology. Shout out for the social science offerings at MSSM!

What role did MSSM play in who or where you are now?:

MSSM made space for me to find my interest in engineering. MSSM originally felt like a good fit for me because I had the early desire to pursue medicine. Dreams of internships at the NIH danced in my head as a 15-year-old. However, when that wasn't the right fit, the depth and breadth of the background of the faculty made it possible to explore other ways to immerse in science and head toward a career that I've enjoyed for over 2 decades. It also can't go unnoted that I made life-long friends at MSSM, some I am lucky to see on the regular, and others on more of a Haley's comet timetable, but when we do get back together, it's a bright light in my life.

If you could go back in time, what would you tell your past self as you prepare for MSSM?:

These are the good old days. Truly take the time to be present and enjoy the experience, because they'll be the good old days before you know it!

What is the best book/movie/tv show you can recommend to your fellow alumni?:

Watch Ted Lasso. If Apple TV+ isn't currently part of your streaming portfolio, sign up and binge Ted! The hilarity and happiness the show brought into my household during the pandemic made it extra special and worth the time on the couch. And, to offset your couch comedy time with some science time, Breath by James Nestor was the first book I read to kick off 2024.

 

Ekaterina (Katya) Bezborodko standing next to the academic building.
Class of 2002

Current Name: 

Ekaterina (Katya) Bezborodko

Graduation Year and years at MSSM:

2002; after 2 years at MSSM

Hometown/Sending School:

Rockland District High School  in Rockland, Maine

Where did you go after MSSM?:

I went to Bowdoin College, where I also spent a year in London, which is when I learned about my current discipline of geography. After college, I lived in Boston, then went to central New Jersey and then New York City for graduate school in human geography.

What are you doing now?:

I'm back at MSSM! After ten years of living in NYC, I packed two suitcases on ten days' notice and moved to Limestone by Cyr Bus, arriving just ten days before school started this year. Mr. Mark Tasker, the prior humanities teacher who was also my teacher when I attended MSSM, had recently left his position at MSSM, and I am now teaching social science classes such as sociology, economics, and, of course, a lot of geography.   I look forward to sharing students' mapping projects with the MSSM and broader community.  I welcome my fellow alumni to visit me on Trafton Avenue (bring friends, family, kids, dogs, etc.). I will definitely continue the tradition of MSSM teachers snowshoeing to work.

What is your favorite (or one of your favorite) memory from MSSM?:

There are too many! From encountering a bear on my very first walk in the woods (with Jill M. and Devin L.), to trying and failing to synthesize alum over and over again in chemistry class, to staging As You Like It (with student director Mary R.), cleaning the cafeteria on Friday nights while Garret S. played Motown music, and solemnifying the Fundamental Theorem of Calculus Day, there were many vivid and character-building experiences.

What class/teacher most sticks out in your mind?:

It is so hard to single out just one. Mr. Dougan and Dr. Faleski really worked us hard and insisted on high quality scientific reasoning and careful procedures - hence synthesizing alum five times. I forever associate 80s music with physics now, from all the times Dr. Faleski had additional office hours for our difficult problem sets. Mr. Tasker's holistic approach to social studies has definitely influenced my teaching today; I especially appreciated the mythology course.

If you could go back in time, what would you tell your past self as you prepare for MSSM?:

There is no reason for anyone to feel imposter syndrome at this school.  We are all in this together.

What role did MSSM play in who or where you are now?:

Maybe I would have applied to teach at MSSM even if I were not an alumna, but the fact that I've been here before was reassuring when I decided to make an abrupt change in my life.

What is the best book/movie/tv show you can recommend to your fellow alumni?:

Inspiring science fiction, like The Dispossessed by Ursula Le Guin or speculative fiction books by Kim Stanley Robinson that suggest a future in a world of climate change.  It is particularly fitting for all those of our alumni who work in the sciences, as scientists are often the main protagonists in these books.

 

 

Devin Ward rowing
Class of 2011

Current Name:

Devin Ward

Graduation Year and years at MSSM:

2011 after 3 years at MSSM

Hometown/Sending School:

Greenville Jct, Greenville Middle School

Where did you go after MSSM?:

After MSSM I moved a lot between degrees and jobs. I finished my BS at Rutgers University, then my MPhil at Cambridge (Darwin College), and finally a PhD at the University of Toronto, with jobs in Arizona, Italy, and Gibraltar in between. 

What are you doing now?:

Now, I am living in London, UK and working as a Senior Editor for Springer Nature (Nature Communications). I handle research in evolution, but more specifically palaeontology, archaeology, zoology, genetics, and biomechanics.

What is your favourite (or one of your favourite) memory from MSSM?:

I roomed with Elizabeth/Julien my second and third years at MSSM. Once we offered our room up as available for tours, and as luck would have it, a state senator came to visit at a time when were were both in class, our room was a complete mess, and we’d left the Lord of the Rings soundtrack playing on our speakers.  I’m not sure what kind of an impression it made, but it was the perfect setup for collaborating to finish assignments last minute (especially a particular poster assignment for AP US History that I don’t know if we ever admitted to Mr. Melega was completed the evening before it was due). 

What class/teacher most sticks out in your mind?:

AP Bio with Dr. E-G had labs I really liked, but in particular I remember a lab I initially wasn’t looking forward to.  We were in groups and had two connected Petri dishes each, timing how long it took pill bugs to all move from the dish with the dry paper towel over to the dish with the wet paper towel.  Somehow this ended up becoming a competition between groups and resulted in loud cheering for the unaware pill bugs, which surely echoed down the halls.  I like this memory because it’s an excellent example of how MSSM students can find the fun in just about anything.

If you could go back in time, what would you tell your past self as you prepare for MSSM?:

I spent years at MSSM using a canvas tote bag to carry my books etc. from the dorms to class. As a much older person with ongoing back problems, I would tell myself to bring a supportive backpack.

What role did MSSM play in who or where you are now?:

I can honestly say that the only other time I’ve worked as hard as I did at MSSM was during my PhD.  Beyond that, MSSM fostered my excitement about new topics, which lends itself perfectly to a job where I can learn about new research every day.

What is the best book/movie/tv show you can recommend to your fellow alumni?:

I won’t claim it to be the best, but recently I’ve really enjoyed Ted Chiang’s “Exhalation” and Kate Clancy’s “Period”.

Kineo Wallace standing on a rocket he created.
Class of 2013

Current Name:

Kineo Wallace

Graduation Year and years at MSSM?

2013 after 2 years at MSSM

Hometown/Sending School:

Penquis Valley High School in Milo, Maine

Where did you go after MSSM?:

Florida Institute of Technology for my undergraduate in Aerospace Engineering and my Masters in Space Systems Engineering

What are you doing now?:

I am the lead propulsion and fluids engineer at Vaya Space and the inventor of the Supercritical Oxygen Expander Cycle Hybrid Rocket Engine which is powered by recycled High Density Polyethylene

What is your favorite memory from MSSM?:

One of my favorite memories of MSSM is when a large group of us went mudsliding down the hill by the baseball dugouts in the middle of a thunderstorm to which Mr. Grillo came screaming out to yell at us and drag us back inside because he was afraid we'd get struck by lightning

What class/teacher most sticks out in your mind?:

Pete Peterson in Calc 1 because he was able to teach me how to learn and he was not afraid to challenge his students.

If you could go back in time, what would you tell your past self as you prepare for MSSM?:

Savor every moment of it, they say college is the best time of your life, but MSSM can be just as good if not better in some moments. It's like getting to do college twice. It's not something many people get to do, so take full advantage of it. Enjoy some extra classes, spend more time on exploring the world, and using the resources that are provided to you at the school.

What role did MSSM play in who or where you are now?:

MSSM is 100% a major reason as to why I am who I am today. MSSM taught me how to fail, how to learn from that failure, and most of all how to learn. Because of MSSM I was able to spend less time during my first years of college learning this which afforded me the ability to do many different research projects and studies with my professors which ultimately leads me to where I am today as a lead engineer.

What is the best book/movie/tv show you can recommend to your fellow alumni?:

Good to Great, an excellent book that explains not only how to live in the business world, but also in life.