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Grew up in a military family, moved around from Maryland, to North Carolina, to New York. That was very helpful to me in the long run because I became a person who could adapt. Having a military dad, for those people who understand what that means, means there’s going to be a certain level of discipline in your household, and that discipline also was extremely helpful.
I was always pushed, and it was about the eighth grade though, that my academic life actually exceeded anything that my parents had encountered. So I made mistakes along the way, but I did the really, really important things right. I made sure I had good grades, I made sure I had good relationships with my teachers so I can get letters of recommendations, I was involved in extracurricular activities and other activities that helped round me as a student. So I had the big rocks put in but maybe not all of the small ones and probably not a lot of sand either. Once I got in college I actually became a much better student than I was in high school. Because of that, I had lots of opportunities for graduate school. The NC State years were probably some of the most fun years I ever had. I worked really, really hard, but I had lots and lots of fun.
My mom has gone on and received her bachelor’s degree, after I received mine. I pushed her: “You've got to go back and get it.” She put so much in to others. I mean even when I was a little kid, it was myself, my brother, and my sister, and I remember we didn't have a lot as a family, but she was always giving back. She’d invite other kids and it meant I had to split my pork chop. And I didn't like it! (Laughing.) So for her to give so much and then to receive was really a crowning achievement.
You know, I always knew I would get an undergraduate degree, always knew it. Never thought I would get a Ph.D. To commemorate getting my Ph.D., I wanted to just do something over the top. So a group of us, most of us first-generation graduates, took a trip down the Nolichucky. I said, if I can go through and get this Ph.D., I can get down the bottom of this river without falling out of the boat, and that was my goal. And so we did that, and safe to say, I did not fall out of the boat. Others fell out, but not me. Going through what I came through, and getting to where I am now, any little problem that you put in front of me, can't have been as difficult and as hard to traverse, as that one. And I've carried that with me forever. So needless to say I take a lot more risks than most people do, because I believe at the end, I can do it.