As Sycamore School’s Class of 2014 prepared to graduate, Dr. Andy Wilson, one of the members of Sycamore’s very first class of graduates, came back to the school to give graduates a final push to their next destination, with advice and lessons he learned at Sycamore
This year, Wilson made his first trip back to Sycamore since his graduation and to spoke to middle school students about his experience at Sandia National Laboratory in Albquerque, Minnesota. While Wilson’s job requires him to blend his advanced knowledge of math, science, and art, he simplifies his work by sharing that he makes “pictures out of data.”
Wilson, one of four students who were part of Sycamore School’s first graduating class in 1989, earned his B.S. in 1997 at Northwestern, and completed his M.S. in 1999 and PhD in 2002 at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He has worked as a Research Scientist at Sandia National Laboratories for 11 years. He lives in Albuquerque with his wife, Kat.
When Wilson visited Sycamore this May, he met with students in grades 5-7 for a TalonTED talk about some of the work he’s been doing recently. Middle School students have been sharing short presentations, called TalonTED talks, about their passions, in the style of TED talks over the past year. Wilson shared the images and videos he created about flight traffic across the US, and the patterns that lie within that data. His presentation to students was just a small sampling of the work that Wilson does everyday.
“I get to work on problems that matter. As a national lab, Sandia's mission is to tackle issues that can and do change the world. I get to learn about lots of different fields. My most satisfying work is done in collaboration with people from other disciplines. I get to use lots of different kinds of knowledge. One of the projects I'm working on right now draws on math, science, art and psychology. Another puts together storytelling and computer security. Perhaps best of all, I get to work with some of the most amazing people I've ever met. Everyone at my lab has worked hard to get there and understands that we can accomplish a lot more as a team than we can on our own.”
Wilson ended his talk by noting the importance of art education. Wilson was a student of Mrs. Eileen Prince, a Sycamore art teacher that has been with Sycamore since it’s inception. “It's 25 years later and I still remember many of the projects we did. As I learned more about art history, I came to understand the breadth of all the things we learned to do and the way it taught me to look at artwork even if I didn't have the vocabulary for it at the time.”
Wilson credits his education at Sycamore School for fundamental lessons that helped him later on. “There's one lesson I learned that runs like a foundation under all the others: Those who say it can't be done shouldn't bother the people doing it. Lots of the things I learned at Sycamore seemed like no big deal at the time. Later on, in high school and college, I would get responses like, ‘Wait, how did you learn to do that?’
“There are infinitely many things that I don't understand. There are almost none that I can’t understand given time, a good library, and the freedom to ask questions. This was true when I was in sixth grade and it's true today.”
Wilson attended graduation and was honored with a Sycamore School pin during the ceremony. He also attended the post-graduation celebration to connect with students and teachers. While he didn’t speak to every student at Sycamore during his visit, he did leave an inspiring message he wanted to pass on to current students.
“You have no idea how proud we are of every single one of you. Your parents, your teachers, those of us who went to Sycamore in the past, all of us. You're something special and you're part of something special. Don't ever doubt that we're behind you.”