Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Serendipity?

I just spent over two hours talking to Peter about the development at TEAL (Technology Enriched Active Learning) at MIT (we still need to talk about bring TEAL to SUTD (Singapore University of Technology and Design) but we're saving that for another conversation)- we talked about the grants, the politics, the administrative figures and the scholarly collaborations that made it happen.  A we were wrapping up, Peter asked if I knew the real reason John designed the reform and fought so hard to make it a permanent part of MIT physics.  I replied, "he said there was a lot of money floating around and he had been working with Dr. Beichner on another project to develop computer based educational simulations".  Peter raised an eyebrow and asked again, "No, that's not the real reason he got into this physics education stuff in the first place".  I replied a little more tentatively, "he told me he felt that he felt future projects couldn't beat putting the voyager space craft in orbit so he wanted to end on a high note and switch gears".  Peter looked at me and said "he fell in love".  And it's true.  He married the director of MIT's educational technology initiative and she "opened his eyes.  He had an epiphany and she made he knew nothing about teaching physics".  And so it began.
Serendipity was actually Peter's word for the whole situation.  His own story was equally as interesting and unconvential.  Arriving at MIT to finish his PhD with a professor in the math department, he was lucky enough to take advantage of an interesting string of opportunities that perfectly prepared him for his current role managing all the curriculum for TEAL at MIT and SUTD (along with some side projects like 'misty Italy' and some physics programs in South America... I'm hoping he can hook me up haha).  He wasn't specifically interested in education but he was enlisted lot help out with some experimental courses that sound amazing.  In 8.01x, students would receive a red box filled with random supplies that could be purchased at a hardware store.   When the integrated studies program talked about time, they built watches, when they talked about food, they cooked chinese food, when they talked about automobiles, they built engines.
He reflected "The point is serendipity is a critical factor.  I realize this in my case- things that happen almost by accident.  There's a moment in time where something happens- it could be by chance, it could be an accident but then after awhile, you realize that there's a process- these opportunities kind of open up and you can start to anticipate when the opportunity is there..."
Peter said he's not religious and I don't know if I'd attribute all this to serendipity or something greater but it's truly amazeballs how this wacky world works.  Most of the time, I feel like I'm blindly bumping around this world.  I have an idea of where I want to end up but especially this summer, I've been trying to wake up with an open mind and see where each day takes me.  And so far, things couldn't have worked out better.  Who knows why i turned down working with a science education department to work with Reddy, the random Indian man from the National University of Singapore homepage who specializes in solid-state electronics and batteries.  But now I live walking distance of SUTD.  If I waited until next year, SUTD would be in their new campus on the other side of the country.  What are the chances that the 14 nerds selected to go to Singapore are all awesome, adventurous people?  I never even met Deb at orientation and it turns out she's more like me than probably anyone I've ever met (and that's not easy... Couchsurfers tell me all the time that they've never met anyone like me but after readsing my blog, even deb's brother admitted "she sounds like a perfect friend for you").  Ken hadn't even heard about the EAPSI fellowship until the deadline was extended.  He wanted to go to Japan but they told them they wanted him in Singapore.  After re-writing his proposal twice, he ended up here and decided to spend a week with a relatively random girl in Thailand.  And we had the best trip ever.  I'm a physicist and a believer in quantum mechanics so I know that there's some inherent, unavoidable randomness in the universe we live in.  But life is too beautiful for me to deny that there are greater forces at work that arrange the probability densities in our favor. ;)
For example, why did those two Chinese ladies chose the clueless blonde on the street to ask directions from?  Other than what became an awesome night on the town and an evening in their home cooking together.  Why did applying to teach a nuclear science course in North Carolina turn into teaching Engineering in India?  I don't know but I've always wanted to change the world and it world and several of those kids wrote in their evaluations that those were the most life changing 3 weeks in their livestock date.
Dumpling lady- one of the happiest people I've ever met
Certainly as I was cruising on the floating house tour, I was overwhelmed with wonderment about how I could have grown up anywhere, could have grown up as anyone- I could have grown up running around naked, dropping puppies, feeding crocs on my floating crocodile farm and getting in gunfights with random foreigners who materialize at my house.  It just makes you wonder...
Adorable boy in the floating village in Cambodia
Tonight, I met Kaz, Sam and two Vietnamese sisters for dinner and a drink at One Altitude.  It was an incredibly classy choice- not crowded and there was an incredible trio playing trio playing some of my favorite songs- Lana Del Rey, Lady Antebellum and Jason Mraz... and the view put Ku de Ta to shame! It's the highest al fresco bar in the world.  It was so high that I got all these text messages since my cell phone thought I was in Malaysia- no Indonesia!  It didn't know what to think.  But I will be in Indonesia tomorrow!  Which reminds me- I should get packing!  Bye!
Kalle, Evie, me and Sam 282 meters in the sky!