I was born in the 80’s in a mid-size town in Wisconsin.
I feel like my start was quite unassuming.
My family had a heavy work ethic and would unwind in true Wisconsin fashion at the end of each week.
I spent many of my earlier days playing on or around the Chippewa river.
This is where I learned to waterski
and enjoy the outdoors.
I worked hard through my high school years to the point where I dropped some of my extra curricular activities.
Hard work and the meager wealth that would bring was always the emphasis from my parents.
I wanted more though.
I found that joining the Air National Guard and attending college was a good compromise.
The military would show that I could work hard and college would help me learn something that could not be had through experience alone.
I started off as an aviation management major at Mankato State University
I had the dream to fly commercially.
This stemmed from both my childhood wish to travel the country, and a discovery flight I took at age 14.
On a field trip to the local airport, we were given coupons for a 30 minute flight were we could touch the controls.
I convinced my parents and was immediately hooked.
I went on to get my private pilot’s license at the age of 17.
I thought that being in the military and studying at the second best aviation school was the fastest way to becoming a commercial pilot.
However, I soon realized that a post September 11th world was not the place where I wanted to be a pilot.
So I thought I would try my hand at my second love, photography.
During my time in Mankato, MN I would take pictures for the occasional wedding of friends and family.
However, what I really enjoyed was taking scenic photographs while traveling.
A friend and fellow military member had a proposition for me.
He really liked the art style and photographs of Ken Duncan
He asked me to research Mr. Duncan’s technique and report back to him the next month whether or not I could reproduce it.
I told him that I would love to emulate Mr. Duncan but I did not have the proper equipment.
He then rented the equipment for me and set me loose for a weekend in Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN.
I returned with many rolls of film.
He was impressed enough to commission me to come to his house in Ft. Lauderdale.
My girlfriend and I went to stay at his house.
He then gave us a car to take up and down the Florida coast and take photos of the best landscapes that we could find.
He was so impressed by the results, he had me print off nearly $5,000 worth of prints for his walls.
The prints ranged from three feet up to eight feet in width.
This spectacular event compelled me to change my major to photography.
I then went to the University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire
While studying photography at UWEC, I struggled to find balance between the new digital techniques and the old silver halide emphasis the department was set up to teach.
I got a job at Awards and More
being a graphic designer.
This allowed me to pursue my interests in Photoshop and inDesign.
Once I had enough credits to take the digital photography classes, I became an unofficial teaching assistant and tutored many of my class mates.
During this time I also got married.
Once she finished her undergraduate degree at UWEC, she was interested in going to graduate school.
We both decided that the best place for her was the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukeee
and I thought that it would be a great place for me to finish out my undergraduate degree.
While going to UWM, I got a job as a school pictures photographer at Visual Image Photography
I quickly identified the areas that my expertise in computers and technology could be utilized.
By the end of the first season, I was offered the position of Assistant Director.
I gladly excepted and thought I would quit classes after the end of the semester.
By the end of the the next year I was the Director of the School Pictures department.
I was in charge of three full time office staff, fifteen part and full time photographers, and over 30 seasonal photographers.
During my time there I befriended the in-house programmer.
His job was to make a custom software to track orders more efficiently though the entire production chain at VIP.
I was fascinated by the process.
I had never programmed anything other than my calculator in middle school.
He started to show me the ins and outs of being a programmer.
He also allowed me to write some code that would benefit my department.
Digital photography became more available to the general public and school picture sales started to stagnate or even slump in some regions.
I saw the writing on the wall, that my career would not progress much farther and the industry would begin to consolidate.
I decided to go back to college and finish off my undergrad degree.
However, I would be going back as a computer science (CS) major.
Because of all of my transfer credits, I was able to focus on programming and math exclusively.
Programming turned out to be the subject matter that made me really pay attention in school.
UWM had a great CS department and taught me everything from high level languages all the way down to the hardware.
This was the first time I felt that I really knew computers.
The circuitry was no longer some magical thing.
I was able to more effectively manipulate and build computers that would suit my needs.
Once I started taking the more advanced programming classes, I looked for a class that would help me tie in my photography skills, or at least manipulate my thousands of images.
Along came a new professor named Dr. Andrew Cohen.
He offered a class entitled “Cell and Tissue Image Analysis.”
This class was cross listed as both an undergrad and graduate level class.
I was nervous taking such a high level class, but I knew that my passion for both CS and images would get me through it.
One day I was having a difficult time on a homework assignment.
I went to Professor Cohen’s office to ask for help.
He was working on a particularly difficult problem of his own when I showed up.
In true professorial manner, he wanted to talk about his work first.
He explained how he was having trouble finding a particular cell in an image.
I offered up some of my photography knowledge on how I would do it in Photoshop.
Our vocabulary was quite different, which made our communication difficult.
He then told me to take the image and manipulate it my way and report back.
I did so by the next day.
It was not quite what he was looking for, but he saw that I had the right ideas and mindset for this type of work.
He proceeded to offer me an hourly job to learn the techniques as well as make a user interface for one of his other projects.
This ended up being a great way for me to use both my newly acquired knowledge of programming and my artistic abilities.
Professor Cohen went on to convince me to continue my education and apply for grad school.
My department had a MS/BS track, where I would take graduate level classes as an undergrad and a portion of them would count towards both.
If you would have told me in high school that I would be getting a college degree let alone a graduate degree, I would not have believed you.
I finished up my undergrad degree and started my masters degree with a semesters worth of credits.
Unbeknownst to me, due to politics, my professor was entertaining his options elsewhere.
One day he came to me and said, “You are getting your Masters degree this semester and you can pursue your PhD at Drexel University.”
Of course this came as quite a shock.
I would have to move my wife and young child half way across the country.
But I couldn’t say no to the opportunity to continue my research at such a respected university.
After 5 years in Philadelphia, and nearing the end of my PhD journey, I accepted a job at HHMI Janelia Research Campus in Virginia.
As a data scientist at the Advanced Imagining Center I delve into image analysis and help biologists from around the world with their research.
While working full time at Janelia I continued to write my PhD thesis.
And in 2019 I completed my PhD in Computer Engineering.
It has been an incredibly long road to this point and if you are still reading, thank you!
It’s been a journey full of twists and turns but has gotten me to this point and for that I am thankful.