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Meet English Instructor Carlos Martinez

Carlos Martinez will join Boston University Academy as an English Instructor in the fall of 2019. He holds a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Texas in San Antonio and received his doctorate in English from Brandeis University. His dissertation, entitled "Cormac McCarthy and the American Absurd," is a monograph on the author that treats themes associated with Southern and Southwestern American Literature. He has taught writing and literature courses at Purdue University, Brandeis University, Wheelock College, Boston University, Framingham State University, and Newbury College.

This summer, we sat down with Dr. Martinez to learn what makes him tick.

Where did you grow up, and how did that impact who you are today?

I grew up in San Antonio, Texas, but my family is from a small town near Monterrey, Mexico. I spent much of my youth going back and forth to Mexico, and that helped me appreciate cultural difference on a very personal level. When I started graduate school, I was focused on European Modernism and was interested in a career in Comparative Literature, but I gravitated more and more to my roots, slowly through the process. My dissertation ultimately became about the places I grew up, and my current research and writing is almost exclusively focused on them.

What drew you to English as a discipline?

I’ve always loved story-telling. And reading largely came naturally to me. But my first choice was to become a psychologist like my older brother. But when I started studying psychology in college and interned in a lab, I quickly realized the day-to-day experience of the work was not right for me. Meanwhile, I felt like my mind was being blown the most in my English classes. Then I developed friendships with my literature professors as I worked and studied in the McNair Scholars program, and I never looked back.  Since a young age I’d always loved the idea of Literature, the idea that tough novels existed and that reading them would reveal interesting things about the world that could only be arrived at through patience and diligence. Making a career out of it ultimately came out of that love.

Name three things that you can’t live without (oxygen, food, and water don’t count).

The first would be tennis, playing and maybe even watching it. The exercise is great when playing it, obviously (and I can’t seem to motivate myself to do exercise without it), but mainly it’s the camaraderie and the spirit of competition it affords. What I love most about it is that it affords a space to practice in order to improve, and that there will always be room for improvement. Thus, watching tennis often feels like training, since I’m often learning so much about how to improve my own game. And I find watching the sport incredibly exciting at times, especially now that my wife is largely into it also.

In a time not too long ago, music would have come first, playing and listening. But now tennis is at the forefront. Playing music has been one of the most humbling things I’ve ever done. I’m not naturally good at it, so I needed to get outside of my comfort zone to make it work on any level. But listening to music is one of the greatest feelings I experience. I’m currently on a bit of record hunting spree that’s been developing over the last five years. So, now it’s also more active in that I’m often traveling to and then working my way through antique shops and old record stores, rifling through to see if I can find an elusive Peter Gabriel or Badfinger album, or, and this has not yet happened, a stray Smiths single.

This one should have gone first, but it seemed too hokey to put it first, I couldn’t do any of this without the support of my family and wife. At every turn I’ve always had at least five people there egging me on: to prioritize education, to push for good schools, then to finish the dissertation, to push to the next level of everything. I never take it for granted, and I also don’t know how to thank them enough.

What are some attributes that make a school great?

This is a biased answer, but I feel the most important thing is for the teachers to care about what they are doing. I’ve been privileged to work at places where all of my closest colleagues were giving everything they had to the job because they fully understood how much needs to go into it in order to make it really work. I think great schools need to be student-centered, and not just trying to keep students or to be meeting requirements. It’s always felt to me that when the teachers are really into what they are doing, then the support teams really start to rally around them, which also seems necessary for a great school. I’ve been very luck to work at places where everyone collaborates and tries to produce the best experience for all of the students. Then, of course, the students feed off of this and really make it great.

Related question: what are some attributes that make a great teacher?

Now all of my answers are feeling hokey, but I do believe that humility is the base of good teaching. I think that much of my training amounted to a ‘fake it till you make it’ mentality, but I was never good at faking things, so this strategy was a tough one for me. From the very beginning, I knew I had so much to learn about how to become a good teacher, and now that I am a little more comfortable with my skills and ability, I find it even more necessary to hold on to my sense that I am still nowhere near where I can be as a teacher. What grounds me, then, and what I think makes teachers great, is the ability to listen to students and teach the students in front of us. I was always so impressed by teachers who seemed to have both an agenda and then an amazing ability to riff off of it, almost like musical improv. It inspired me to want to reread texts to see what else I could wring from them. The best classes for me are those that seem guided by the discussion, and not by a fixed agenda, but that then still cover all the materials I set out to cover.

How do you like to spend your free time?

Gardening, and often intense landscaping, and in a broader scope just home improvements. Ever since we were fortunate enough to ‘own’ where we live, there have been seemingly endless possibilities for things to improve. What I most love about gardening is that just enough care is needed in order to grow things well.  And what I love about landscaping and home improvements is that both offer an opportunity to be outside in a focused capacity, and when it’s done I can then marvel at the pristine, finished product.

I’m also really into movies and love going to the Brattle in Harvard.

What were your hobbies and interests in high school?

In high school my first extracurricular activity/priority was music. I started a band my freshman year and spent at least three-to-five days a week practicing and writing. It was, thus far, one of the happiest experiences of artistic collaboration that I have experienced. And then playing shows around town was always so thrilling. I had been collecting and really into music since I was five, and finally being able to be in a band to try to emulate and then expand upon on the stuff I’d been listening to was a major highlight of my youth.

But I also played on the tennis team and kept a fairly busy tennis-playing schedule with friends.

Lastly, I was part of a book-reading circle that pushed each other to read tough books. That took up whatever free time was left. We used to go to an all-night diner, buy the $2 cup of coffee, and just talk about the books through the night. I’m not entirely sure they loved having us there.

What are you binge watching this summer?

When possible, I watch as much of the tennis grand slams as possible. So, I can say I binge-watched a lot of the French Open and then Wimbledon. The U.S. Open, of course, is right around the corner. I don’t try to watch every match, but I often get hooked into very many matches.

But I’m also finally watching GoT. I’m really impressed by it. On the back burner, I have a season and a half of Masterpiece Mystery’s Endeavor to catch up on. And on and on and on. Too much!

Do you have a hidden talent?

This question has really stumped me. I’m not sure I do have a hidden talent, and now I’m thinking I should go and try to get one.

Nutrition aside, if you could choose one food -- and one food only -- to eat for the rest of your life, what would it be?

Pasta. Going to Italy for my honeymoon was one of the best experiences of my life. The food in Rome was the best.

What books have you read recently that you would recommend to BUAers?

I really liked Gene Luen Yang’s American Born Chinese. It’s the first graphic novel I’ve read, and I can’t say enough great things about it. I would also recommend reading Roberto Bolaño’s The Savage Detectives. People seem to either really like or really hate that book, but I think it’s an interesting way to think about the ways that literary author’s lives impact people, and I like that it takes place in Mexico.

Follow-up question: can you name just ONE favorite book?

My all-time favorite book has been The Picture of Dorian Gray, if mainly because it was the first novel I read that seemed so different from anything I had ever thought about or experienced. I had not ever liked or hated characters at the level that book inspired.

What are you most looking forward to at BUA?

I can’t wait to get into the classroom and hear what students have to say about these great texts I’ll be teaching. I was blown away by the discussion the students brought during my teaching demonstration, so I’m itching to start delving into these texts.

Letter to the BUA Community from Incoming Head of School Chris Kolovos

To the BUA Community,

I am delighted to be joining the Boston University Academy family and honored to partner with all of you as we chart the future of this extraordinary school.

My visits to campus during the search confirmed what I have known for a long time: BUA is a special place -- a function largely of the people who pass through its doors. I met students whose intellectual ability and curiosity is matched by their empathy and kindness; faculty members who stoke that curiosity while they take the time to get to know each young person as an individual; staff who work hard to create a warm, thriving, dynamic school culture; parents and alumni who embrace the mission and are invested in the future of BUA; and university leaders who are committed to a vision where BU and BUA continue to elevate one another.

BUA is wonderfully positioned to thrive in its second quarter century. Its values resonate far beyond Commonwealth Avenue: unapologetically high academic standards; celebration of intellectual curiosity; knowledge that a small caring community gives students what they need academically and emotionally; a love and respect for tradition; a drive to innovate in order to prepare students for a future we cannot anticipate; an understanding that a diverse, inclusive, equitable community makes us all better. Those priorities are near to my heart and are part of what makes the community so magnetic. BUA also, perhaps uniquely in the landscape of independent schools, benefits from a deep connection with a world-class research university. A small, caring high-school community with access to the college course offerings, thought leaders, facilities, and other resources BU has to offer -- that gives BUA several competitive advantages in the independent-school landscape. More importantly, it provides our students with the best of both worlds.

Thank you to the search committee, its chair, Norm Blanchard, and to Provost Morrison not only for the professionalism and care they showed throughout the process but also for their confidence. I am also grateful to the faculty, staff, parents, students, and alumni I have met for showing me the beauty of the community they love so much. My fiancée, Tracey, and I are both Boston natives and excited to be returning home, along with our dog Circe (she is from Mississippi, we think, but roots for Boston sports teams). We look forward to meeting you as we visit over the coming school year and when we formally join the BUA family in July 2020.

Warmly,

Chris Kolovos
Incoming Head of School

BUA Names Next Head of School

Boston University Provost and Chief Academic Officer Jean Morrison announced Monday the appointment of Christos Kolovos as Boston University Academy's next Head of School.

Chris Kolovos is Associate Head of School at Greens Farms Academy, an independent, pre-K-12 day school in Westport, CT, which has earned distinction for a rigorous, innovative, globally-minded curriculum that incorporates the surrounding ecosystems, the latest digital tools, and a student-centered approach to teaching and learning. In his six years at Greens Farms Academy, Mr. Kolovos has overseen the school’s academic program, from faculty hiring and professional development to curriculum and accreditation; directed major institutional efforts to strengthen diversity, equity, and inclusion; spearheaded the creation of a new schedule, service-learning program, and faculty evaluation system; and led the adoption of new courses focused on STEM, sustainability, global studies, and social justice. Mr. Kolovos previously served as Director of Global Education at Belmont Hill School in Belmont, MA, where he chaired the history department and designed programs around global citizenship. Mr. Kolovos is a native of Boston. He attended Roxbury Latin School and then Harvard College, where he graduated magna cum laude with a BA in history. He later earned a law degree at Harvard, while serving as coordinating editor of the Harvard Law Review.

Upon receiving the news of his appointment, Mr. Kolovos shared, “From the moment I stepped onto campus, I knew that BUA was a special place – students who are as kind as they are curious, talented teachers who know and nourish these exceptional young people, parents and alumni who are invested in the school’s success and passionate about the mission, a small, caring community with access to everything a world-class research university has to offer. I am honored to join the BUA family and to have the chance to tell the school’s remarkable story.”

Mr. Kolovos will assume his role of as Head of School in the summer of 2020.

Read the complete memo from Provost Morrison here.
Read the BU Today article about Chris Kolovos's appointment here.

BUA Commencement 2019

On Monday, May 20, the BUA Class of 2019 received their diplomas at Boston University Academy's 25th Commencement exercise, held at the BU Tsai Performance Center. Boston University Provost and Chief Academic Officer Dr. Jean Morrison spoke to graduating seniors about the privilege of their education and the special relationship between BUA and BU, and WBUR Morning Edition host Mr. Bob Oakes delivered a keynote address on the importance of civic participation. 

The class of 37 graduates will matriculate at the following colleges and universities this fall:

Boston University (10)
Brandeis University (2)
Brown University (2)
Columbia University
The George Washington University
Harvard College
Johns Hopkins University
University of Massachusetts, Amherst
University of Michigan
New York University
Northeastern University (3)
Northwestern University
Reed College
University of Rochester
Smith College
Stanford University
Swarthmore College
University of Toronto
The University of Edinburgh
Tufts University (3)
Tulane University
Wellesley College

Professional video of the Commencement ceremony is available here. Photographs will be available shortly. Congratulations to the Class of 2019! 

Boston University Academy Students Win SISAL Awards

Boston University Academy students took home a bevy of awards in this year's Small Independent Schools Art League (SISAL) competition. Congratulations to all the winners and entrants! View the winning artwork here.

  • Painting, 1st Place: Saoirse Killion '21, “Cole”
  • Drawing, 1st Place: Saoirse Killion '21, Aidan”
  • Drawing, 3rd Place: Michelle Lisak '21, Untitled
  • Mixed Media, 2nd Place: Sasha Tyutyunik '22 (photomontage)
  • Mixed Media, 3rd Place: Irene Mitsiades '21, Untitled 
  • Digital (Graphic Design), 1st Place: Richard Fu '20Tuck Design for ’18 Prom playing cards
  • Digital (Graphic Design), Honorable Mention: Richard Fu '20Art is Never…
  • Digital (Art/Illustration), 3rd Place: Martin Brunswick '20, District 17
  • Fiber Arts, 2nd Place: Irene Mitsiades '21, Starry Knit 

BUA Hosts Its First-Ever Grandparents Day

On April 22, 2019, BUA hosted two dozen grandparents and grand-friends as part of its first-ever Grandparents Day. Guests sat in on classes, heard from administrators about BUA's unique academics and institutional priorities, and enjoyed a buffet lunch with their grandchildren. It was a delight to foster intergenerational engagement for our students and their families. We look forward to making this an annual BUA tradition!

See a complete gallery of photos from Grandparents Day here.

Aaron Gorenstein ’07

March 26th, 2019in Alumni Profiles, Homepage News

Aaron Gorenstein ’07 graduated from the University of Rochester in 2011 with a BS/MS in Computer Science. In 2013, he earned a master’s in Computer Science from the University of Wisconsin, where he studied under Prof. Jin-Yi Cai, contributing to one paper in addition to serving as a teaching assistant and research assistant. Since graduate school, Aaron has worked as a software developer at Microsoft. He joined Microsoft’s C++ Compiler Team in the spring of 2014, and moved to Seattle, WA, where he met his now-wife Lenore, also an expat East-coaster. In 2017, Aaron and Lenore returned to the East coast, moving to Queens, NY. Aaron continues to work for the same team at Microsoft. In his free time, Aaron volunteers to help underrepresented minorities break into the tech industry by helping them with interview practice. He also enjoys reading books on history and ethics, as well as exploring creative hobbies like calligraphy.

Can you tell us about what drew you to Microsoft and what some of your primary responsibilities are?

Certainly the applications of computers captured a lot of my interest in school, but as time went on I found myself drawn to the more fundamental questions in computer science. That suggested I should stay in academia, and indeed by the time I got to grad school I was essentially studying mathematics (computational complexity theory). When I burned out of my PhD program at Wisconsin – applying my new Masters as a salve – I knew I wanted to transition to industry but hoped I could find a way to keep some toehold in the theoretical world. Among the big tech companies (lacking creativity, I applied only to those companies I had already heard of), Microsoft’s offer that had such a toehold: it was for a position on one of their compiler teams. Compilers are a wonderful branch of computer science that sit at the intersection of theory and practice, and I knew that was the job I wanted to take. For the past five years, I've been a member of the Microsoft Visual C++ compiler team.

The sub-team I'm on has a few goals. My focus is on the implementation of optimization algorithms, which draw on some deep technical analysis and present interesting theoretical questions. I find them quite satisfying. Among other optimizations, I've implemented a limited variation of partial-dead-code elimination, and a control-flow-graph optimization. Of course the day-to-day is not always as engaging: there are plenty of times where we fix bugs, or extend our testing infrastructure, and so on, but helping keep the business running is quite satisfying in its own right. I've also developed the reputation of being one of the more outgoing members of the broader C++ team – that’s rather horrifying – so for the past couple of years I've also had the responsibility of driving our customer-outreach efforts. This includes things like making sure teammates are writing blog posts advertising our current advancements to the product.

You took as many computer science courses as you could as an undergrad – how did this interest develop over your time at Boston University Academy? Were there certain courses or experiences that helped shape your interest in computer science?

I was always the sort of math-y, computer-y nerd even as a little kid, and had intermittent encounters with programming growing up. I don't recall what started it, but sophomore year I really committed to learning to program and I found it appealed to me. I think I wanted to make a video game. That never happened. What did happen was that summer I spent a few weeks at a sketchy learn-to-code sleepaway camp in Connecticut. Really after that it was off to the races: I was obsessed and wanted to learn as much about computers as possible.

That summer set me up to get a lot out of BUA and BU: I was able to take many computer science and related courses. Within BUA, the encouragement and excitement from so many people – Nick Dent, Gary Garber, Danielle Passno, Jim Davis, Dan Heller, Rich Horn, and many more – helped keep me motivated. I also found encouragement and friendship in the science and robotics teams. It's weird and intimidating, in some ways, to be a high school student in a college course, but this enormous support network made it easy. Lastly, I'd be remiss not to mention Hongwei Xi, my ludicrously patient senior thesis advisor and CS112 instructor. His lecture on quicksort is burned into my mind as the moment when I first realized that algorithms were the most fascinating thing in the world.

The availability of college courses allowed me to pursue my burgeoning interest in computer science, but it's fair to say the BUA community and connections enabled me to actually do it. By the time I got to Rochester, I had the experience and confidence to be able to hit the ground running and keep up the momentum from all the people pushing me earlier.

How has BUA’s integrated humanities curriculum influenced your academic studies and/or career even though you’ve pursued a STEM track?

On the surface, my STEM education and career seem largely divorced from the humanities. Scratching the surface, I can say that my ability to communicate – very much honed by BUA and my teachers there – has set me apart from almost all of my academic and professional peers. My career has advanced because of it.

Going a bit deeper, the experiences of grappling with fundamental questions at BUA likely oriented my college interests away from the more immediate aspects of computer science and towards the root questions raised by automated reasoning. Computational complexity is, from one viewpoint, the study of the limits of what we can compute, which does not sound altogether different from the limits of what we can understand. I've found the questions and hints that arose from this course of study fascinating, and something that enriched my understanding of and participation in the world. I can't pretend that I spend my free time in deep meditation or something, but I am immensely glad to be able to articulate my professional and academic interests in human terms instead of as some interesting, but disconnected, riddles.

That said, it is in my life outside of the classroom and office that I feel most grateful for the humanities. When I make the mistake of looking up from my computer screen I see a world with a lot of hard questions. The tools, vocabulary, and perspectives to even begin to understand the world and its challenges are not Google-Bing-able. I have to confront my own decisions about how to live life, and how to justify those decisions. Without getting into it, I'll say that Seneca's enjoying quite a lot of popularity in the tech world. Within my social circles, there are rare but valued times when we’ll discuss important things, and I need the tools to both understand my friends’ perspective and articulate mine effectively. Considering national and international events, I would feel entirely adrift but for the grounding in history and some nascent understanding of how other nations view the world. In these and so many other situations that matter, I've found it is only my foundation in the humanities that helps me here, rather than my expertise in C++ or Turing Machines. For me, that foundation was laid at BUA.

So much more than books, it was the teachers that made it all possible. Few people, I’ve found, have the patience to really engage on these meaningful problems with others – and our teachers do so with high school students.

If you could turn back the clock and give your high school self one piece of advice, what would it be?

At BUA, I participated in a lot of “lively” debates among classmates. I think that I would have benefited more from those had I focused more understanding the other person’s perspective and less on trying to convince them of my own. The more I’ve been able to listen to others, the more valuable my experience has been.

Classroom Renovation Initiative Update

Over the 2018-2019 winter intercession, BUA completed Phase One of the Classroom Renovation Initiative to upgrade classrooms and student spaces. During the break, two classrooms (Rooms 209 and 210) were completely overhauled, and new smartboards, bookshelves, tables, and chairs were been installed. This short video shows the renovations and illustrates the impact of this initiative on our teaching and learning:

 

Thank you to everyone who made a gift to the Classroom Renovation Initiative! We look forward to the next phase of the renovations this summer.