Downhill Racer

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Downhill Racer

Assistant Professor of Mathematics Greg Petrics

Assistant Professor of Mathematics Greg Petrics

Ian Major

Assistant Professor of Mathematics Greg Petrics

Ian Major

Ian Major

Assistant Professor of Mathematics Greg Petrics

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A JSC assistant professor in the mathematics department, Greg Petrics started at JSC in 2011. He has really enjoyed his time working towards getting his students to take an interest in math. Petrics moved to Vermont at a young age, quickly finding a passion in alpine skiing and his own personal schooling. Recently Basement Medicine sat down for an interview with this eccentric outdoorsman, mathematician, and overall humane individual.

What was your childhood like?

I was born in Summerville, New Jersey. When I was young my parents moved to Vermont to change their career paths a little bit by striving to become high school teachers. We moved to Killington, Vermont when I was about nine years old. I spent a lot of my childhood skiing and going to school. I always liked the outdoors, and while in school I started to get into ski racing. I feel like I was kind of a normal kid.

What are your favorite things to do?

I really like teaching and working with people who have to learn or take math courses for whatever reason. Outside of work I like outdoorsy stuff; skiing, rock climbing, and taking pictures are a few examples. I got into photography almost ten years ago when I was in grad school.

What is your favorite thing to take photographs of?

I definitely like taking photos of skiing. When I was racing, I thought that the photos were just so awesome. The difference between an awesome photo and a lousy photo is just a tiny millisecond. I look at my photography as if it’s almost like hunting. I’ve been hunting and didn’t like it that much, but you have to get the shot. If you’re a little late or early you’re not going to get the right shot you wanted. This aspect of photography is just thrilling to me, it’s a fun puzzle.

What has been the gnarliest line you have ever skied?

Probably when I was a senior in high school. I was in Montana for the U.S. Nationals and the downhill course was pretty scary. The guy who was two numbers ahead of me was Bill Johnson, who recently passed away. His whole life got changed that day when he had his coma induced wipe out. That was the most scared I have ever been skiing. I was on course when he crashed and they had to wave me down. I skied past him while they were pulling him out of the woods, and he looked really messed up. People were probably hoping for me to talk about some epic back-country experience, but I consider this incident to be pretty high up on the scale.

What is the gnarliest wipe out you have ever personally experienced?

I had a bunch of accidents and I’ve seen a bunch of accidents that changed my skiing career, because I was training and trying to get onto the U.S. ski team. I ended up telling myself that I can’t keep doing this, it just didn’t work for me. I had one wipe out when I was at Whiteface in New York. There was a jump on the course called Victoria jump, and I remember watching my ski tip go downhill inside of the gate. I instantly spun around backwards and slammed my head on the snow after flying a hundred feet or something like that. I don’t remember much of it, but I’ve seen the video and it’s awful. I still wonder how I lived.

What is the worst thing that anyone has ever said to you?

“You can’t do that,” and having that feeling of knowing that I could. It’s an awful feeling. For instance some people told me that I couldn’t become a college professor, and I said that I could.

What do you consider to be your greatest achievement in life so far?

Finishing my Ph.D. There are some people’s lives that I’d like to think that I helped change a little bit. Watching someone come to JSC and having them heading in one direction, and then seeing them change that through courses or advising they experienced with me.

What is the greatest impact you think you have made on a person?

The biggest impact I’ve had on a person is definitely convincing them that math isn’t all that bad. With that, letting them have the benefits that come with being able to use math throughout their lives. Some people are terrified of math, and seeing people overcome that is how I feel I’ve changed some of my student’s lives.

Who or what has been a big influence in your life?

I think my number one influence is probably Jesus Christ and not because I’m super Christian, but just buying into the general message that he had of the golden rule and treating people the way that you want to be treated. My parents were really religious and most of it didn’t make sense to me, but I thought Jesus was a pretty cool guy. Gandhi kind of had the same message, but it was more tilted towards changing the world that you lived in. Both of those two guys are pretty influential towards how I try to operate. I certainly had some really good teachers and advisors as well. Frank Swenton was my academic advisor while I was at Middlebury, and I learned a lot about how math should be taught and how people tend to think about math. My advisor in grad school at Dartmouth, Scott Pauls, was a really good and smart guy who had a real knack at seeing through BS, and I still like to try to go about processing situations as he would.

Why do you like math so much?

It’s not so much the math, but I like solving little puzzles and problems. To me math is always the answer. There are so many puzzles and issues that are resolved through a mathematical way of thinking, so how could you not love math?

What is something that you find extremely annoying?

People who don’t use their turn signals when driving. Use your turn signal, it’s there for a reason.

If you could only keep two possessions what would they be?

I definitely want a car for transportation, assuming I have access to gas. I would probably also want a computer for information purposes.

If you won the lottery, what is the first physical thing you would purchase?

I would probably get a better car, because I think that my car kind of sucks.

What is your dream car?

A Cadillac Escalade. They obviously suck for the environment, but you’re up riding high and you have room for all your stuff while being able to feel super comfortable.

What is the first thing you would do if you knew the world would end tomorrow?

I would probably try to get my friends together and go do whatever the most fun thing was that was nearby, maybe go skiing or hiking. It’s the last time we are going to see each other, we might as well have some fun. (Try to get the band together for one last gig)

You’re on death row, what is your last meal?

Probably the same thing I eat every day. A turkey, cheddar, lettuce, tomato, and onion wrap with some fries.

What is a favorite place you have traveled?

I studied abroad when I was an undergraduate in Budapest. That place is awesome; the people, culture, and language are really cool. It’s just a corky place with a lot of really interesting people. There aren’t a whole lot of people in Hungary, so it’s cool to think about all the brilliant scientists and mathematicians that have come from there.

What is your favorite and least favorite kind of music?

I use to hate country, but I’ve found myself listening to it a lot lately. There isn’t much music that I dislike, because once a human has made music they have put something into it. Even if I don’t like it at first it’s fun to think about what they were putting into it, or where they came from. If I were forced to say I dislike something, I would have to go with that kind of moaning rock where one guy is playing the guitar and moaning/whining. I can’t think of an example, but you can tell what I’m talking about when you hear it on the radio. As soon as I say one of my favorite bands you’re going to laugh, but I really like Radiohead. I guess I’m kind of contradicting myself a little bit, because they moan and whine about stuff sometimes…

How would you describe yourself?

I think I’m somebody who has a good bit of empathy for other people who are trying to learn, and I feel I have some good experience with getting them to where they want to be. I feel like I’m pretty fun to work with on that sort of thing.