True blue Shane Stacey


Adriana Eldred

Shane Stacey sits in his office, coffee cup in hand and unicorn shrine behind him

Shane Stacey is the math and sciences specialist in Academic Support Services. He has been involved with the college for decades, as a student, alum, and then staff. He sat down with BM to talk about coffee, poker, and unicorns.

How did you end up at Johnson?
I started coming to this campus in the ‘70s, when my mom was an undergrad here. I was then an Upward Bound student in the late ‘80s, and then I started my undergrad in ’91, and I graduated in ’95. So my time with this campus ranges decades at this point. I came back in 2010 as the professional math coach, and I started in the position in 2015.

What’s your favorite part of your job?
Conversations – every day, with students. If I could take eight hours a day and not have to do any scheduling, any paperwork, and just engage with students, that would be my ideal job. This is second-best-to-ideal job – because I do have to do paperwork, obviously.

Was math always your favorite subject?
I was a math major. I didn’t pick mathematics because I loved mathematics. I picked it because it was a financially smart thing to do as far as majors having experience and earning potential. Coming here I knew that engineering positions had the most potential with no experience, and mathematics was number two at that time. I like math okay, but I love helping people get it, because it’s such a problem for some people. Its what I know as the number one academic discipline which gives people fits; it literally causes panic and anxiety attacks. It causes tears, lots of tears. The tissues on my desk – I’ve had tutors write on them, “for math tears.” I like helping people get past that.

If you could have dinner with anyone, past or present, who would it be and why?
Mark Twain. Twain had a brilliant mind, and he was quick and witty, and I just think it would be an enjoyable experience, and I would probably learn something.

What would you have written on your tombstone?
“He tried.”

Explain your coffee addiction.
There’s no coffee addiction! Coffee is like oxygen – I require it to live.

How many containers that once held coffee do you typically have on your desk?
It’s almost always two. At this moment in time, I’m only on my first 24 ounce container (of the day). Lifting it now, I see I have approximately 10 ounces left. What that means to me is that within an hour and a half I have to go to the café and get a second large to have it in reserve for when the first one runs out. People are amused by this; they’ll comment that they see two coffee cups, both still hot, on my desk. One will be less than half full and the other one is there because I will need that immediately when I’m done with the first.

Might as well get an IV and hook it up to you. I’ve proposed that except I hate needles.

A lot of your students refer to your “red-zone” throughout the week. Explain what that is.
The “red-zone” is a term that was coined by my former co-worker, Ted. Part of my history – some don’t realize this – I spent 7 or 8 years working in corporate America. My first 4 were working at a fortune 500 company. I was the proper shirt and tie – I was professional. I was directing clients all the time. I was basically wearing a mask. That mask didn’t slip. Even when I was drinking, as we would be expected to go to a cocktail party or whatnot, and I could sit there and sip on three or four mixed drinks over a few hour period of time and maintain a certain professionalism – Here, I find that people are more accepting of our true selves. Of course, I try to be appropriate, but my impulsivity and my filter start to slip the later into the week and the later into the day I go. So by the time I end up getting a back and forth banter with students, and I reach the next level, the next and the next…until basically, just picture the Tasmanian devil after eating a bag of candy. And so, sometimes I just have to put myself in my office as a time out, because I’m just getting a little too loud; I’m getting a little too hyper.

I understand you’ve had a lengthy poker career. What is the most ridiculous or interesting moment you’ve had?
I had a couple good years live, and I had several good years playing online. The most ridiculous was when we were in this event, fifteen-hundred-dollar event, I was sitting with a very healthy stack – meaning I had a lot more than average…I’d been playing at this table for a couple hours, and the seat to my left opened up. The person who ends up sitting there, next to me, was Phil Hellmuth. He is the most decorated poker player in the world; he’s won 14 bracelets, he considered the poker brat, he’s gotten a lot of television time over the past 25 or 30 years. It was just sort of surreal. He was the person who I’d grown up watching on television and as I was really getting into the game. I didn’t play with him for long, maybe an hour or two hours. I was sitting with about five times the stack he had, and I said in my mind, that whenever it came around to me, I was going to raise him two. It folded around to me, and I looked down at my hand and I had the worst possible starting hand in poker, which is two-seven offsuit. I decided I’m going to raise, because I had predetermined that. He looked at me, his cards, and gives me the stare, for like 25 seconds. And he folds. And I don’t show, because the goal was not to piss him off, it was not to provoke aggression from one of the best in the world, I just wanted to know that I could. I just wanted to know that he couldn’t look at me and read my soul.

When did the unicorn collection begin?
It started with a picture. It was a picture taken by my colleague Leila, and for those who cannot see the picture, it is a picture of me standing there with my hands to the sky, with a plunger firmly affixed to my rather large forehead. It gives the appearance that I have a plunger horn. And that was the second time that was fixed to my head. I want to be very clear: a student had come in, they were doing some sort of project, and they had a plunger in a bag that had come straight from the hardware store. I didn’t go to the bathroom and grabbed a plunger. That just wouldn’t have been appropriate. I was so amazed that I had stuck it to my head that I knew I needed to get a picture of this. Leila snapped the picture, and this picture I shared with some students. The very next week, a student came in with a package of unicorn erasers which are currently displayed down below it. I took this picture, made a little window box display, and positioned the mini unicorns below, and under I put as a title “king of the unicorns.” And that I placed in the front window of my office. And then it just sort of grew from there. People started contributing little unicorn things. This started on the window sill – it outgrew the window sill. It went to the corner of the desk – it outgrew the desk. Now its on the back ledge, and it’s probably going to take it over in the next couple of years. And I call it the unicorn shrine, but it’s not for me – its for the students. I don’t particularly care about unicorns, they’re cool and all, but I don’t have anything unicorn-themed at my house. But it’s something they can sort of rally around.

You’re a new addition to the crayon box- what would you be and why?
I would be royal blue. Blue is my favorite color, I don’t know why. One of my many different jobs in my life and one of them was as a tour host at Ben & Jerry’s. The way they used to do tours is they take you through the mezzanine that overlooks the production floor, and when the tour group was up there, the tour guide would change and go downstairs to conduct the tour over a radio headset. So we used to have to wear garb – hairnets, a tie-dye lab coat, and big rubber boots. Given I wear a size sixteen boot, they couldn’t find any standard black rubber boots for me. All that they were able to find were these royal blue big-ass steel toed rubber boots. Imagine me with my blue hair net, my tie-dyed lab coat, my royal blue big-ass boots, and my headset, on the production floor.

What do you think about when you’re in the car alone?
Everything…and that’s the problem. I have a mind that just keeps going and going and going. I at times go through bouts of insomnia because my mind cannot slow or shut down. And so I will think of any given topic. I could be thinking of the social condition in India, I could be thinking of the latest episode I just watched of the Walking Dead, I could be thinking of what I had for breakfast that morning, but most importantly, what was I going to have for lunch.

If you had a choice between two superpowers – to have the ability to fly or be invisible – which would you choose?
Most people would choose flying, but I’m going to choose invisibility. I want to be either seen or not seen. I’m not a pure extrovert. I’m an introverted extrovert – or an introverted extrovert.

Ambivert? Is that what it’s called? To which I mean that at some points I have all of the extrovert tendencies and I re-charge when I’m with people; however, I don’t need that to re-charge, and when it comes to the end of the week I don’t want to deal with anybody, I go to my recliner, I kick open my laptop, I turn on the television or I put on Netflix, and I’d be perfectly content sitting in my recliner for 48 to 72 hour stretches. No communication; I screen calls heavily on the weekends, meaning I decide in that moment if I feel like talking to someone, except for my grandmother. My grandmother is 87, and I never know if the next conversation could be the last so I always take her calls.

What’s some life advice you’d like to give?
Follow your passions. They might lead you down different paths, and you won’t necessarily have the same enduring passion throughout your life, but if you follow your passion, you’ll bring more to it. You’ll put more of yourself into it, you’ll bring more energy into it, and you’ll be more likely to be successful with it. That’s where people find great deals of success; it’s when they follow something they truly love.