Mentors: Leeds fifth-grader interviews 4 professionals about what lights them up

  • Ace reporter: Saumya Kulp, a fifth grader at Leeds Elementary School, interviewed four area professionals about their careers and their interests. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Saumya Kulp, a fifth grader at Leeds elementary, interviews Mary Yun, the architect who designed Click in Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Saumya Kulp, a fifth grader at Leeds elementary, interviews Mary Yun, the architect who designed Click in Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Saumya Kulp, a fifth grader at Leeds elementary, interviews Mary Yun, the architect who designed Click in Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Saumya Kulp, a fifth grader at Leeds elementary, interviews Mary Yun, the architect who designed Click in Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Saumya Kulp, a fifth grader at Leeds elementary, interviews Mary Yun, the architect who designed Click in Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Saumya Kulp, a fifth grader at Leeds elementary, interviews Mary Yun, the architect who designed Click in Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • At left and below, Saumya Kulp talks with Mary Yun, the architect who designed CLICK Workspace in Northampton. STAFF PHOTOS/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Saumya Kulp, a fifth grader at Leeds elementary, interviews Mary Yun, the architect who designed Click in Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Saumya Kulp, a fifth grader at Leeds elementary, interviews James D. Lowenthal, a professor of Astronomy at Smith College. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • “A Cat Ate My Gymsuit,” a favorite childhood read of young adult fiction writer Lisa Papemetriou of Florence STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • The stars in our eyes: Saumya Kulp chats with Smith College astonomer James Lowenthal, who says his career “picked me.” STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Saumya Kulp, a fifth grader at Leeds elementary, interviews James Lowenthal, a professor of astronomy at Smith College. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Saumya Kulp, a fifth grader at Leeds Elementary School, interviews James Lowenthal, a professor of astronomy at Smith College. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Saumya Kulp, a fifth grader at Leeds elementary, interviews James Lowenthal, a professor of astronomy at Smith College. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Saumya Kulp, a fifth grader at Leeds elementary, interviews James Lowenthal, a professor of astronomy at Smith College. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Saumya Kulp, a fifth grader at Leeds elementary, interviews James Lowenthal, a professor of astronomy at Smith College. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Saumya Kulp, a fifth grader at Leeds elementary, interviews James Lowenthal, a professor of astronomy at Smith College. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Saumya Kulp, a fifth grader at Leeds elementary, interviews James Lowenthal, a professor of astronomy at Smith College. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Saumya Kulp, a fifth grader at Leeds elementary, interviews James Lowenthal, a professor of astronomy at Smith College. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Marsha Hassett, conductor of the Springfield Youth Symphony, says any career in the arts is difficult but comes with unique awards. Gazette file photo/submitted photo

  • Young adult novelist writer Lisa Papademetriou says one of her favorite characters in literature is Fezziwig from Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” Gazette file photo/submitted photo

For Hampshire Life
Published: 7/18/2019 4:41:48 PM

Saumya Kulp is a fifth grader at Leeds Elementary School and a violinist in the Springfield Youth Symphony who likes to read, especially science fiction and fantasy books. She swims for the Hampshire Regional YMCA Dolphins and lives in Florence with her parents and sister. For this piece, she has interviewed a number of people in the Valley she admires and who inspire her.

Note: Interviews have been condensed for space.

Coffee with young-adult novelist Lisa Papademetriou of Florence

What is something that would surprise people about your day-to-day work?

How truly solitary it is. When I tell people I write for a living, they often say, “How exciting,” and it’s a great job, and I love it, but it is not usually exciting. It is a bunch of sitting by myself and thinking.

What is something you wish someone had told you about before going into this career?

I don’t know that they could have told me anything that would have been helpful. I think I had to discover it all on my own.

I mean, they could have told me certain things about the publishing industry, but it’s important to keep it separate in your mind from writing, because the writing is something that comes from your mind and your heart, and the publishing industry is business.

What were your favorite childhood books?

I read all of the books in the “Chronicles of Narnia” a minimum of 13 times. My other big fat favorite was a book called “The Cat Ate My Gymsuit,” by Paula Danziger. It’s a book about a very ordinary kind of girl, and her teacher gets fired, and it’s about how, over the course of the year, she becomes brave enough to stand up for her teacher. The story is very, very slow, and it’s very kind of what most people would think was “mundane,” but it’s funny, and it felt very much like my life at the time, even though that specific thing had not happened to me. I love that book. It felt real to me.

Where do you get your best ideas?

All of my ideas are little bitty pieces of ideas. I don’t get a whole idea for a book at once; I’ll get an idea for a little part and I’ll try to put them together like a jigsaw puzzle.

Mostly, a lot of my good ideas come from reading, but those ideas are about how I want to execute something or how I want to make a reader feel. It’s not like I get the literal idea, it’s more like “Oh, this is a good way to do something.” Which is as important an idea as the literal idea.

What fictional character would you like to meet?

One of my favorite characters in all of literature is Fezziwig and his wife from “A Christmas Carol.” Fezziwig was Scrooge’s boss, at a sort of happy moment in Scrooge’s life, and he’s sort of the embodiment of what good capitalism can be. He treats his employees fairly, and he realizes the power he holds — he has the power to make people’s work joyful or burdensome. And he chooses to make it joyful.

Talking buildings and bank vaults with architect and CLICK Workspace Executive Director Mary Yun of Northampton

What are some common misconceptions about the work an architect does?

A common misconception is that it’s a very glamorous field. Part of that is when Frank Gehry came on the scene, when the museum in Bilbao, Spain, was built, all of a sudden he was catapulted into stardom. They even made a reference to him on “The Simpsons”; you know you’ve made it when you get a shout-out on “The Simpsons.” There was a huge surge in the number of students going into architecture school because they thought, “Oh, you can make great things now, the sky’s the limit.”

I have this funny saying, “the first four hours.” The first four hours of any project is what everyone thinks all of architecture is. It’s the ideas, the vision, the what-things-could-be. Then a lot of it afterward is just like every other profession. You have to figure it out, you have to work with the whole team. There’s a lot of grunt work involved.

Do you have a favorite project that you have worked on?

Before I moved to Northampton, I was working for Michael Graves and Associates in New Jersey. The first project was the International Finance Corporation Headquarters in Washington, D.C.; they’re the bank to the World Bank. It is a 1.1 million square foot corporate headquarters for them. I just saw it again, when I went on a family trip down to D.C. I showed my kids, and I said, “This is the first building I ever worked on, when I was at Michael Graves.”

When I left, 13 years later, I was working on a Federal Reserve Bank in Houston, Texas. That was the last project I worked on with him. I liked that building because it was very complicated. It has the second largest cash vault in the U.S., second to New York, and I liked working with all the complexities that came along with that.

Another favorite project — OK, I can’t. It’s just like asking a parent, “Who’s your favorite child?” I have many of them. You might know that one of my favorite projects, here in Northampton, is the house on Woodlawn Avenue, the one near the high school. I liked that project because we don’t get to do a lot of modern architecture in New England and, of course, CLICK Workspace.

What is the most interesting building that you have seen in your travels?

The Pantheon in Rome. The first time I saw that building, I saw the genius of it. It’s basically a domed building with an open oculus at the top that provides light and ventilation.

When you look at a building or a space, what jumps out at you?

Possibilities. The possibilities. The Click building was an antique store that had been sitting here for 35 years, and when I saw it as a possible co-working space, I saw the possibilities of what we could do with it. Not what it was, but what we could do.

Stargazing with Smith College Astronomy Professor James Lowenthal of Northampton

What attracted you to this career?

I never really decided to be an astronomer. It’s just what I like to do. When I was a kid in grade school, and then in high school, I got interested in the stars, and in optics, and in telescopes, and in photography, and in nature in general, and in physics. I just started learning more and more, and I started building telescopes, which is a longstanding tradition in astronomy. As I got deeper and deeper into it, my curiosity kept feeding me. I never actually sat down and thought, “Hmm, what would be a good career?” Instead, I’d say, it picked me.

Now as a professional, I love being in the mix of colleagues of mine who are discovering new things about the universe every day. About planets, maybe planets like the Earth, maybe that even have life on them, around stars that we’ve seen for thousands of years and never knew had planets around them until just now. That’s a new discovery.

And making discoveries about black holes, like the one that was in the news; our telescope at UMass actually played an important role in that discovery. I’m happy to say my role in that really cool discovery was that I served on the committee that Shep Doeleman and the Event Horizon Telescope proposed to, “Hey, can we use your telescope for a few weeks?” And I’m happy to say our committee said, “Yeah, sure. We’ll get out of the way.” We didn’t stand in the way of this fantastic discovery; I’m very proud of that.

What is something about astronomy that people would be surprised to learn?

At professional telescopes, we don’t look through an eyepiece. That went away about a hundred years ago, when photography was invented. Now, most big telescopes on mountaintops, big, professional telescopes don’t have an eyepiece. There’s just a digital camera that will take a picture, and then you can look on the computer and analyze it.

When you look up at the sky, what do you notice?

I notice how many of the stars are missing. We have ruined our view of the night sky with light pollution. We’re losing about one star per hour to this growing menace that not only robs us of our view of the stars and the Milky Way, which you can’t see from Northampton any more, but that also causes health problems in humans and extreme stress for most animal species. Everybody depends on a naturally dark sky. Life depends on darkness at night to thrive.

I also notice the beauty of the stars I do see, the beauty of the moon and the sun, the weather, the rain and the snow. But it’s tinged with sadness for what we don’t have anymore.

What are your favorite things to do outside of work?

I love to ride my bike, run, and cross country ski. I love to play piano, I love to go for hikes, I love to hang out with my family, my wife and daughter, and go see their performances in theater and dance. I like to garden, and I like to travel.

If you had a superpower, what would it be?

To have infinite patience. It’s a tall order. I’m going big.

If you weren’t an astronomer…

I would probably be a biologist or an environmental activist.

Sounding it out with Marsha Hassett, a luthier for Johnson String Instruments in Newton and conductor for the Springfield Youth Symphony

What attracted you to this career?

I loved playing music. I played in a youth orchestra when I was in high school, and I had some very inspiring teachers and conductors. It was a life I found attractive and fulfilling. I didn’t have urges that were stronger in other areas, so I said, “Let’s see where this takes me.”

What is something that would surprise people about your day-to-day work?

All day I work with instruments, work on instruments, work with fellow musicians and sometimes customers, adjust instruments, try to find the right instrument. The luthiers assist the sales staff, who are trying to make their clients happy, so we all work as a team.

What is something you wish someone had told you about before going into this career?

It is very, very competitive, and since I started my career, it’s gotten even more so. I think you can’t be too adamant, you can’t explain well enough, how difficult it is to make a living in any type of artistic area. You have to be determined that this is what you want. People need to be given a clear message: If you pursue this as a lifelong pursuit, know that it’s going to take sacrifices and a lot of hard work, and you’re going to be very busy all the time.

How is it competitive? There are so many players out there, so many great players, tons of them. There aren’t enough orchestras to absorb all those players, there aren’t enough choruses or professional opera companies to absorb all of those singers.

There are lots of people who cobble together a work life. People will often play in more than one (orchestra). They teach. They play at weddings. Maybe teach private studio. Just to make a living. The number of people out there trying to do that is tremendous. So you’ve got to hustle.




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