Skyline over a Seattle neighborhood

I was born in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle, Washington at the very edge of the 90's. I grew up in this Scandinavian neighborhood in a Christian/Jewish non-religious household (quite the interesting family dynamic there) with my parents, my brother, and a variety of pets that eventually settled down to 2 very playful dogs. I was raised as an outdoor child, always preferring to play in the woods or on the soccer field with my friends rather than sit inside on the computer for hours. Eventually, I was introduced to the wonderful world of video games and started spending more time inside on the computer than outside climbing trees. I was still participating in competitive sports, but that was no longer my preferred pastime. Finally, in middle school, I had a falling-out with the sports world after a particularly aggressive soccer tryout that left me with a general disdain towards hyper-competitive activities.

Jesse Ellin performing a macaco at Freeway Park

It was around this time that I discovered the Seattle parkour scene through Parkour Visions. I started training when I was 14, and quickly became enamored with the sport and its participants. It wasn't the high-stakes antics or the gravity-defying acrobatics that drew me in. It was the idea of personal competition and communal encouragement that was noticeably missing in team-competition sports. After two years of training with PkV and getting to know the coaches as good friends, I was offered the opportunity to work for them. It started as a work-for-stay agreement where I would spend six hours a week cleaning the warehouse-size gym and they would give me unlimited access to the gym and classes. A year later, I was offered an assistant-coaching position with the same deal and I happily took it. After a year or two, the head coach invited me to participate in a trial run of her coach-training curriculum: an in-depth, hands-on approach to training new parkour coaches. This 12-week program further embedded me in the community and tight-knit friendships that are the trademark of Parkour Visions. It was here that I met the Texan man who introduced me to the Afro-Brazilian martial art of Capoeira.

Rail bridge over Seattle waterway

Unfortunately, my time with this community would not last much longer. In my senior year of high school, PkV lost their gym and moved farther south in Seattle to an area that made regular participation impossible. Between this and the workload of senior year, I decided to take my leave from the PkV community and focus on preparing for college.

Uphill view of Pittsburg building at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

I applied to various colleges across the US, but I knew that my primary choice was Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York. I had heard about this school through my father who saw their name in multiple conferences on artificial intelligence. The idea of AI had interested me since I first experienced HAL9000 in the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey (which I was probably too young to understand the first time I watched it). Then I was exposed to the AI Cortana in the Halo video game series, and Siri and Okay Google and Microsoft's Cortana assistant. By that point "AI" assistants were all over the place and I was fascinated by the idea of systems that could model intelligence and cognitive processes. So when I saw that RPI had a very strong presence in undergraduate AI studies, I knew I wanted to go there.

View of hill-side caves in Slovenia

After being accepted, I immediately applied for a gap year before freshman year. I figured after 12 years of academics, it would be nice to take a break before going further. I was granted the gap year, and the summer after graduating high school I took off on a ten-month journey around Europe and Africa. In total, I visited Portugal, Ireland, Spain, Morocco, Senegal, Croatia, Slovenia, France, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Belgium, and England. I usually spent three to seven days in each city and around one month in each country on a tight budget of 25 dollars per day, including housing. This budget restricted me to seeing the cities and towns not as a tourist would, spending lots of money on lots of things, but as a local would, seeing the city and town for itself and only spending money when absolutely necessary. I became reliant on hostels and locals who were generous enough to accept me into their homes and lives. By far the biggest takeaways from those ten months are the amazing hospitality and kindness that can be found everywhere in the world and the humility to live off what is needed, not what is desired.

View of Carnegie hall at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

After those ten months were over, I settled back into the home I grew up in where I was greeted by dogs (and family and friends and...) who missed me greatly. I spent the summer trying to make back the money I had spent and pay back a small loan I had taken from my parents to cover my return flight. I spent the summer doing manual labor, as I had found great pleasure in making things and helping other people. After spending a year away from academics, I was very happy and eager to return to studying and tackling subjects that I am passionate about. I immediately got back into capoeira through RPI's clubs, where I met Metre Tubarão of Instituto Humaita.

Graduation picture from undergraduate graduation

At the end of a very fast unprecedented 4 years at RPI, my undergraduate career was over and it was time to start looking towards the future. In my case, I had about 3 months of future before going back to RPI for my MS in Computer Science. Looking back on those 4 years, I realize that, despite going to a tech school in upstate New York surrounded by a bunch of nerds, I still got something pretty close to a "traditional" college experience, including a lot of things I should probably keep off a public website...

Mount Washington, Oregon summit

One of the interests that I picked up on my gap year that I never got to fully explore in college is mountain climbing. I climbed Mount Toubkal in Morocco and absolutely loved the experience of the climb as well as the feeling of reaching the summit. The summer before grad school I had the opportunity to climb Mount Washington in Oregon and happily lept at the occassion. The original plan was to tackle Mount Hood, but we were too late in the season to make an attempt, so that climb got pushed back a few months. My summit-list is ever growing.