Before Julie Urban was an evolutionary biologist studying planthoppers and armpit microbes, she studied human factors psychology, and before that…she was a middle school student. Her career has taken a few interesting turns since her middle school days studying math in a van. And one thing is for sure: she never imagined she’d be touching bugs (and liking it) for a living.
Lea: What was your craziest/most memorable classroom moment?
Julie: Being able to go to the “Math Van” with two other kids for advanced math lessons. And the tutor-lady-person (I imagine she was a teacher, but she worked out of a van) taught us how to subtract integers with a tune to: “Take the smaller from the larger, keep the SIGN of the larger.” I recognize that the van thing may sound troubling — it was a cool innovative project that got funding to go around and teach sixth graders Pre-Algebra.
Were you cool?
I was a “smart kid” and got put into groups (math, reading, etc.) with the same other smart kids.
Was anyone cool? Tell us what made you a cool student in your middle school.
I seem to remember the rich kids as being cool (and I wasn’t one of those) and the kids who were really good at sports were cool (I played sports but wasn’t good enough to be cool). But I think I was in the middle somewhere, because I had friends — so not uncool.
What were your favorite subjects in middle school?
Math, I didn’t like all science, but I did like astronomy, and won the Astronomy Bowl, a quiz bowl competition among all kids in the 6th grade.
Do you remember what question you won the Astronomy Bowl with?
I don’t remember the exact questions at the end that won the Astronomy Bowl, but I remember explaining how the moon influenced tides.
What made astronomy so special?
I think I liked astronomy because I spent a lot of time at that age wondering what was “out there.” Was there life in other places out there? How were time and the universe organized? It appealed to my “deep thinking.”
Did you have any favorite books?
I liked The Diary of Anne Frank, and The Last of the Mohicans. But starting in the 2nd grade, I used my reading test scores on my mom as an argument for getting to read whatever I wanted (“If I am able to read at a high school level, then I should be allowed to read whatever I want.”) She bought it, and in middle school I remember reading Valley of the Dolls and The Amityville Horror.
Were you in any clubs, have hobbies or extra curricular activities?
I played basketball and was a cheerleader for the boy’s football team. I also loved to crochet. I also remember that the nuns from my school always had me participating in competitive math tests on weekends. I loved birds, too, but the thought of becoming a biologist never crossed my mind.