Scotlight: Ben Jenkins

What is it like to double major in physics and Chinese?

It’s a blast! They’re two things I’m really interested in. I love doing both of them. They’re both so different that when I get tired of doing one I can switch to the other. They each work a totally different part of your brain, so it doesn’t feel as fatiguing. Being able to switch back and forth makes it almost kind of restful. However, because they are both so different, I have to do two different I.S.’s. I have heard a lot of different people go, “That sounds terrible!” I don’t think it’s that terrible. There are benefits to doing two different I.S.’s. Two I.S.’s means two different classes are already taken up, so you only have to take two more classes outside of that to remain a full-time student. I accidentally overloaded this semester and I’m taking three, but I only needed to take two. So, I have time to complete my I.S.’s. As long as you take your time and plan out your life, it’s not that bad.

Speaking of your I.S.’s, what are the focuses of your I.S.’s?

The physics I.S. is looking at the halos of galaxies and nearby galaxies to look at how it relates to the overall characteristics of the galaxy, in hopes of confirming or denying or at least gaining more introspective on the evolution of the galaxies and how they evolve. It is a lot of fun. I get to look at pictures of galaxies and attempt to model them. My Chinese I.S. is looking at a couple of the classic texts from the Ming Qing Dynasties of China. I am looking at the similarities in how they portray and value women, and how that changes with the later versions of those same stories, specifically versions from the Republic of China era and modern-day.

How are they coming along?

It’s weird because I have more written for the Chinese I.S. but I feel like I’ve been really productive on my physics I.S. I can’t write a lot on the physics one until I get my results. I have had to learn different programs and tools for the physics I.S., while I am already familiar with the texts for the Chinese one, so I am coming into it with a bit of knowledge. I can really hit the ground running.

So you need to do more groundwork for the physics one?

Exactly, I have never had an astronomy course, which is the focus of my I.S., so I am really starting from ground zero here. It’s not bad! I enjoy it and astronomy is really cool.

You’ve been seen doing parkour around campus. What made you start, and continue, to do that?

I started gymnastics around the age of two or three and I absolutely loved it. I continued with it until sixth grade and had to stop but I didn’t want to. That is when I found parkour on YouTube. I saw it and thought, “This is really cool. I am going to go to the park and try to do the things that I see on the Internet.” Now there are teachers and gyms and things, but those didn’t exist back then. So, I would see something and think, “I can probably figure out how to do that without hurting myself too bad.” That is how I started, and it has been 11 years since then, and I have yet to have a major injury!

Is it weird doing it on a college campus, where you are a student?

No, I grew up right near the University of Michigan and Eastern Michigan University, so I would go to either of those campuses and practice and train. This isn’t any difference except I know a lot of people that will see me around because it’s such a small campus and community. Before, I could go to the same place on Eastern Michigan University’s campus for three days straight and I would see new people and they would be really impressed and interested. Now people are used to seeing me so there’s less surprise, “Oh yeah, that’s the flip guy.” I’ll meet people that I have never met before and they’ll say, “Oh, you’re the guy who does parkour.” And they already have an impression of me.

Is there a spot on campus that you really like?

Andrews Library Patio. That is where I start almost every single training session because it’s open, but it also has enough stuff to do. There are low ledges which are good for practicing flips and tricks that I have tried on grass and am ready to try on concrete. I also really like the bleachers at the stadium.

What are your plans after graduation?

Zero! I have been told by many people that with my double major I will be extremely marketable. So, I am hoping that is true. What I am actually hoping for is to find something I am really interested in. I do art and design and I have always wanted to do my own comic book or do animation, so this year I have been trying to develop a portfolio in hopes of pursuing that farther after graduation. But in terms of work, I want to go work in customer service for international flights at an airline to continue building on my language skills. I also want to travel because I have never made it outside of the U.S. I want to do that for a couple of years and then start studying for the GRE to go to grad school. For now, I am just looking to be somewhere warm. If there is a temperature change, I only want it to be a minimum of 60 degrees.  

Interview by Abby McFarren, a Contributing Writer for the Voice (Photo courtesy Ben Jenkins).