Monday, April 23, 2007

Linsey Marr: RA alum and VT prof*

Rio Americano and Virginia Tech had the same "first day of school" this academic year. I had barely returned from a trip to Yellowstone in time to start the school year. My friend and former student, Linsey Marr cut her summer travel even closer to opening day. Air travel complications conspired to delay her return to Blacksburg and forced her to call ahead to cancel her classes at Virginia Tech. But a shooting rampage on campus early on August 21, 2006 resulted in all classes being cancelled that day.

Linsey was an academic superstar at Rio in the early '90s. She was a well-balanced student with performing arts and athletic skills as well, but there wasn't a class on campus that truly challenged her academic/intellectual abilities. My AP Physics class certainly didn't. She smoked every class she took without appearing to break a sweat. Linsey and her Science Olympiad Cell Biology teammate scored the first national competition-level gold medal for Rio Americano.

From Rio, Linsey went on to MIT but transferred to Harvard and majored in environmental engineering. While there, she designed (and built) a fluorescent version of the then-ubiquitous torchiere lamp. It scored notice as one of Popular Science's "Best of What's New." Serious challenge, though, continued to elude her: she graduated summa cum laude... from Harvard! It's not that challenges didn't come her way, it's just that she dispatched them in ways most of us could not.

Linsey returned to California to earn a Ph.D. at Berkeley. And when it came time to choose among the tenure-track positions at leading environmental engineering schools, she chose Virginia Tech. She continues to distinguish herself there.

When the reports began coming in about the shootings at VT last Monday, I became concerned. Initially, it was "just" a shooting at a dorm: two dead. I thought to myself, "this is strike two, Linsey." But when the subsequent reports told of more than 20 dead in a massacre in an engineering building, I began to feel sick.

While trying to maintain a calm appearance for my students (who weren't aware of the news and likely had no direct connection to VT)), I searched the 'net to determine which building was involved, which building Linsey's office was in, and what their proximity was. The reports only got worse throughout the day. "More than 20" became "more than 30." Names of the victims were not being released.

I was anxious to know how she was, but I knew there were many others who deserved more immediate responses, so I held off trying to contact her. Phone lines into Blacksburg were overwhelmed. Linsey was able to tell me she was not harmed in the shooting when I emailed her late Monday night. The language is tricky here. Better to say she was not struck by a bullet; everyone in the Blacksburg/Virginia Tech community was harmed. She was two buildings away during the shootings and saw the swarm of ambulances descending onto campus.

My thoughts remained with her as I heard the horrific accounts of the shootings. She knew several of the victims personally, and conveyed remembrances of her fallen colleague and several of her students. Difficult to read, but I imagine even harder to write.

This has no doubt been the longest week of Linsey's life. I know she has an exceptionally strong character that will help her through this difficult process. And I imagine that soon enough (if it's not happening already), Linsey will be helping those around her cope with the aftermath of this tragedy. I wish--as we all wish--a full recovery for her and for her community.

Click her pic to get her page.

*Technically, she's an Assistant Professor, but that "Assistant" modifier will probably last as long as a baby porcupine's toy balloon.

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