TAMARA BLAIN, 2003 QUEENS COLLEGE GRADUATE:
CURIOSITY LEADS TO A NEW LIFE IN COMPUTER SCIENCE
--Flatbush Native Bound for a PhD Wants to Invent Robotics for the Disabled—
NEW YORK, May 16, 2003 -- “I think anyone involved in the sciences probably questions a great deal and plays a lot.” These words accurately describe the speaker, Tamara Blain, who keeps notebooks of her own investigations and ideas for inventions, as well as a stock of toys and electronics. Blain, who obtained her B.S. in biochemistry from SUNY Stony Brook, is graduating from Queens College May 29 with a second B.S. in computer science. From there she leaves for the University of California at Berkeley’s PhD program in electrical engineering and a job at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
Unsure what to do with her biochemistry degree and being artistically inclined, she “jumped onto the Internet bandwagon” and worked in graphic design. That led to computer classes at Lehman College—“I didn’t know what computer science was,” she says--and eventually, enrollment at Queens College as a computer sciences major. “The department has a reputation for excellence and the faculty is welcoming,” she says.
Blain has become immersed in research in the cutting-edge field of embedded systems—microchips that are placed in everything from toys to airplanes. “It’s such a hot new area,” she says. “I think there are more embedded computers than there are people on the planet!” Drawing on her biochemistry training, she hopes at Berkeley to learn how to apply embedded systems to neuroprosthetics and robotics, “helping people with disabilities interact more with the environment.” At Lawrence Berkeley, by contrast, she will be using embedded systems to improve performance of the particle accelerator, and then teaching those systems to engineers.
Despite Blain’s passion for her work, she has a sense of humor about it, too. She laughingly calls herself a “science nerd,” though she is very aware that her young urban style and culture defy the stereotype. In fact, her interests range from snowboarding to avant-garde comics.
Blain never strays far from scientific questions, though, having grown up in a scientific family where inquiry and experimentation were encouraged from an early age. Her parents are natives of Haiti who left to teach math and biology in the Congo; here, her father is a social worker and her mother is the head nurse at a psychiatric hospital.
Their house always held books and magazines on science and medicine; Blain remembers reading the Science Times with her father as a child, and receiving her own microscope as a gift in the third grade. She also remembers always being allowed to question. “We learn from our parents,” she says. “We emulate them. They don’t even realize how much.” Her sisters, too, have pursued science through their work in chemistry, dentistry, and medicine.
Queens College of the City University of New York (CUNY), founded in 1937 and located on a 77-acre campus in Flushing, Queens, enjoys a strong national reputation for the liberal arts and sciences and professional programs. Master’s degrees are offered in nearly 50 disciplines. Queens College was founded on the conviction that a high-quality education should be accessible to talented individuals from all backgrounds. Its 16,000 students come from more than 140 nations and speak 66 languages—creating an extraordinarily diverse, and welcoming, educational environment. Students are taught by an award-winning faculty renowned for scholarship and dedicated to teaching. Many special programs are offered for honors students, students in pre-law, pre-med and business, adults and “fresh start” students; weekend learners; and students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds.