We mourn the loss of Jennifer Young. Jennifer was a Pfeiffer-VIGRE Postdoctoral Instructor of Computational and Applied Mathematics and a faculty associate at Brown College. She arrived at Rice in 2010 with a B.A. in mathematics from the University of Delaware and a Ph.D. in applied mathematics from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. At Rice Jennifer established new research collaborations, and greatly enhanced the CAAM department's teaching and mentoring roles. She was a very accomplished, very well-rounded, very mature, very confident and yet very gracious young postdoc. We miss her greatly.
A memorial celebrating Jennifer Young was held on October 5, 2012, in the Commons of Brown College at Rice.
We planted a tree in Jennifer's name near Brown College, where she and her husband Gavan were faculty associates.
Donations will be used to support educational and outreach activities in the Department of Computational and Applied Mathematics that were important to Jennifer, as determined by the chair of the department.
Jennifer's parents, Mike and Marina Joyce, have generously donated $5,000 to the Jennifer Joyce Young Memorial Fund in CAAM to support CAAM outreach activities in which Jennifer was so deeply involved. These funds have been/will be used to purchase equipment to expand the Worthing Rice Apprentice Program (WRAP) led by Prof. Steve Cox, and to co-sponsor the next Summer Math Days led by Prof. Beatrice Riviere. The WRAP challenges students from Worthing High School to learn by learning how the brain learns, and delivers a hands-on introduction and integration of mathematics, biology, electronics, and computer programming. The Summer Math Days started in 2009 and is a 3-4 day summer program for high school students entering grades 10-12. The next Summer Math Days are planned for 2015. While at Rice, Jennifer's contributions were instrumental in both activities.
To donate to the Jennifer Joyce Young Memorial Fund in CAAM, send a check payable to Rice University (include "Jennifer Joyce Young Memorial Fund" on the check) to:
Department of Computational and Applied Mathematics
6100 Main St. - MS 134
Houston, TX 77005-1892
Since her tragic death, I have been reflecting on Jen's nearly 31 years and I quickly came to realization that she had a "fairy tale life". One definition of this that I found is "something blessed with unusual happiness". Of course there were struggles and disappointments, but these were far outweighed by the myriad of fantastic friends and wonderful, amazing and miraculous blessings she experienced. In 1977, we moved to Newark and at the same time, Jim & Mauricette Gitney moved in next door. When Jen arrived in 1981, Tata & Tonton, (french for aunt & uncle) adopted her as if she were their daughter and treated her with extraordinary kindness and love throughout her life.
After discovering her vision problems, she received the next amazing blessing in the person of Dr. Charles Wang who's caring, love and amazing surgical skills gave her the best vision possible as the result of two surgeries for a detached retina. Yes, she was visually impaired/legally blind, but she never gave it a second thought. The fact that she would never be able to get a driver's license was not a problem. She just accepted it and moved on.
Jen was an excellent student throughout elementary and high school. She could read proficiently before pre-school and I taught her basic math (addition, subtraction, multiplication and division) using Cheerios spread out on the dining room table. We would do math and then she would eat the Cheerios.
We traveled extensively as a family so she saw most of the 50 states, parts of Canada and the Caribbean. Although when were driving around America, she was usually reading and I would say "Jen, you are missing America". Every summer for nearly 30 years she went to Italy with her mom and was bilingual by age 9 or 10. She loved Cittadella, Marina's home town, and the Veneto Region and all of the Italian relatives and friends. During these annual visits, she was also able to travel through much of Western Europe.
We have a mulberry tree in our back yard and one day in the early 90's I was looking at it and got this vision of a treehouse design that would fit perfectly between three large branches. I built it and she and her friends loved it. The News Journal was doing an article on kid's treehouses in 1994 and they included her in the article along with a picture.
I tried to teach Jen how to play golf but she just had too many others things going on at the time. However, we attended the McDonalds LPGA Championship at DuPont CC many times and she was fortunate enough to meet many of these athletes, get some autographs and pictures with them and in 1991, Jen's picture was on the cover of the News Journal while attending one of their golf clinics.
At St. Mark's she joined the flaggers and was co-captain during her senior year. She was also part of three State Championship Science Olympiad teams. During her junior year at St. Mark's came the next amazing blessing, Gavan, who she met through connections with some of her friends. They dated in high school and at the University of Delaware and then got married in 2006. More on that in a minute.
When Jen started at the University of Delaware, she wanted to teach elementary school but by the end of freshman year she decided to switch her major to math. It took an extra year and she struggled to catch up on the courses she had missed but eventually graduated with honors. She decided to go to grad school and it looked like UD was going to be the only viable option. At the 11th hour, however, came a letter of invitation from North Carolina.
Jen seemed reluctant and undecided about traveling to Chapel Hill but we convinced her to take a look. In March 2004, I drove her there and from the moment we arrived and saw this amazing place, she loved it, the people, everything about it. However, even after this visit, she was still not sure what to do. I remember her looking at me with that "what do I do now" look and I simply said "this is a no brainer, go for it"! While at UNC pursuing a Masters/PhD, she received the next amazing blessing, Dr. Sorin Mitran. When she started at UNC in Sept. 2004 she thought she could complete a PhD in 4 years but Dr. Mitran was very tough and demanded excellence from her and her thesis so it ended up taking 6 years. Many times she would question herself and whether the PhD was worth all of this effort. We would say "stay the course, you can do it". Dr. Mitran's steadfast demand for excellence paid off in the end and they became the best of friends. His outstanding recommendation played a large part in her next destination, Rice University.
Now back to the wedding. During the time at UNC she and Gavan decided to get married in 2006, but how could they do it and be accommodating to everyone. Simple, they had a May civil ceremony in North Carolina, a July wedding in a 1000 year old church near Cittadella (followed by Italy winning the World Cup) and finally, in August ceremony/reception in Chapel Hill.
When Jen completed her PhD at UNC she began exploring the possibilities of a Post Doc and had several offers/interviews but none of them were really appealing. Then once again at the 11th hour came THE invitation, from Rice University, Dept of Computational and Applied Mathematics (CAAM). Dr. Mitran was thrilled with this because of the University's reputation in Applied Mathematics and he urged here to accept it. She and Gavan visited, decided to accept the offer and she agreed to a 3 year commitment. While at Rice she worked with and was mentored by Dr. Beatrice Riviere and in two short years they became the best of friends. Jen was an excellent researcher with a passion for mathematical biology. She was a true collaborator and a key partner in establishing relationships with scientists at the Texas Medical Center. Jen also greatly enhanced the Department teaching and mentoring roles and she always received excellent teaching evaluations from her students.
After her eye surgeries, she showed a sincere interest in baseball so I taught her to throw, catch and hit. I also began to teach her history of the game that I grew up with and my experiences with it as a child. Eventually she played tee ball and then youth league slow pitch softball. Her athletic skills were excellent. I coached the slow pitch softball teams and she constantly amazed me with her ability to perform all facets of the game. During these years, we started to attend major league baseball games in Philadelphia and Baltimore, and then on family trips, we added Boston, Montreal and Pittsburgh. Totally by chance, we were at the game in Three Rivers Stadium in April 1987 when Mike Schmidt hit his 500th homerun. She really enjoyed these games and at each stadium she would get a bumper sticker for that team and then put it on her bedroom door. Eventually we just decided "why not see a game in every one of the 30 major league stadiums". We completed that dream in April 1999 in Phoenix AZ and the Diamondbacks recognized her accomplishment on the message board that day. These family/baseball trips were the greatest of times and three of them really stand out most in my memories.
CALIFORNIA - In the summer of 1994 Marina, Jen and I decided to do fly to California and see the five teams (Dodgers, Padres, Angels A's and Giants). After completing the first three, we were in Oakland on August 12 when the baseball players decided to go on strike which ultimately cancelled the rest of that season and postseason. Since we were in the area we drove to Candlestick Park (then home to the Giants), went to their offices and explained who we were and why we were there. We then asked if we could go inside and look around, they gave us permission to explore the stadium. From the lower level, we walked down through seats on the 3rd base side and stepped on to the field, amazing! Jen ran the bases, touched home plate and then sat in the dugout. We returned to the west coast a few years later to see a Giants game.
FIVE CITIES/SIX TEAMS - The following year Jen and I decided to do a 5 city 6 team trip (Detroit, Chicago, Milwaukee, Cincinnati and Cleveland). All we had to do was decide where to fly and then plan the driving route based on the teams' schedules. Southwest Airlines had just started flying out of Baltimore so the other Airlines were lowering their fares to compete. We found a ridiculous round trip fare from BWI to Cleveland (something like $50-$60). In 1995, baseball attendance was way down everywhere because of the strike so we figured that we would have no problem finding tickets on game day in each city. We flew to Cleveland then immediately headed for Detroit, then Chicago, Milwaukee, Cincinnati and back to Cleveland. In Detroit, we were able to walk on the field of Tiger Stadium after the game (don't remember why). White Sox game at Comisky Park uneventful. We saw a day game at Wrigley Field in Chicago (Phillies were in town and Jen got Mitch William's autograph on her baseball glove) and then drove to Milwaukee for a night game the same day. After Cincinnati (they had $1 hot dogs) we returned to Cleveland to complete the trip. The only thing we didn't know was that attendance was NOT down in Cleveland. The Indians were a very good team and their fans were not staying away. They reached the World Series that year and lost to Atlanta. We arrived at the stadium a few hours before game time and PANICKED immediately because the game was SOLD OUT! I made a small sign that simply said "NEED TWO", stuck it in my golf visor and we sat on a wall near the main entrance. Approximately 30 minutes before game time a young guy approached us, said he had four tickets but only needed two and sold us the other two at face value! AMAZING!!! I looked skyward and said "LORD YOU TOOK CARE OF US AGAIN!"
FIELD OF DREAMS - I don't remember the year but we flew to Chicago and went to games in Kansas City, St. Louis, Minneapolis along with a repeat visit to Wrigley Field at the end because it is such a special place. Stopped at Springfield, IL to see President Lincoln's home, law office and tomb. After games in KC and St. Louis we headed for Hannibal, MO. If you love Mark Twain, make sure you go there for a visit. On the way to Minneapolis, we stopped in Dyersville, IA to see the setting for the 1989 Kevin Costner/James Earl Jones movie "Field of Dreams". Jen and I loved this movie and we played baseball on the actual field, sat on the bleachers on the first base line and then walked into the corn that borders the outfield but we didn't disappear like the players in the movie. My most vivid memory of this trip, however, came on a rural two lane farm road near Dyersville. I pulled over, stopped and we got out of the car to stare at the clouds. I have never seen clouds like those anywhere, before or since. They were amazing and every time I think of that trip and that moment, I hear the line from the movie "Is this Heaven?" "No it's Iowa".
Every time Jen would get something, a birthday gift or special something that she had wanted, I would say to her "now your life is complete!" Then she would laugh, smile and say yes! Unfortunately for us, her earthly life is complete and it was a wonderful life! When you experience a tragedy like this, everyone always asks "What can we do"? Is there anything we can do"? We know you love us and that you loved Jen but in all honesty, there is nothing that will mitigate the pain. I thought about this question long and hard and my best response is "live the rest of your life like Jen lived hers." Those of you who knew her will know what I mean.