Math Helps MxCC Grad Go Beyond: Find Exciting Career, Peace Corps Assignment in Africa
George Fikus enrolled in Middlesex after high school. At the time, he was not a serious student and he felt unsure about his future.
“I lacked direction and ambition. But, Middlesex surprised me. It gave me new points of view and introduced me to subjects I really enjoyed, such as Finite Math,” he said.
The course took him by surprise. It changed his life.
“This was a math course unlike any previous course, dealing with sets, logic and probability. For the first time, math made sense! I also had a good (and patient) math instructor who encouraged me to take more math courses,” said Fikus, who went on to take (and sometimes struggle with) Pre-calculus Mathematics and Statistics – and graduate from Middlesex.
He enrolled at UCONN, but was behind and needed to catch up with math courses. He took three and four math classes each semester plus summer courses. He even graduated as a Math major and went on to start graduate school, working on his master’s degree.
“I decided to join the Peace Corps, serving as a High School Math Teacher in The Gambia, West Africa,” he said. “I have many fond memories of these days where I was stationed with approximately 50 other teachers, most of them were also recent college graduates taking a little time off to do some good before getting serious.”
The experience changed his life, bringing him places he never thought mathematics would. Fikus got a first-hand introduction to the Gambian way of life, the language and the people.
“After a very enjoyable and rewarding experience; I went on to get more serious in life. I decided to serve in a different way. I applied and was accepted into Officer Training School,” he said.
After completing the 90 day school, he was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the Air Force. While in the Air Force he went on to get his master’s degree in engineering management from Northeastern University and also a master’s degree in mathematics from Creighton University - with a 4.0 GPA!
He said: “Math finally made sense!”
Fikus made the Air Force his career and served as a Communications-Computer Officer, Mathematician, Scientific Analyst and Program Manager.
“I never lost my desire to teach or my empathy for students who had a hard time with math,” said Fikus, who served as an Assistant Professor of Mathematics at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado for four years. “I had many other interesting assignments in Massachusetts, Nebraska, Mississippi, Alabama, and Saudi Arabia (2 years). I also worked as an Adjunct Math Instructor at Auburn University – Montgomery, University of Missouri – Saint Louis, University of Alabama – Huntsville and Faulkner University-Huntsville.”
After retiring from the service, Fikus applied his math background to get a job with a small company as an analyst and senior engineer working to develop and test a common missile warning system to protect aircraft by detecting missile threats and applying countermeasures.
“I used my math and statistics background to do many studies, analyses and simulations. Today I work as a Reliability Engineering Consultant for a major aerospace firm, developing a missile defense system for North America and our allies. I am a Team Lead, and have assorted duties that include marketing, recruiting, and managerial responsibilities. However, most of my time is spent doing reliability tasks, using math, statistics and systems engineering knowledge to develop recommendations for reducing failures; to make systems more reliable, available and maintainable,” he said. “I have been lucky to do a lot of business travel to Colorado, California and Alaska where I performed site surveys, training and reliability data collection activities, not to mention a lot of site seeing!”
His work in mathematics at MxCC helped to give Fikus direction in life – one that led him in many directions as his adventures mounted and his career grew.
“I am sometimes amazed by how my life turned out considering I was not a serious student. However, with encouragement and a lot of extra help from a few dedicated individuals at Middlesex, I was given a second chance,” he said. “I made it this far; and the adventures continue!”
While Fikus’ story is uncommon – not everyone who finds inspiration in mathematics ends up working in Africa, it is common that we hear of our mathematics students finding themselves in careers they never imagined and grasping opportunities in life that they may not have had without Middlesex Community College and the Mathematics Department.