‘I love this place’: Orion pursues a passion for math and civic engagement

Orion Barber

Orion Barber

Orion Barber loves the precision that underlies all mathematics, the unwavering dedication to logic and reason. While the field’s highest levels can be more abstract in nature, they are still firmly grounded in proofs, he explained.

“I view mathematics as the key to the universe, so to speak,” said Barber, who is pursuing degrees in two fields at SUNY Broome: Mathematics and Paralegal Studies.

He noticed back in high school that he relished the same math classes that others treated with hesitation. Pursuing a math degree seemed a logical course – as did attending his local community college.

The numbers added up: He could get a rigorous education close to home at low cost, and then transfer to another institution to finish his degree. He would also have the opportunity to follow his other passions, as well: civic engagement and governance, which was the inspiration behind the Paralegal Studies degree.

The fact that law, too, is ideally based on precision, reason and logic also made a certain sense, noted Orion, who plans to earn both degrees in Spring 2019.

Always up for a challenge, he particularly enjoyed the rigorous course load in Professor Timmy Bremer’s differential equations class. He also found inspiration in Professor Paul Cartie’s calculus courses – Cartie is “a really fun guy who loves math,” Barber said – as well as from Professor Irene Byrnes, the faculty advisor for the college’s Phi Theta Kappa chapter, and Professor Emeritus Doug Garnar, who founded SUNY Broome’s Center for Civic Engagement.

In addition to saving money, SUNY Broome offers an ideal stepping stone to the collegiate experience, Orion noted. Small class sizes mean that students can get more personal attention, as opposed to the large lecture halls at some universities.

“I love this place! There are better student-faculty ratios. We couldn’t have more than 30 in any given class, as opposed to 300,” he said. “And I like the local community. It’s home.”

Getting involved

If you’re on the SUNY Broome campus for any length of time, you will probably run into Orion somewhere along the way. He became involved with campus life early in his college career, first running for a position as Student Assembly Senator and now serving his second term as the student representative on the college’s Board of Trustees.

He is president of the college’s chapter of the honor society Phi Theta Kappa, citing his “rich appreciation for academic excellence.” In his leadership role at PTK, he was inspired by SUNY Broome alumna Heather Coggins, whom he also served with on Student Assembly and in the Women’s Discussion Group. Following Heather’s lead, he’s now also the Women’s Discussion Group president; it turns out that Orion is one of the only members from the previous year, which provides the group with continuity.

“I really feel that diversity and inclusion are important to the community,” he said.

He also pursues his passion for civic engagement outside the campus, in a variety of progressive causes, including volunteer work for political campaigns and marshalling marches for Citizen Action. This year, though, he’s focused more on school.

How does he balance his pursuit of academic excellence with his passion for civic and campus engagement? While he takes his math classes on campus, he takes his paralegal courses online, giving him the flexibility he needs with his schedule.

“I strategically plan my course load and my course work,” said Barber, who also works as a tutor in the college’s Math Lab. “A lot of my weekends I’m looking to my academic self.”

Calculating the future

When it comes to rewarding future careers, there is more than one answer for math majors: professor, researcher, big data scientist – the possibilities might not technically be infinite, but they’re a rather large set.

“One of the things I love about math is it’s such a broad topic that I’m comfortable not knowing exactly where my career path will be,” Orion reflected.

He dares to dream big: his ultimate transfer school is the University of Oxford in Great Britain, the oldest university in the entire English-speaking world. He has a deep appreciation for British culture as well as its healthcare system, fostered during an applied learning trip he took to Cornwall in the summer of 2016. While there, he interned for a lighthouse and heritage center – a museum, as it happens, although it’s fun to say that he worked for a lighthouse attendant.

Another long-term dream: return to France, where he did a brief exchange student program in high school. Wherever he ends up, Orion will enjoy the calculations and the challenge.

For his peers who are feeling frustrated by equations, this math lab tutor has the following advice: “Change the approach.” Instead of focusing on your fear or discomfort with math, embrace the realization that math is logical and factual – even if it doesn’t seem to make immediate sense in the context of your assignment.

“Let’s give it a look and see where we end up,” he said.