W. Carl Mayer '67 studied physics at Union, where his favorite class was computer programming and his favorite experience was “having computer access at 2 a.m. to the IBM System 360.” Carl, who grew up in Munich, Germany, now lives in Saugerties, N.Y. He spent 38 years as science teacher at Rhinebeck Central Schools (N.Y.), but originally came to the U.S. in 1958 as a baker.
How did you find Union and why did you choose to attend?
In fall 1961, I joined South Kent School (Conn.) as a baker. During my free time, I took correspondence courses, which somehow came to Headmaster L. Wynne Wister’s attention. He invited me to take classes. I was the baker/second cook at SKS, but supervising manager Chuck Willing and Chef Carl Mosher graciously gave me permission to adjust my hours to attend classes. These two wonderful people enabled me to succeed by giving me freedom. They are among the many individuals who made my journey possible and to whom I am deeply grateful.
One of the English teachers invited me to join his class, since my English was pitiful. When Tom Dingman, the physics teacher, saw me going to class, he asked me what was going on, and he invited me to join his small physics class. I told him, “I’d love to!” and added, “By the way, what is physics?” Since I had no concept of algebra, I only got a “C” at the end of the year, but I loved physics. Well, next year I took more English, AP chemistry and math – all in between baking for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
After two years of this two-timing, Headmaster Wister suggested I really should go on to college. He suggested I apply to three colleges: Bridgeport University, Union College in Schenectady and MIT. However, there was a slight problem with my college applications: I did not have a high school diploma. “Not a problem!” said Mr. Wister, and took out a sheet of SKS stationary, and wrote on the back of it: “Wolfgang E. Mayer (my legal name at the time) is now a graduate of South Kent School.” He put down some other niceties, which make my heart jump every time I read them. Thank you, Mr. Wister! But I always wondered why he used the back of the sheet.
I applied to the three suggested schools and was accepted to all of them. MIT offered no financial aid, but Union generously gave me a full scholarship, in addition to other financial aid. Financially, it was a no-brainer, and as it turned out, Union was a perfect choice for me in every way. I am forever grateful for this opportunity to have been able to attend Union College.
Who were your mentors and how important was their guidance?
The staff and administration of South Kent School was most supportive; without their help and encouragement, I would have spent my life feeding bodies (I was a baker and cook) instead of nurturing minds (as science teacher).
Students often feel pressure to do well in college. Did you feel any particular pressure?
I felt no pressure, although at times I missed the collaborative experience I could have had if I would have been a frat brother.
Where did you feel most seen on campus? In my physics classes. Most invisible? At the Rathskeller.
Have you provided any mentorship yourself, academically or otherwise?
At the College, I was dorm counselor and I helped out in the German Language Lab. Before that, I tutored an SKS student in math, during vacation at his parents’ house on Park Ave.
What made you click? Where did you find your niche? What experience made you feel like you belonged at Union?
Being trusted to be a dorm counselor made me feel like I was an integral part of Union.
Do you feel your Union experience differed from that of your peers? If so, how?
Since I did not have any family to go back to during off times, Union was my home.
Were there any particular programs or people at Union who really made a difference to you, either academically or personally?
The staff of the Physics Department, from the office secretary up to Professor Way, was most supportive.
I am forever grateful to the caring people at South Kent School and at Union College, and to my loving wife, for their support and encouragement, which allowed me to grow and blossom, and to lead a productive, joyful life.