The lengths a woodworker will go to acquire a prime piece of wood can at times border on the extreme. This is certainly the case for Jeff Jauregui.
"No piece is too big or too small. If I see it, I can imagine a beautiful project," he said.
The Union College mathematics professor scoured Montgomery County for Amish-milled larch boards. A suitcase crammed with rare oak and palm accompanied him on a return flight from Japan. And then there is the slab of black walnut, purchased at auction, rumored to be from a tree planted by Eliphalet Nott.
“My plan is to turn it into a coffee table for my office on campus."
Jauregui developed an interest in woodworking about seven years ago. "I've done small projects, such as keepsake boxes, cutting boards, bowls and serving trays, but I'm hoping to make some larger furniture,” he said. To support his furniture-making ambitions, he is converting the garage into his "dream workshop.”
A West Coast transplant, Jauregui grew up in Lodi, a northern California town about an hour's drive from breathtaking forests, mountains and coasts. Family camping trips fostered a strong connection with the outdoors. He loves the Adirondacks and has conquered half of its 46 high peaks. An inveterate vegetable gardener, he eagerly anticipates dirtying his hands in the sizable plot he’s planned for the backyard.
An affinity for mathematics emerged early and naturally.
"I have loved math for as long as I can remember. For a while, I thought I would go into engineering, until I found out you could do math for a living!"
Jauregui earned his Ph.D. from Duke University. At Union, his primary research focuses on how "the curvature of spacetime affects the total mass of the spacetime." While it is difficult for him to pick a favorite course, as "he likes them all," when pressed, he confesses to being partial to "Differential Geometry."
It was while studying at Duke that he met his future spouse, Ellen Gasparovic, pursuing her Ph.D. at nearby UNC Chapel Hill, and who is now also a Union mathematics professor. The couple has a four-year-old son, Thomas.
FIRST APP YOU LOOK AT IN THE MORNING: I usually start the day by perusing Reddit.
GO-TO BREAKFAST: My family got into overnight oats last year, and it has been our go-to ever since. With peanut butter, cocoa powder and maple syrup added, it makes for a delicious, easy breakfast.
WHAT’S THE LAST GREAT BOOK YOU READ? I'm nearly finished with "American Prometheus," which served as the basis for the movie "Oppenheimer." The level of detail and the extensive research are incredible, and the 25 years of work put into the book are evident. I read a decent amount of non-fiction, but it is rarely so riveting. I'm interested in both physics and World War II history, so this is right up my alley.
BEST ADVICE YOU EVER RECEIVED: From my Ph.D. advisor I learned “don’t let perfection get in the way of good enough.” This is very similar to my dad's four-foot rule: if something looks good from four feet away, then it's fine. It's widely applicable both literally and metaphorically.
FAVORITE PLACE TO VISIT (AND WHY?): When I was growing up, my family would always go camping. I spent a lot of time in Tahoe, and to this day, it's still my favorite place to visit. You can't beat swimming at a sandy beach, with views of snow-capped mountains all around. This past year, I finally got a chance to bring my son there and introduce him to all our old family traditions.
WHAT ARE YOU WATCHING RIGHT NOW?: I'm on the latest season of "For All Mankind." It's an alternate history in which the Soviet Union beats the U.S. to the moon, reinvigorating the space race and setting the 20th century in a different direction. When I suggest the show in conversation, most people haven't seen it, but I highly recommend it.
ONE SKILL YOU WISH YOU HAD: Organization: My life is held together by sticky notes, text files, browser tabs and way too many emails to myself. I wish this ability came naturally to me.
THREE DINNER PARTY GUESTS (living or deceased): Since my dad never got the chance to meet my son, I would definitely start with the two of them. For a third guest, I'd have to go with Einstein. His remarkable insights into the nature of gravity remain significant over a century later and laid the groundwork for my area of research.
FIRST CONCERT YOU ATTENDED: "Weird Al" Yankovic at the California State Fair. I got into his music before I started liking the kind of music he parodies.
LITTLE KNOWN FACT ABOUT YOU: I know all the U.S. presidents by number. When I found out my then-girlfriend and now-wife, Ellen Gasparovic, also knew the presidents, I knew we were a perfect match. Over the summer, our son kept asking us to recite the full list in order until he learned them, too.