Volume 43 | Number 1 | Fall 2012

Jeremy Farrell with sons, Vincent, 4, and Daniel, 1.

ISU Photographic Services/Susan Duncan

This Time Around

Fall 2012 Issue | By Andrew Taylor

As a child growing up in Salt Lake City, Jeremy Farrell recalls having a high aptitude in math. He tested in the upper 5 percent nationally in a mathematics exam in fifth grade and was put in advanced math classes through seventh grade, but his love of numbers was interrupted.

During junior high Farrell said he got "involved in a lot of not so great activities," but declined to elaborate on them in print. His disengagement from school was gradual. He first started missing a few classes and then stopped going to classes entirely. He was transferred to the Creek Side Alternative High School in Salt Lake City, but then "officially stopped going to school" in ninth grade.

This spring Jeremy Farrell completed the journey from being a junior high school dropout to becoming one of 13 Idaho State University students honored as a 2012 Outstanding Student Achievement Award winner, the top University honor an ISU student can attain.

His advice for those who have dropped out or are looking for a change is, "Start doing something you like. Once you start changing it is hard to stop and don't worry too much about it — just start."

The 23-year-old Farrell, a statistics major, earned the OSA Award for the College of Science and Engineering, Natural and Physical Sciences.

Farrell followed a nontraditional path to arrive at ISU and was a "nontraditional student" while at ISU, married and with two children.

Noting that his "family life was not the best," Farrell moved to Killeen, Texas, when he was 16 to live with his 21-year-old brother, who was in the Army.

"It got me out of a bad situation I was in," noted Farrell. "It was good living with my brother. Before I moved down there we were not that close, but it was a bonding experience for us. Living there cleared my head and I straightened up my act."

His brother encouraged Jeremy to pursue his GED, which he did, while working a variety of part-time and full-time jobs. When Jeremy was 18, his older brother was deployed to Iraq, and Jeremy returned to Salt Lake City and moved in with his sister a short time before living on his own.

"In 2006 I got my GED, actually about six months after I would have graduated if I'd stayed in school," Jeremy said.

In Salt Lake City, Farrell worked construction jobs, earned an EMT certificate from the Academy for Emergency Science, and met and married his wife, Janel Davis, a native of Pocatello. When Janel became pregnant with the couple's first son, they moved to Pocatello to be closer to Janel's parents.

While working a variety of construction jobs, Farrell applied for EMT jobs but was unsuccessful and was encouraged by his in-laws to start at Idaho State University.

When he took a statistics class — yes, statistics, the class many undergraduates abhor and recoil from as if it were a demon torture test — from DeWayne Derryberry, ISU assistant professor of mathematics, Farrell rediscovered his love of numbers.

"I really like to get in and play with numbers," Farrell said. "I love mathematics, but it is not applied enough. The higher up you go in math the more abstract it becomes, and it is harder to relate to the real world.

"Statistics," he continued, "by its very nature is an applied discipline. You get a solid foundation in theory, but you get to apply models and say something about the real world. I love analyzing data sets and drawing real-world conclusions."

This passion panned out for Farrell. His command of statistics, along with his minor in computer science, also allowed him to be hired at a job before he graduated from ISU. He is a software developer and programmer for Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Company.

At ISU, Farrell applied for a job at chemistry Professor John Kalivas's Chemometrics Research Center. After a rigorous interview, Farrell was accepted to work at the lab and used his statistical background and flourished working in the laboratory.

"ISU has some great opportunities for undergraduates to do research," Farrell said. "Dr. Kalivas does a lot of amazing research and he expects a lot out of you. He works with statistical models and applied statistical models applied to large chemistry data sets. Working in his lab cemented a lot of the ideas I had learned in classes, and it really enhanced my learning experience by teaching me independent research skills."

Farrell had exemplary success working in Kalivas's laboratory, eventually co-authoring two research manuscripts that will appear in scholarly journals. He also presented poster and oral sessions at national research conferences.

"Everyone should have to present to their professional peers and experts in their field at a professional conference at least once," Farrell said. "It's a learning experience."

Capping off his undergraduate research career was being selected as one of 74 undergraduates nationwide to present research at the Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR) hosted on Capitol Hill in April, where Farrell interacted with ISU congressional delegation and other members of Congress.

During the 4-1/2 years Farrell attended ISU as a nontraditional student he has been busy. He's a husband, a father of two young boys, and he worked part-time throughout his college career, and he was involved in a variety of extracurricular activities including being a member of the Phi Kappa Phi National Honor Society and the Golden Key Honor Society, and was president of the ISU G2 Math/Computer Science Club for two years and a member for three.

"You know, you have to get it done," Farrell said, referring to his busy schedule. "You can't procrastinate — there's not room for it. Get it done."

He also credited the support of his wife.

"She took care of most of the family things during the week," Farrell said. "Saturdays were just for family and Sundays were for studying all day, from whenever I got up until midnight or 1 in the morning."

Farrell is excited about his new job with Farm Bureau Mutual, and plans to pursue a master's degree, and possibly a doctorate.

"My eventual aspiration is to mold my two interests, statistics and computer science, and combine research data mining and machine learning," he said.

He attributed some of his success to dropping out of junior high.

"I learned responsibility in the years in between (dropping out and getting back in school). It gave me motivation to come back and better myself." Farrell said. "Another motivation for going to college was when my wife was pregnant. I didn't want our future in the clouds. It was strong motivation for continuing college."