THE EARLY YEARS
Thomas was born into the enigmatic nexus of southeast Canadian, midwestern, and northeastern culture (Buffalo, NY), with German, Polish, Czech, Austrian, and Italian family heritage.
Even more important than location, his innermost family brought the excellence of US military culture into the family, serving in WW1, WW2, Korea, Vietnam, and the Attica Uprising.
A remaining curiosity in the family is that public accounts of the Attica Uprising do not speak of involvement of the Army, so we can only presume they used his brilliant civil engineer warrant officer, Uncle Edwin “Bud” Zwetsch, with experience in the Korean War, to consult them on how to best take the prison back. Of course like most servicemen in conflicts, Bud was not apprised of the political motives of Rockefeller and Nixon.
The way he spoke of it, the prisoners were terrorists taking hostages to coerce political agendas, and he had to help keep as many alive as possible. Modern academia and journalism enjoys twisting the history of armed conflict towards a unilateral civil rights narrative, but the conflict in honest terms was about how to minimize the casualties of innocents. The prisoners’ Attica Liberation Faction was organized and galvanized by Marxists, Maoists, Black Panthers, and the Nation of Islam. People who hold knives to the necks of hostages are not victims – they are violent instigators.
War stories like this were joyful interactions between Thomas and his elders. Work ethic, duty, discipline, honor, can-do attitude, faith, and valor were the traits of his elders, which inspired Thomas.
The men of Thomas’ family did incredible things, with a long legacy of civil and mechanical engineering. They brought that excellence into their homes, designing entire family houses, building additions, and using space, money, and resources optimally. Some even learned how to use computers creatively in their retirement. His father is a consummate construction executive and could best Tim Allen at home improvement and carpentry.
Thomas’ mother read stories like Mother Goose and the Bernstain Bears every night, and took him to the library even before pre-kindergarten began. Sunday church and Confraternity of Christian Doctrine were weekly devotions in the Kurek family.
The Kurek family moved to the Washington DC area when Thomas was five years old. He kept one foot in Buffalo NY, staying there throughout summer and winter school breaks. The happiest times were the many weeks spent at the campgrounds of Darien Lake, with extended family, bonfires, fishing, hiking, and amusement park activities. It was much more family-oriented prior to Six Flags buying it.
PRIMARY & SECONDARY SCHOOL
Thomas’ teacher at ten years of age, Ms. Whitehurst, was a true old-world Virginian. Her accent was half-southern, half-British; she was all-class, all-dignity, and all-grace. During free-reading time, she noticed that Thomas chose Stephen King’s IT. In disbelief, she interrogated him about the story. She was satisfied that he actually could comprehend the writing, while his peers were struggling with a few paragraphs in children’s books.
She quickly arranged for a day-and-a-half IQ test with the school psychologist, involving a standard MENSA exam on paper, supplemented by personal interviews and verbal testing. He scored within the 99.97th percentile of global IQ, and was immediately put into the gifted and talented program of Loudoun County.
During those days, the program was designed by people like Gail Martin, who curated special curriculum based on Classical Education (Mortimer Adler), with honors classes, early Advanced Placement access, and weekly specialized gifted and talented curriculum. It was a rare oasis of world-class education in the typically regressed public school system. Social engineering was minimized, and knowledge conveyance was maximized, per the classical education philosophy.
Thomas was the first in the history of the county to complete AP courses in science as a sophomore, and take accelerated philosophy and science courses, a year ahead of the minimum prerequisites, with teacher advocates petitioning the vice principal to make an exception for his advanced enrollement.
With respect to extracurricular activities, Thomas’ first passions were American Football and academic studies. He was offered a scholarship to a private Catholic school for football, but the gifted and talented and honors programs were so good that his family declined.
Football helped Thomas to learn about leadership, pain tolerance, and controlled aggression. That came in handy during a handful of violent and natural disaster experiences throughout Thomas’ life. Most others remained paralyzed, while Thomas reacted quickly, calmly, and effectively. After three broken bones, and his left arm ripped out of socket, the doctor advised that he needed to quit football or else risk losing motor control below the left shoulder.
Thomas redirected his energy towards computer programming, independent humanities scholarship, running, weightlifting, paintball, guns, music, and business.
Thomas worked every weekend for two years in high school at a bagel bakery. He baked, mixed dough, and was a night manager. He got up at 3:30 AM on Saturdays and Sundays to bake until 1:00-2:00 PM. His manager, Guy Morgan, was a Texan and former police officer. He also employed Thomas’ best friend, Anthony, who later graduated from West Point Military Academy, and served in Iraq and South Korea. Guy liberally used Lee Ermey boot camp rhetoric in managing the boys, which they loved. They have such mutual respect and admiration for Guy, that they still meet occasionally to catch up on life.
Thomas’ mother taught him financial responsibility as a child by encouraging him to work, buy his own car, pay for his own insurance, gas, 90% of his college costs, and dates.
Thomas acquired prodigious skill in music, inheriting his great grandfather’s talent (a concert violinist). He began guitar at age 12, and wrote his first songs at age 13, mastering jazz, rock, classical, blues, and metal styles. He also sang in the varsity choir as first-chair bass. His choir won Virginia state championship, which was about as competitive as most European “national” championships. The song was Shenandoah (his performance was not recorded, but a good rendition is included in the gallery below).
He wrote a classical score inspired by love of his grandparents. He wrote dozens of rock and metal songs, and an entire world-music styled dance album. He still tinkers with the recordings and new songs in his free time. With modern technology improving home recording quality, he will release the songs to the public circa 2021.
Thomas’ rendition of the Star Spangled Banner, using the chords of the comp for the lead, tapping, and pinch harmonics, is much better than Jimi Hendrix’s version. It is in the gallery below.
Thomas enjoys the food, forest, fall weather, handmade crafts, acting, and medieval pageantry of Renaissance Festivals. He has been attending since his high school drama group made it an annual field trip.
THE COLLEGE YEARS
Thomas was most interested in high technology. Knowing that he would easily be accepted to wherever he applied, he chose Virginia Tech, and applied to no other school. Virginia Tech was tied for fifth in the world with Stanford in Engineering Physics and it was in-state, so Thomas could pay for 90% of his college cost of living and tuition with his own work earnings.
Engineering Physics, which bridges the gap between theoretical physics and practical engineering solutions, seeks to solve the currently-unsolvable in high technology. The B.Sc. is an honors program and five years of credits at most universities, including Virginia Tech when Thomas was there. In his program, he obtained mastery of biomedical technology, electrical engineering, Newtonian mechanics (fluid, materials, continuum, bio, vibrations, rocket science), advanced economics, advanced mathematics, industrial/organizational engineering, computer programming, and the scientific method.
His classmates were not exactly the rocker/musician types; but together, they shared heavy intellectual conversations, academics, computer gaming, and role playing. At one point, they spent a number of weekends sneaking into an atrium building on campus through 2nd floor windows to play laser tag in the ideal layout with perfect obstacles for the game. If an engineer can't sneak into a secure building undetected, fire him; he's a phony.
Thomas was one of the few students in Materials Engineering to score perfectly on every single assignment and test. Subsequently, his professor hired him as a teaching assistant and to program her websites.
Thomas also carried his legacy from football and music band leadership into community leadership. He was hired as a resident advisor for the last three years of college. It paid for his room and board, and he enjoyed a private room on campus. His policy was “do not disturb fellow residents and there will be no referrals written.” He only had to write four referrals in three years, under his personal enforcement policy.
His residents were consequently very open to seeking his advisory for student life problems and academic struggles. Thomas was beloved by all but the “bad cops,” the fellow resident advisor staff whose social inadequacies drove them to the job so they could punish the “cool kids” who were having fun.
Of course, being somewhat of a Ferris Bueller since childhood, he had to pull a prank on his last day of office hours, rounds, and on-call duty. Cognac in the RA office? What a miscreant! (Depicted below)
In his design project, he brought a group of physicians’ dream to life. He gave them a device that could tell them whether or not their tissue sample was suitable to use in a bioprosthetic heart valve.
With mechanical valves, the sheering forces upon the blood create clots and requires the patient to take blood thinners. With bioprosthetic valves, made from the patient’s own tissue, that could be avoided, but short mean time before failure (MTBF) made them infeasible. A large part of that infeasibility arises from the fact that tissue is viscoelastic – part fluid, part solid, with a nonlinear strain/rate curve.
His intraoperative device used moiré fringes, optics, and computational image processing in order to determine if the tissue sample has defects that would reduce the durability of the heart valve. It tells the surgeon the result so that they can choose a new sample when appropriate.
Much bovine pericardium was tested with other lab equipment, to corroborate the results of the new device. It does not emit the most pleasant smell in the lab.
With a bang and boom, the wild ride of Engineering Physics at Virginia Tech’s beautiful campus came to an end, and Thomas left with his unrivaled engineering degree and computer programming skills, alongside 24 other modern-day Sir Isaac Newtons.