DO-IT Mentor Profile

Jarret Knyal

My name is Jarrett Knyal and I work at the Institute for the Learning Sciences at Northwestern University. We are involved in multimedia development research. Primarily, we make applications that assist corporations in their training programs and schools in their education programs.

I'm from a small suburb about 45 miles northwest of Chicago. I graduated high school in 1982. My favorite subjects in high school were my science and art courses. When I enrolled at Northwestern Illinois University in DeKalb, Illinois, I was originally a pre-med major but decided into my first term that if I wanted to be a doctor I would be in school/residency until I was *gasp* 28 or 29 years old! I said forget that and knocked around in several majors before deciding at the end of my sophomore year to major in graphic design. I enjoyed the creativity and application of design principles but I hated the craft aspect--the exact knifes, the sticky glue, the anal retentive attention to minute details like kerning type, etc. It was too late to change my major again so I stuck with graphic design; there was enough in it that I liked to make the bad stuff bearable. I was going merrily along in my senior year when...

I was involved in a major accident on October 27, 1985 -- as a matter of fact, last October was the 11th anniversary of my accident. I won't bore everyone with all the details but in a nutshell, I was on a roof and a piece of wood I was holding came in contact with a power line. I was badly burned, knocked unconscious, and fell off the roof, breaking my back and trashing my spinal cord at T4. The burns to my left hand were so extensive that I had to have it amputated ten days later at about the middle of the forearm. I spent the next 6 months in the hospital learning to live as a paraplegic amputee.

While I was at the rehab hospital, part of my rehab included vocational therapy. I was a left-handed art major who lost his left hand so I'm like, "now what?". I thought the emerging field of computer graphics offered some promise. My original plan was to be a graphics programmer because I thought I could probably still type okay if I put a pencil in my hook hand. One of my vocational counselors knew a professor at the University of Illinois who was a part of their Electronic Visualization program.

His name is Drew Browning and the fact that he has muscular dystrophy and uses a motorized scooter put some of my fears to rest about attending the notoriously inaccessible University of Illinois at Chicago. University of Illinois-Chicago also had the only program at the time where one could major in computer graphics at the undergraduate level. This was before the term "multimedia" became a household word. I was thrilled with computer technology! Finally, I could apply my creativity without the mess and anal retentiveness. The computer could draw a straight line a million times better and faster than I could. Also, I found that creating art on a computer encouraged exploration. If you aren't sure what you're going to do next is going to work out, just save and you can always come back to it if your experiment fails. I'm so used to working that way now that when I create using traditional media and I draw a line or stroke that I don't like, I've actually looked for the undo button! Drew and all my other teachers at U of I were great and I graduated with a BFA (Bachelor of Fine Arts) in June of 1989.

I spent the summer putting my portfolio together and landed a part-time job that September teaching computer graphics at a private arts college in Chicago called Colombia College. I taught an introductory computer graphics course and an intermediate 2-D animation course on the Commodore Amiga. I love the dynamic teacher/student relationship and the energy of the classroom. About a year after I started teaching, I was hired at Northwestern University where I still work today. I spend most of my time on a PowerMac 8500/120 with 80M ram. Software I use regularly include Photoshop, Strata, Infini-D, Painter, Illustrator, and After Effects. Besides those, I have a gaggle of other software that I'm less familiar with but can still get around ok in.

A couple years ago with my 30th birthday quickly approaching, I found myself looking back on my life and thinking, "If I could do it over again, I would have stuck with my early aspirations of going to medical school." It's not that I don't like my job but I felt that something was missing. I felt I needed more personal contact with others and I wanted to have a career that combined the technical/scientific aspect of working with computers with something that provided more of an opportunity to directly help people. I felt that medicine would provide this. I decided this over the course of a day and figured that I would probably need to take a chemistry class because I didn't have one during the course of my undergraduate studies. I wasted no time and signed up that day after work for a night class here at Northwestern. I didn't know a thing about what was involved in applying for med school but during the past three years I've picked up what I need to know. I took the MCAT (like the ACT or SAT for med school) in August and plan to apply this summer for the fall of 1998. In what little spare time I have, I enjoy gardening, stained glass, and running distance races.