SCHENECTADY Michael Barton isn’t exactly sure what kind of job he’ll wind up with after earning an astrophysics degree, but he knows he wants to be a physicist.
“I really like the way it makes me think,” the Schenectady High School senior said of the science.
He explained his personal approach to the discipline with a surprising amount of enthusiasm.
“With physics, it gives you leeway. It’s not like it tells you what to do, but it does guide you on the right path, and as you get more and more used to it, you kind of are able to find your own way and make your own new ways,” he said.
Barton’s evident love for the subject and his excellent academic record helped him earn the new Schenectady STEM Scholarship.
The award was made possible by a bequest from a Capital Region native who, judging from his life story, had a mind that worked much like Barton’s.
The scholarship is funded by the Clarence E. Crowfoot and Mary Clarke Fund from a gift from the estate of Sanford A. Shuler.
Managed by The Schenectady Foundation, it is available annually to graduating seniors at Schenectady High School who plan to pursue engineering and science in college. This year, $4,000 was given to one senior, but the dollar amount and the number of recipients may vary from year to year.
Shuler, the man behind the gift, was born in Amsterdam in 1916. He was known throughout his life for his forward thinking.
Like Barton, he graduated from high school in Schenectady and decided to study engineering in college.
Following graduation, he was hired by General Electric to design superchargers for bomber engines. During his career at GE, he worked on the team that built the first American jet engine and has multiple patents to his credit.
A lifelong inventor, Shuler is credited with building the first household deep freezer, inventing heat tape — by accident — while attempting to concoct a better ski wax, and coming up with the concept of a gasoline-powered lawn mower.
“He was a dynamic guy,” said Kerry Brink, a lawyer for the Shuler estate, who knew him for at least a decade. “He had a charismatic, lovely way about him and he was always talking about interesting projects in which he was involved. … He was just the kind of guy who was always trying to figure out another way toward a particular goal.”
After marrying his wife, Marilyn, Shuler took a job with Exxon and the couple moved to Issaquah, Washington, where they lived for more than 40 years.
Shuler died in 2011 at age 95. In his will, he granted approximately $250,000 to The Schenectady Foundation to create the scholarship.
“I think it’s really interesting that of all the things he could have done with the money in his estate, he remembered Schenectady as where he came from and wanted to make sure there was something there for kids in that community to help them, basically, be able to follow the same kind of path that he did,” said Robert Carreau, executive director of The Schenectady Foundation.
Clarence E. Crowfoot and Mary Clarke, the namesakes of Shuler’s fund, were mentors to him.
“[They] were inspirational to him and may have taken him in when he was a young man, in some way mentored him when he was junior high or high school age, and I think he felt that without that encouragement, he wouldn’t have been able to get the education that he got,” Brink explained, noting that Shuler came from humble beginnings.
In the 1980s, Shuler inherited a Nevada gold mine. According to Brink, it was not profitable initially, but brought in quite a bit of cash when it eventually was sold. That money helped to fund the scholarship.
Shuler’s wife, who died in 2012, was also instrumental in making the scholarship a reality.
“She was a manager and she sort of kept him grounded,” Brink explained. “I think without Marilyn, there wouldn’t have been the funds available to fund the scholarship. She kept track of everything. She kept excellent books.”
Passion for science
This year’s scholarship recipient was chosen by a committee formed by The Schenectady Foundation. Carreau said Shuler wanted the money to be given to a student who displayed a passion for science or engineering, had a good academic record and also had financial need.
Barton stood out as the ideal candidate because of his enthusiasm.
“It kind of takes you back a little bit,” Carreau said. “Wow, this kid, he really wants to be involved in this. You don’t often see that kind of excitement in a topic like physics from a kid out of high school.”
Barton plans to attend Hudson Valley Community College for two years, then transfer to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute — a college Shuler also attended.
He said he’s loved science since he was little and credits teacher Daniel Longhurst with sparking his interest in physics.
Longhurst taught physics at Mohonasen High School, where Barton attended classes before transferring to Schenectady High School.
“I hope I can make the man who gave the scholarship proud and I’d just like to give a lot of thanks to Mr. Longhurst for helping me realize that this is my passion,” Barton said.
Reach Gazette reporter Kelly de la Rocha at 395-3040 or email@example.com and follow her on Twitter @KellydelaRocha.