May 22, 2008


TC3 grad has lofty ambitions

Cortland student wants to someday work for NASA, explore Mars


Joe McIntyre/staff photographer   
Blaze Sanders, who attended Homer High School, is graduating tonight from Tompkins Cortland Community College with a degree in engineering science. Sanders is considering attending either Stanford University, the University of Maryland or Ohio State.

Staff Reporter

DRYDEN — Tompkins Cortland Community College senior Blaze Sanders has his sights on a career as an astronaut, but his immediate goal is to decide where to continue his education.
Sanders, who graduates with an associate’s degree in engineering science tonight with nearly 600 peers, said he plans to major in chemical and electrical engineering with a minor in computer science. He is considering options at Stanford University in California, the University of Maryland at College Park and Ohio State.
The college’s 39th graduation takes place in the athletic facility gym for the first time.
Sanders, 21, ended up taking some time off after graduating from Homer before entering college because he did not fill out a college application for Duke University, in North Carolina, where he was offered a wrestling scholarship.
Instead he worked so he could pay for his education, helping his father, Clarence, do interior and exterior painting at his business, the Paintmasters, and then working a security guard job at the Aldi’s warehouse in Tully and at McDonald’s restaurant. He later traded the Aldi’s position for a security position at Emerson Transmission so he could spend more time with his girlfriend, who graduated from Ithaca College this year.
“I worked a lot,” he said. “I never worked less than 40 hours a week.”
When he started studying at TC3 during the spring 2005 semester he worked 80 to 90 hours a week for a month. After the first semester he also took another year off from school to work. He returned to school in the fall of 2006.
Professor Janet Swinnich, one of Sanders’ teachers at TC3, said Sanders always had a job while studying at the college, but was able to balance that with his schoolwork.
“He was an absolute pleasure to have and one of the quickest students to understand concepts,” said Swinnich, who taught Sanders physics and calculus. He was never a show off, she added, and tutored his peers in science and math.
Sanders said he tutored math and science. “That was fun. I got paid to do that,” he said.
This school year Sanders challenged himself by taking more than 20 credits each semester. The first semester included auditing a course in Russian. “It’s been my lifelong dream to become an astronaut so I wanted Russian to talk to the cosmonauts,” he said. He said he would like to work at a NASA research center.
“Blaze will make an excellent engineer. He was always willing to look at any concept from a new angle,” Swinnich said.
Sanders said he planned to relax more at his next school and be more of a typical college student.
Sanders said while at TC3 he maintained a 4.0 average, but his average fell to 3.9 when high school advanced placement courses were added. He had two Bs in English classes and an A- in biology.
Sanders said he knew he liked math in fifth grade when he won a “mad minute math” contest, a game in which students would solve as many single-digit multiplication problems as possible in one minute. Sanders said he could solve 78 problems in a minute.
Sanders, who lives on Church Street in Cortland and is the oldest of seven children, was living in McGraw at the time and attended schools there through eighth grade. He said his father paid tuition for him to go to Homer High School because there were not enough opportunities for sports at McGraw. He graduated in 2004.
Besides wrestling, which was his best sport, Sanders said he played football, lacrosse and track and field. Sanders joined the Wrestling Club at TC3 but was only active in it a month before he realized he did not have the time.
Sanders found the time to be active on the Student Advisory Board, a student government organization, and he is a member of Phi Theta Kappa, the national honor society for community colleges. He has also been on the president’s citation list and the dean’s list.
Sanders said his advice to students would be to work hard. “There’s no other way to get ahead in life,” he said.
Sanders knows just where he wants to be in 2045 — on Mars. He said he has used the computer-aided design class, AutoCAD, to design vehicles and habitats on Mars and has also designed an air lock system.


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