Name: Nathaniel Hess
Hometown: Kennett Square, Pa.
Major: Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering
Activities: Club Ultimate Frisbee Captain, EAS 595 TA
Tell us about Ultimate Frisbee. Have you always been involved in the sport and did you plan to be involved before you got here?
I knew I wanted to play here because I played frisbee in high school, so I wanted to pursue Ultimate [Frisbee] in college as well. It's a club sport at a lot of high schools in the Northeast, where there's a big frisbee culture if you can find it. My school had a club team, and I got involved. I thought it was a super fun sport, so I wanted to continue in college and really start playing at a high level.
I joined Penn's team as a [first year], and one of my goals was to have a positive impact on the team. Obviously, some of that was through developing myself and being the best player I could be, but the other aspect of that was trying to inspire the culture of the team and lead well. I was in leadership roles in my sophomore year as a fitness captain and my junior year as a treasurer, and now I've had the opportunity to step into a full–time leadership role as captain.
Some of it is not that great. It's a lot of logistical work, but on the field, I'm the person who's talking to my team at halftime and telling them between points what we need to do to win and trying to inspire them to play their best. I'm also trying to inspire them to do the work outside of practice and come to practice in the right mindset to succeed during the season.
For people who might be unfamiliar, could you give us a crash course in Ultimate Frisbee, specifically at Penn?
It's basically a combination of soccer and football with a frisbee. There's a continuous play style, like football, and you score by catching it in the opposite end–zone. It's seven on seven at any given point, and it's a point structure, so you have to score the equivalent of a touchdown in football, then you go to the next point.
The Ultimate structure is pretty strong on campus. We have about 50 to 60 people on the mens' team, and around 50 people on the womens' team. It's a really tight–knit community. Forty of us were in one house for spring break on Myrtle Beach, and we throw parties together. It's a tight–knit club sport community. I'm actually living with six other frisbee players right now: three people from the womens' team, and three from the mens' team, who are some of my best friends on campus. It's a good place to make some strong friendships. I think sports at the college level are really unique because they can create a bond where you live with your teammates, eat with them, and go to classes together. It is an interesting and unique experience to go through.
This past weekend, we competed in our conference championships, where we took second [place]. Temple took first, unfortunately. We were ahead eight to four, and lost nine to eleven, so it was a tough championship game. It's a tournament format, where we go for one weekend and play seven or eight games.
How has being a TA influenced your time here at Penn?
I'm TA’ing Leadership in Engineering, and I've found myself developing skills that make me a better leader and mentor. One of the career paths I'm considering is going into academia, and some of the skills I learned in that class when I took it a year ago—which I'm relearning as I'm TA'ing it—really help me grow as a leader. They have made me see myself potentially as an academic professor or leader in the workforce. I know there's a lot of growth that can happen in your years as a Ph.D. student, whether it's through TA'ing or interactions with advisors, going to conferences, things like that. Penn has given me that foundation to develop my leadership through this course I'm TA'ing, EAS 595.
What's next for you after Penn?
I'm going for my Ph.D. at Princeton next year also in chemical engineering. I will be studying computation and computational chemistry. It relates to my major a little. A lot of chemical engineering is process engineering, and there's only a couple courses on computational chemistry.
How I started down my Ph.D. track was really a pretty interesting story. I was very certain coming into my senior year that I didn't want to get a Ph.D. I just wanted to get a master's degree and then go right into industry, but I didn't really like what I was doing within the internship opportunities that I had. I was planning on getting a master's and then getting a job that I wanted, but I sat down with a professor who I was looking to take a class with and he was just like, “Why are you doing your master’s [degree]? I think a Ph.D. would be so much better for you.” At that point, there were two and a half weeks until the Ph.D. application deadline, and I thought, “There's no time, and I don't think I've done enough research at Penn to get into any good schools, and I haven't asked for any letters of recommendation or anything.” We ended up having an hour–and–a–half–long conversation where he was like, “I think you could do it if you really tried to do it.”
It was a two–and–a–half week crunch where I figured out that from the years–worth of research that I had done in junior year, computation was really something that I was interested in because it was the cross–section of computer science and the chemistry [I love]. I took CIS 120, 121, and 160 here. I didn't have time to take all the classes for the full minor, but I took the courses I needed to be familiar enough to do the coding that's required for computational chemistry.
I managed to get my recommendations and application to Princeton in two and a half weeks, and now I'm getting a Ph.D. Everything is pointing towards that being what I want to do. The visit weekends and the classes I'm taking all confirm this, so I ended up turning down a job offer to go work at Intel in Portland. I was weighing the job offer with the Ph.D. and, through these conversations I was having, I turned down the job offer and sent out the applications.
Last song you listened to? “Heart and Soul” by NBA YoungBoy.
No–skip album? “Wins and Losses” by Meek Mill.
If you were to describe yourself as a building on campus, which would it be and why? Towne. There's a lot going on inside of it, but on the outside it just looks like a run–down building.
There are two types of people at Penn… People who go to Allegro's after parties and people who don't.
And you are? After parties I usually like to just go to bed.