Todd Farrell ’00
The Way Rockers Are
When Todd Farrell left Simon’s Rock in 2004 with a BA in Mathematics, he wasn’t sure what his next step would be. He decided to take some time to explore his options. Turns out his options were wide open...
“Because I graduated early, I felt like I had a little time to explore a bit. So that’s what I did. After graduation, I went to New Mexico and lived with my father for about eight months,” Farrell remembered. “But because Rockers are the way they are, I couldn’t help but get involved with academics, or research, or something that I was passionate about-- immediately.”
He went by the University of New Mexico and volunteered to do mathematical biology research. While he was there, he took a few non-linear dynamics classes. It was a shift from the theoretical mathematics he studied at Simon’s Rock to applied mathematics and computer science. It set him on the path he has followed for the past 11 years.
After eight months in New Mexico, Farrell packed his bags and headed to Boston. Again, he went by MIT and volunteered for a research position. To pay the rent Farrell got a job selling pens at a store in Harvard Square. Each day he left the store and went right to MIT to do research in the Computers Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL).
It didn’t take long for Farrell to decide that he wanted to be a student at MIT, and he wanted to work there. All he needed to do now was figure out how to pay for tuition. “So I thought, what would a grad student do? They would get funding,” Farrell laughed. “My next thought was, OK, I’ll come up with a project that somebody will give me money to do.”
Selling an idea
By this time Farrell had been volunteering at MIT for about 6 months, working on a project on intelligent vehicles. His research measured the distance between cars to automatically control braking. The research would eventually help solve traffic problems and reduce accidents. Farrell’s manager happened to have a lot of connections at Japanese companies. Like Honda.
“I found out Honda execs were visiting the lab and I thought, ‘you know what, Honda’s gonna love this, and they’re going to want to research this.’” He asked for a meeting and got it! “After I showed them my project, it didn’t quite work out as I planned.” He recalled with amusement. “At first they were like, ‘ahhh, maybe, maybe not. Who is this kid?’”
“They left without offering to fund the research. But my boss was impressed with me--which was really more important,” Farrell explained. “He actually said, ‘why don’t you stay a little longer and I’ll give you $6,000 for the next three months. Stay here, do research, and start taking classes at MIT.’ That was it, I started taking classes, the next semester I applied, and I got in. And they gave me a fellowship to fund my PhD, so luckily I didn’t have to pay.”
Farrell earned his Master of Science at MIT. He is currently a Doctoral Candidate and Research Assistant at MIT Media Lab and an Instructor at MIT. In his spare time, he is the CTO at The Pacific Social Architecting Corporation where he works on novel ways to shape social interactions on-line, and co-founder of a non-profit he is launching that distributes prosthetics around the world.
Once a Rocker, always a Rocker
In the lab, Farrell works with robotic prosthetics, work he loves. But he also wanted to do something that helped the world, something that helped people who are really disadvantaged. It’s a desire that was cultivated at the Rock.
“At Simon’s Rock I met people who were interested in international development. I wasn’t at the time. They got me interested,” he mused, “by way of persuasion… sometimes by way of guilt.”
Farrell puts his Simon’s Rock education to work both in the lab and as CTO. “At a school like Simon’s Rock you learn how to work with other people in an intense environment and how to get along with people with a lot of different—and strong—opinions.”
It’s a skill that has served him well.