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When Thomas Unger—Tommy to all who know him—was accepted at BU four years ago, he knew he wanted to live in a big-style dorm like Warren Towers or West Campus with lots of other freshmen. But when he got home from a summer of leading canoe trips in upstate New York, he discovered, much to his disappointment, that there’d been a glitch and he’d been placed in Danielsen Hall.
“I remember searching for it on Google,” Unger says, “and being like, ‘What? I have to walk under a highway just to get to class?’”
Wanting to bolster a sense of community at Danielsen, Unger hit on the idea of starting a weekly dining event that would give everyone a chance to dress up and have fun. He and his friends dubbed the get-togethers Fancy Fridays.
“We would just spontaneously show up at the dining hall wearing suit coats, the girls wearing ball gowns,” recalls Unger. The Fancy Friday tradition caught on and continued through Unger’s junior year, when other responsibilities caused the group to disband. At its peak, as many as 70 people would congregate dressed in their finest to enjoy pizza and soft serve. High points in the group’s tenure included a visit from Kenneth Elmore (SED’87), dean of students, and a formal five-course meal complete with table service provided by the dining hall staff, and a harpist.
What started as something of a joke (Unger’s “official” title was viceroy of victuals and double checker of the exchequer) became a catalyst for the 22-year-old Buffalo, N.Y., native. “Thinking back on Fancy Friday and actually getting people enthusiastic about coming together,” he says, “gave me the confidence to feel like maybe I could actually contribute in a real way.”
Junior year Unger became a resident assistant at Myles Standish Hall, was a guide on a couple of trips for BU’s Outing Club, and got a job in a physics lab, where he discovered a passion for computer science. On his first day of work, Robert Carey, a College of Arts & Sciences professor of physics, handed him the code for a particular experiment and told him first to learn it and then to make a few small changes to the program.
“I took one look at it and I had no idea what I was looking at,” Unger says. “It might as well have been hieroglyphics.”
With encouragement from Carey, he went through the program line by line and began to make sense of it. “When I started getting the hang of it, I started to realize that what you were doing was controlling hardware using logic, and logic was something I always loved.”
This past fall, he decided to add a computer science major to his physics major.
Unger recently started a job at MorphoTrust USA, a Billerica, Mass., company that specializes in biomorphic security solutions. He will be working on software engineering for passport authentication, a position, he says, that will allow him to pursue his passion for computer science.
“That group is full of people with a lot of different skills and different backgrounds and a lot to teach,” he says. “I’m sure that if I can tap into their creative energy it will be a great experience.”