Greg Wagner - Computer Science

Greg Wagner

Greg Wagner was one of four members of the men’s volleyball team chosen for the N.C.A.A. Division 1 All-Academic Team. He plays middle blocker, where he spends most of his time aloft. And at six feet seven inches tall and 222 pounds, he strikes fear into opposing players. But academically, he is a scholar whose intellect is as forbidding as his spikes.

When did you start playing Volleyball?
I started playing freshman year of high school. I love the fast-paced action, the teamwork and the level of skill involved in volleyball. My parents played when I was young, so I always loved the game.

Did you play in high school?
I played for Minnechaug High School, in Western Massachusetts. It’s close to Holyoke, where volleyball was invented. I made the varsity team as a freshman.

I played varsity all four years of high school and was the captain of the team during my last two years. During my senior year we won the state championship. My favorite subject in high school was computer science.

How did you like high school? What were your main interests?
I was involved in so many things in high school that when the school newspaper did a story about me, the reporter couldn’t fit all my activities into the story. I played trumpet in the jazz band, the wind ensemble and in the marching band. I played piano, too, and was an Eagle Scout. I was captain of the volleyball team and president of the computer science club, which was my main academic interest. I had a fantastic teacher of computer science. I knew she was due to retire, so I took every class I could with her, even in the summer. Computer science always made perfect sense to me. When you program, you are in control, you break down and determine what the computer does. All the tiny actions and decision you make in programming make the computer act the way you want it to. I love programming, I always have. It’s like being immersed in a good book, but without the emotional component.

How did you wind up coming to NJIT?  
I sent a video of my playing to the coach, and he liked my playing and recruited me. When I was in senior in high school searching for a college, I wanted three things in college: a strong volleyball program, an honors college and a great computer science program. NJIT offered all three, and through the Honors College, I received a generous scholarship. And when I found out about NJIT's commitment to improving its athletics and going Division I, I wanted to become a part of that.

What made your team so successful this season? The team won the Eastern Conference, and you and some of your fellow players are ranked nationally?
The main reason for our success was our balance in our attack and our trust in our each other. Our best games this season occurred when the setting was evenly distributed and our passing was on.

You’re a gifted athlete but also a terrific student. Talk about your studies at NJIT?
Here at NJIT I’m a computer science major, although I've learned and benefited most from the game development program here, taught by Professor D.J. Kehoe. Through that program, I got involved in a video-game development project for Pearson Education. I’m part of a team of five undergraduate students developing an educational video game focused on helping junior high and high school students improve their reading skills. The best colleges in the nation, including Harvard, bid to do the project for Pearson. But Pearson chose NJIT and us.

And you’ll be at NJIT this summer, working on the video game?
Oh yeah, it’s a great project for me. It’s complex and rigorous, involving the development of 2D and 3D graphics, a soundtrack and a game engine that allows players to move onto new levels of the game. Pearson Education chose NJIT to develop the video game. The game will be in form of stories, and players will become immersed into the story and the author’s imaginary world. They have to read the story to progress through the game, fix what is happening in that imaginary world, and if they make the right moves or decisions, they’ll get out of the story. The game really forces them to concentrate on reading. They will make them improve their reading. I’m working now on the concept art for the game, which should be finished in May 2008. Then it will become available to students in middle and high schools across the nation.

Later in the summer, though, I’m leading a scouting troop to the Grand Canyon, where we’ll white water raft, camp and hike. My father is a fresh-water environmentalist. He essentially travels across the US, and the world, fixing lakes. So my family has always loved the outdoors.

When you took the SATs, you scored a perfect 800 in the math section. Is volleyball a sport that calls for logical thinking?
At my position, middle hitter, I’m always in the air, jumping. I have a tenth of second to survey the court and make my hitting decision. So my mind has to process information quickly, like a computer, and make quick decisions, depending on how the defense reacts. I try to have a set route in my head, and know which way I’ll look first when I’m aloft, and then strike. So yes, it’s a sport that calls for lighting-quick logical thinking.

Is it hard for you to balance your studies and volleyball?
Absolutely. It is really difficult to fit it all in. Being an athlete forces you to use your time efficiently, since it’s the only way you can get everything done. Personally, this has been a good experience for me since it has caused me to focus on getting my work done more so than I would have if I weren’t on the team. Without the athletic program, I doubt I'd be doing as well as I am in my classes.

Is there a price to pay for being a volley ball player?
Being a Division I volleyball player is certainly detrimental to your health, especially, in my case, to my knees. I've had surgery on both of my knees; I've also rolled my ankles, and hurt my shoulders, back and hands. On the plus side, though, I can tell if it’s going to rain a good two hours before it starts. All my various aches alert me.

You are a student in the College of Computing Sciences, but you are also a scholar in the Albert Dorman Honors College. Do you enjoy being part of both colleges?
In my experience, the best parts of the College of Computing Sciences are the academic advising I've received from Ms. Vandermark and the choices in electives offered by the college. The freedom to choose electives has let me focus on the parts of computer science I want to pursue in my career. I love the Honors College classes, which are fast-paced and focused; there is no busy work involved. The Honors College also gave me generous scholarships. And, as I said before, the monetary support I've received was a large factor in my coming to NJIT, and a large portion of that support comes from the Honor's College. Without that support, I would most likely not be here. I’m very grateful for that.

What are your plans after you graduate next year from NJIT?
I'm still considering several options. There is the possibility of a job with Pearson Education after I graduate, especially if the video game project turns out well, which I’m sure it will. Additionally I am considering attending the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College, in Hanover, New Hampshire, to get an MBA. There are several reasons I'm considering Dartmouth. First, I'd be lying if I didn't say that the money out there for MBAs wasn't a significant factor. Secondly, as someone with a technical background, I feel I would make a better manager than someone without that background. Most managers are good with people but not necessarily good with technology. I like people and I like technology, so I think I would have a good understanding of those working for me. Also, I’m 6 feet 7 inches tall, so if they didn’t listen to me, I’d just stand up, hover over them and shout: YOU MUST DO WHAT I SAY. Just kidding.

Greg's Stats

Academics Volleyball
  • In high school, he scored a perfect 800 on the math section of his SATs.
  • He’s a junior who is a scholar in the Albert Dorman Honors College.
  • Designing an educational video game that to help students improve their reading.

  • Volleyball position: middle Blocker
  • Ranked ninth in the nation for hitting percentage.
  • Almost half the time he touches the ball, NJIT gets a point.