Life is often a balancing act – especially for Jacob Giles ’20. He’s a full-time student at Clarkson, a dormitory resident assistant, and a volunteer firefighter for Potsdam, home of the university’s main campus.
Giles grew up in Vermont, and his appreciation for Potsdam is what drew him to join the volunteer fire department. “I feel like it’s my duty to give back to the community that has supported the infrastructure that makes it possible for me to obtain my degree,” Giles says. A mechanical engineering major, he chose to attend Clarkson because it had a similar feeling to his hometown. “The rural environment reminded me of home,” says Giles.
This is not Giles’ first experience with firefighting. When he goes back to Vermont, he also volunteers in his hometown. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t still learning new tricks on how to keep up with schoolwork while pursuing his passion of helping others. “Maintaining the balance between firefighting and school isn’t easy, and took a semester to ‘master’,” Giles says.
Giles says he uses the uncertain nature of fire calls as motivation to get his homework done early. “When I’ve procrastinated my homework in the past, I ended up choosing between making the fire call or finishing my homework at the last minute,” says Giles.
When Giles isn’t in Vermont, that doesn’t mean he’s not surrounded by a different kind of family. “I like to think of the fire department as my fraternity, where our number one goal is to serve the community,” says Giles. “The fire department feels like a second home to me. My studies are very taxing, mentally, and having this second family and place to retreat after a hard exam means the world.”
Giles’ sincere appreciation of the Potsdam Fire Department is reciprocated. In April of 2018, he received the Potsdam Fire Department Chief’s Award. Chief Danielle Rose presented the award, thanking Giles for, “being a huge asset to the Potsdam community.”
Firefighting and mechanical engineering have more in common than one might think. “Firefighting has taught me the importance of leadership, holistic thinking and never giving up,” Giles says. “These are very valuable skills in the field of engineering and they have served me well in past internships.” Another common thread is the importance of attention to detail. In mechanical engineering, “a certain design could mean the difference between life and death for the end user,” says Giles. “In firefighting, attention to detail is important because it helps me preserve my own life in sticky situations.” Having the experience of firefighting also helps Giles think out “all possible scenarios of the engineering design process, what could go wrong and how to prevent it.”
For Giles, his love for mechanical engineering began at a young age. It all started with a box of Legos. “We never had a lot of money, but my mom always made sure I had a big cardboard box full of Legos,” says Giles. And when it came to creative Lego building, Giles did not disappoint. “I built Lego cars with independent steering, Lego cranes that had electric motors to lift, and Lego guns that could shoot small Legos 30 feet while firing a cap at the same time,” says Giles.
An impressive repertoire of Lego building for a middle school student, but not everyone was impressed. “The Lego guns horrified my mother,” says Giles, “but I enjoyed building them the most.” Fast forward a decade, and that love of building Lego guns turned into Giles being one of four people in the country selected for an internship at the Ruger Plant in Prescott, Arizona. “They had never hired a Clarkson student before, and they were very pleased with my knowledge of engineering fundamentals,” Giles says. Upon graduation, he hopes to work in small arms research and development with Ruger or Sig.
Throughout all of his studying and constant giving back to his communities, both in Potsdam and his hometown, it’s no surprise that Giles’ long-term goals include helping others. “I would like to travel to areas of conflict around the world to do on-site problem solving for General Dynamics or Lockheed Martin products,” Giles says.
For now, Giles plans to keep striving to help others in the Potsdam area. There are times when fire-fighting duties mean Giles is running on fumes for classes the next day. But for Giles, it’s all part of what he feels is a duty to the community. “It’s worth it,” Giles says.