July 4, 2012

Augustin ’12 Remembered for ‘Shoot for the Moon’ Philosophy

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Those who knew Michael Curtis Augustin ’12 –– a 33-year-old undergraduate who died June 3 –– said he was a prolific scholar influenced by his dedication to both learning and social justice.

“One of the common things I heard [at Augustin’s funeral] was Michael’s passion for learning and his passion for people,” said Victor Younger, coordinator in diversity programs, one of Augustin’s mentors when he transferred in 2010. “He really wanted to make sure that those who did not have, understood that they could have … he was an advocate for others.”

Augustin, who in 2010 transferred to Cornell from Essex County College in Newark, N.J., was expected to receive a degree in earth and atmospheric sciences in December. He died suddenly on June 3 at the Stanford University Hospital in Palo Alto, Calif.

As of Tuesday, the University has not been notified of the cause of Augustin’s death, according to Claudia Wheatley, deputy director of University communications.

Mahindra Mohan ’12 –– a friend of Augustin who transferred with him from Essex County College –– said Augustin will be remembered for his “shoot for the moon” philosophy.

“He will most be remembered for inspiring people to push pass their limitations and reach for goals that they would have previously thought were unattainable,” Mohan said.

Citing Augustin’s journey to Cornell from the island of St. Lucia, Mohan called his friend “living proof of beating the odds.”

Mohan added that Augustin frequently returned to Essex County College to talk to students about improving their career prospects.

“In a city where high-school drop-out rates are among the highest in the country, he spent most of his time mentoring and tutoring other students who struggled,” Mohan said.

Mohan described Augustin as a “firm believer in the power of education” and as an advocate of using the mind to “provoke action against many inequalities in the world.”

“I will always remember how he touched everyone he ever met in a profound way,” he said. “He saw many flaws in the world and demanded change for the betterment of all people, not just by words but through bold action.”

Prof. Jonathan Payne, geological and environmental sciences, Stanford University –– with whom Augustin worked last summer –– described him as a researcher who was “bubbling over with ideas.”

“Together, we worked to channel his energy toward a study of the relationship between organism size and extinction risk using the fossil record of brachiopods,” a type of marine animal that resembles two shells melded together, Payne said in an email. “He was especially interested in finding ways to use the fossil record to help conserve tropical marine diversity because he had grown up in the Caribbean.”

Augustin presented his research from last summer at a symposium at Stanford, as well as at the Geological Society of America’s annual meeting in Minneapolis, Payne said.

When Augustin returned to Payne’s lab in May to conclude his study and prepare it for publication, Payne said it was “clear that he had matured as a student.”

“Michael combined natural intellectual ability with a true passion for learning and a strong drive to succeed,” Payne said. “He pushed himself hard, and loved the knowledge that he acquired as a result. He was on his way to becoming a true scholar.”

According to a University press release, The Michael Curtis Augustin Memorial Fund will “support a minority student interested in geosciences.”

A memorial service for Augustin will take place on campus this fall, the press release also stated.

Original Author: Sylvia Rusnak