This is the first in a series of profiles of members of the freshman class.
Running off to join the circus is not just a dream for MIT freshman Nate Stein Sharpe.
Stein Sharpe toured eight weeks this summer with Circus Smirkus, a Vermont-based youth circus. The performer from Canton, Mass., can juggle everything from traditional balls and clubs to knives and lit torches.
He mastered five items years ago, but is newly enamored of the diabolo, a Chinese folk toy that consists of a wooden spool tossed on a string tied to two sticks.
"It takes a lot of practice," said Stein Sharpe, who works on his skills for up to three hours each day. It took him one week of practice just to get three balls in the air when he first started six years ago. Getting five balls up took twice as long.
"If you put in the time, you will get better," said Stein Sharpe, who has applied that same discipline to his studies, earning straight As each year at Canton High School.
His interest in the circus was sparked at a young age. "His dad is a big circus fan, so he started going to the circus every year when we was pretty little," said his mother, Deborah Stein Sharpe (S.B. 1976).
Jim Sharpe, Nate's father, taught himself to juggle in college and shared new skills that he was learning with his sons, both of whom have taken juggling to new levels, bringing in new materials and tricks. "They love it," their mother said.
The Stein Sharpe family learned about Circus Smirkus a few years ago and both Nate and his brother, Jacob, attended the annual summer camp, honing their skills alongside other young acrobats, jugglers and performers.
This past summer, Stein Sharpe auditioned for the touring group with his brother, who toured the summer before. "It has been a lot of fun," said Stein Sharpe, who stayed with families in cities and towns throughout New England, performing in 80 shows over eight weeks.
The traveling circus ended just in time for him to pack his bags and head to MIT.
Stein Sharpe said it was his passion for math, science and engineering that brought him here. "I will always have juggling as a hobby," said Stein Sharpe, who plans to join the MIT Juggling Club. "I would not want that for my career."
In addition to doing schoolwork and performing, Stein Sharpe will also be running with MIT's cross-country team.
"It does help with juggling to be physically in shape," he said.
Between a full course load, running and juggling, Stein Sharpe will have a few balls in the air. But for an 18-year-old who regularly juggles fire, balancing activities is simple. "It's a lot, but I can do it," he said.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on September 14, 2005 (download PDF).