Campus & Community

Jarred Brown: Engineer, cheerleader, goatskinner

5 min read

Harvard sports will lose a big fan when Jarred Brown graduates today. And the goat roasters at Dunster House will have to find another goat skinner.

Brown is a slightly built, ever-smiling, curly-haired kid who has proved that you don’t have to be all serious and competitive to do well at Harvard. “I’ve definitely had fun for the past four years,” he says with a grin.

“Some of the students here are too competitive,” Brown thinks. His advice to them, “You’ve just got to relax.”

From Hampden, Maine, a town just south of Bangor, Brown is an avid sports fan who played intramural hockey and soccer. Since his freshman year, he has painted himself crimson and gone out to cheer Harvard’s varsity hockey team in hostile places like Dartmouth and Brown, usually alone. He is famous for braving the coldest weather to sit in the hockey rink covered in crimson paint. In his senior year, Brown expanded his colorful cheerleading to football, women’s basketball, men’s and women’s soccer, and women’s water polo.

One season, Brown painted himself at an away soccer game against the University of Maine. It was before school started after the winter holidays, and “I tried to get a wave started,” he recalled. “But that didn’t work so well because I was the only Harvard fan there.”

At Harvard’s Dunster House, where he lives, Brown was the student out in the March snow in shorts and T-shirt firing snowballs. Inside, he put on his hockey gloves and helmet and boxed with much bigger housemates.

Dunster House is noted for its annual goat roast, dating back to the 1980s. The roast was started as a lesson in primitive survival by former House tutor Daniel Lieberman, now a professor of anthropology. Students are taught to skin a goat with sharp-edged stones, the way our ancestors did it in the Stone Age. Brown worked his way into the position of chief skinner.

“As weird as it sounds, it’s fun to get in there,” he says. “You have a couple of rocks with sharp edges and you just hack away. Then we freeze it, marinate it, and roast it on a spit.”

Last spring, the weather was considered too cold and rainy to have the goat roast outdoors, leading to a suggestion that it be moved inside. “That didn’t cut it for Jarred,” Dunster tutor Katherine Blackburn recalls. “With a tarp covering the charcoal, the goat was roasted, beverages served, mud wrestling begun, and a giant sheet of plastic turned into a water slide.”

And a heck of an engineer

None of this fun stuff made him less of a serious engineering student.

He was elected to Phi Beta Kappa in his junior year, and named a Harvard College Scholar (top 10 percent of his class) in 2003-04 and a John Harvard Scholar (top 5 percent) in 2004-05. Brown also worked as a teaching fellow for several courses in mathematics and served as House committee co-chair at Dunster.

“Jarred was a pleasure to have in class,” notes Howard Stone, Vicky Joseph Professor of Engineering and Applied Mathematics. “He asked good and insightful questions that helped the presentation, and gently pointed out likely errors made in lecture. He is clearly talented and humble — a nice combination.”

The combination helped him win the 2006 Colonel and Mrs. S.S. Dennis, III Scholarship, a $1,000 award for “outstanding academic achievements in engineering sciences.”

At Dunster House, Blackburn characterizes Brown as “a fantastic leader because he can be equally serious or gregarious as the occasion demands.”

For his senior design project, Brown worked on a new tip for heart catheters, the narrow tubes threaded into hearts to clear arteries of life-threatening blockages. The goal, he says, is to improve the mobility of the catheter and thus increase success rates in surgery.

During his presentation of the design at the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, things went badly. The movies he hoped to show did not project onto the screen. “He immediately sought a solution,” recalls Michael Rutter, communications director for the School. “First he tried a different monitor, then a different computer. When it looked like his presentation was ready to crash, he took out a backup memory device he had prepared. While clearly rattled, Jarred kept his cool, almost not missing a beat. He laughed at himself and worked off the mood of the crowd. The audience gave him an especially big round of applause at the end.”

Later, “Jarred wore a tuxedo to hand in his senior thesis on the catheter work,” Blackburn says. “He looked ridiculous but happy. Only Jarred could pull this off with class and good humor.”

After graduation, Brown will work for a business consulting firm in Washington, D.C. “It’s always good for engineers to have business experience,” he maintains. “In practice, engineering is so tightly wound with the surrounding economics. Working for a consulting company in the area is like being paid to go to business school.”

Ultimately, Brown plans to go to graduate school for engineering. He hasn’t chosen a specialty area yet, nor does he have a particular school in mind. It really doesn’t matter. He probably will do well at whatever he does, and have fun at it, too.