Highlights — 29 July 2017 — by Rowland A. Parks
From SJC Valedictorian to physicist: The odyssey of Sydney Taegar (Part 3)

BELIZE CITY, Thurs. July 27, 2017–The late morning sun was beating down, making Kremandala chairman Evan X Hyde’s office uncomfortably hot, but when he offered to turn on the air conditioning, Dr. Taegar told him, “I prefer the window open. I don’t care too much for AC.” Hyde left shortly after to bring someone he told Dr. Taegar he had to meet.

When he returned, he introduced Dr. Taegar to Ya Ya Marin Coleman, the chairperson of the United Black Association for Development, Education Foundation (UEF). The UEF building houses the Library of African and Indian Studies and is also the home of the Dr. Leroy Taegar Institute of Learning, and the high-energy Ya Ya Marin Coleman is in charge of that part of the Kremandala operation.

The introduction was brief and respectful, then Ya Ya left and Dr. Taegar and I resumed our conversation. We continued to talk about his work in designing and building networks.

Dr. Taegar explained that he didn’t need security clearance for the kind of work that he was engaged in, and noted, “I couldn’t have gotten security clearance until I became a US citizen in 2013.”

“The reason I became a US citizen, because I have been on visas the whole time, I had an F1 first as a student and then I switched to an F1B, and I was on that for seven years. The company wanted to sponsor me as a permanent resident, but I said no. I was on an O1 visa for four years, it’s called outstanding researcher and then I applied for residency (green card). By this time now I was married and my wife is from Colombia; we met in Colombia,” Dr. Taegar explained.

“I was in Colombia to give a talk at Silafae, the Latin American Symposium on Particle Physics. This was in Cartagena, Colombia, and the conference was being hosted by Universidad de Antioquia; my wife Maria Fernanda Aristizabal Vargas was a graduate student in physics and she was at the conference to register participants and that’s how we met, at the registration,” Dr. Taegar recalled.

Dr. Taegar explained that he was still living in Chicago in 2000 when he met his wife and he was still contemplating a return to Belize the following year, 2001.

“I made a decision to go and work for Lucent Technologies, so I moved from Chicago to New Jersey in 2001. A couple years after, I went to New Jersey to live, my wife came from Colombia to visit me and I visited her in Colombia. We developed a relationship, she moved to the US, and we got married in 2005. We were still planning to come to Belize. She had her Master’s at that time and she was teaching physics at the university in Colombia, so after coming to the US she decided to go back and do her PhD in oceanography and post-doctoral studies which she completed two years ago,” Dr. Taegar said.

His wife is presently working for a joint program between Columbia University and NASA. Dr. Taegar informed that his wife is studying climate change.

“So what you think about the US President Donald Trump’s position regarding climate change and his decision to exit the Paris Accord Treaty on climate change?” I asked.

I can’t talk about Donald Trump without getting upset. I mean the guy is a liar. He’s a conman,” Dr. Taegar said. “A lot of people voted for Donald Trump because they are frustrated with the system. They wanted to blow up the system. Donald Trump’s position is that there is no such thing as climate change,” he remarked.

Dr. Taegar said that he and his wife have an 11-year-old son, Isaac. “He’s a serious football player,” he added. “My daughter Elisa is 7-years-old.” he said.

“The children are bi-lingual, because my wife speaks Spanish at home”, Dr. Taegar said.

“The reason I got residency and then citizenship is because it was very complicated for us to travel as a family. My wife has a Colombian passport and I am from Belize and have a Belize passport and my kids have US passports. So when we try to travel anywhere it’s a huge headache to get visas, because my visa is different from hers. The kids don’t need a visa, but I need a visa and she needs a visa. Even coming to Belize my wife needs a visa, so we would have to go to the Belize Mission to the UN and get a visa for her to come. So having two kids in the US and us not being from the US made things very difficult,” Dr. Taegar explained. “But I still have my Belize citizenship and she still has her Colombian citizenship and my son has his 3 citizenships, Belize, Colombia and USA,” he noted.

Dr. Taegar went on to explain how the dot.com bubble burst in 2001, affecting Lucent, where he was employed. The company had a workforce of 120,000 employees at its peak. Taegar described what happened: “The dot.com bubble burst cost the company billions of dollars, because we had given many of these companies credit; the company was out billions of dollars. At its peak, Lucent Technologies shares were trading at $84, but it went down to about 51 cents and we went down from 120,000 employees to about 30,000. So I joined just as it was collapsing. I was there for the ride down. They laid people off, they had early retirement packages. They sold pieces of the company. They did a lot of things to downsize. We stabilized to around 35,000 employees. In 2007, we were acquired by Alcatel, which is a French company. The headquarters of Lucent moved from Murray Hill, New Jersey to Paris, France. Then in January 2016, Nokia brought us. So now we are Nokia. These companies have a long history. Bell labs, which emerged from the breakup of AT&T and kept its research and development has won 9 Nobel Prizes in chemistry and physics,” he said.

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