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Dotting the 'i' in destiny: ECE student Thomas Unger

Thomas UngerWhen The Ohio State University beat that team up north in November, electrical and computer engineering (ECE) student Thomas Unger was there to put the proverbial cherry on top.

After years of dedication to The Best Damn Band in the Land, Unger strutted his sousaphone to dot the "i" in Script Ohio, for two minutes of glory before 104,944 screaming fans in the Ohio Stadium.

For those unfamiliar with the sousaphone, or walking tuba, it's not the most convenient instrument. Playing something the size of a dorm fridge lends itself to jokes:

Q: Why did the chicken cross the road? A: To get away from the tuba recital. 

Q: What does a tuba and a lawsuit have in common? A: Everyone is relieved when the case is closed. 

In an interview with the Cincinnati Enquirer, Unger described the sousaphone as “a tuba you can wear. People have back problems. You get sore with it hanging on your shoulder all day.’’  

Unger's dedication to music is one thing, but juggling that dream as an ECE student at Ohio State is another thing entirely. Regarded as one of the more challenging majors at the university, Unger said the drive to succeed equally in music as well as the classroom turned out beneficial.

As the semester winds down to its final week before the holiday break, Unger offered some advice to other students about his time at Ohio State.

"Having such a big-time commitment like marching band actually forced me to be more organized with my time," he said. "I tried to keep check lists of everything I had to get done on any given day, including homework, projects, exam studying, music checks for marching band, job interview prep, and other day-to-day tasks. This semester was pretty difficult from a workload standpoint, but I was able to succeed by staying organized and trying to get ahead on assignments when I had time."

Graduating out of LaSalle High School in Cincinnati, Unger knew he wanted to go into engineering. With another goal set on joining the marching band, he knew he couldn't go wrong in Columbus. 

"I originally came to Ohio State as an undeclared engineering major and decided on ECE," he said. "I was interested in computers and wanted to understand how they worked, and to eventually get a job in the tech industry."

With graduation on the horizon, Unger said seeing what he accomplished gives him more confidence in where he is headed next.

"I'm in my final semester. When I look forward in my career and think about how much I still have to learn, it can be daunting, for sure. When I look back to where I was as an incoming freshman, however, I can appreciate how much I have learned since then," Unger said. "Since I took some of my initial classes in digital logic and computer programming, I knew that software engineering was the career I wanted to pursue. After landing some engineering internships, I now feel prepared to take on the responsibilities of a software engineer."

With the challenges that come with undertaking an ECE major at the top engineering school in the state, and the high rate of jobs available after graduation, university advisors and wellness representatives encourage students to find hobbies to take their minds off their studies from time to time. For Unger, his dream to dot the "i" offered a stabilizing focus.

"Dotting the 'i' is an honor reserved for fourth- and fifth-year members of the sousaphone section of the marching band," he said.

It's also highly competitive.

"Every member has to try out for the band each season, so returning members are not guaranteed spots," Unger said. "We use a ranking system based on how many games each person marched as a regular member on the field, versus as an alternate on the sideline. Alternates can challenge regulars for their spots each week, so the rankings can change considerably over the course of a season."

Fullfilling his dream in the stadium was a lasting memory from Unger's time at Ohio State. The noise from the crowd as the band steps onto the field for Script Ohio was a rush. It takes two minutes to dot the "i," but a lifetime of planning.