Jae Canetti (’24)

Jae Canetti (’24) didn’t literally go from South America to Denmark in 90 minutes. He didn’t make the world’s parking garages more efficient in a summer, he hasn’t yet solved a climate problem in Venice quite yet, and he couldn’t transform a soft-tossing Italian semi-pro baseball pitcher into a flame-throwing candidate for the next Major League Baseball International Signing Period.

But give him time. And if you ever find yourself in Las Vegas, one of his former research haunts, don’t bet against him. Whatever he’s doing.

Canetti, majoring in Applied Mathematics and minoring in Computer Science and Environmental Studies, is a sharp-thinking, energetic bundle of academic inquiry based in math but branching wherever numbers might be used to make an impact.

And he’s doing it all with the help of the Stamps Leadership Scholarship, the Porter B. Byrum Scholarship, the Jensen Family Scholarship, the Hubert Humphrey Studies Abroad Scholarship and the Camillo Artom Scholarship.

“I don’t have to worry about paying off student loans,” Canetti said. “I can go to a corporation. I can go to grad school. I can do whatever I want to do and learn. I can make an impact and have my focus directed toward doing something good for the world. I can focus on things that fulfill me and push the world toward a better future.”

Canetti arrived from Fairfax, Virginia, in the fall of 2020, as Wake Forest and just about every other segment of society worried about how to navigate COVID-19. The first academic year was a challenge but ultimately a triumph of resolve. In the summer of 2021, however, the onset of a new COVID variant in Chile, where Canetti was supposed to study that fall, shuttered the program.

“I was not registered for classes on campus,” Canetti recalled. “Had no housing on campus. I figured I still needed to study abroad.

“Within an hour of getting that email, I’m back on the phone with the (Center for Global Programs and Studies) and asking, ‘What else can I do?’ They said they had this program in Copenhagen. I said, ‘Sign me up.’ I went from Chile to Copenhagen in about an hour. And it was one of the coolest things that ever happened to me.”

The program was intensive in environmental and sustainability studies. Canetti had thought about minoring in that discipline, but he figured it would be tough to fit it in under normal circumstances. These weren’t normal, but they were perfect. He was able to complete much of the program’s coursework in that time in Copenhagen.

With Stamps Foundation funding, he spent the summer of 2021 studying the Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator, a nonprofit dedicated to helping startup businesses powered by clean technology. In interviewing several startups, Canetti learned that navigating the regulatory compliance maze is especially difficult for smaller organizations because they lack the funding and staffing necessary to check all the boxes.

“These early-stage startups are getting boxed out,” he said. “Because they’re so small, they don’t have the volume of policy experts they really need. That was an enlightening experience.”

As a result, Canetti can see himself mitigating these issues one day by working in sustainability-related consulting in the environmental, social and governance space.

The following summer, 2022, Canetti earned a grant from the National Science Foundation’s Research Experience for Undergraduates program. Using his math education, he studied ways that parking garages might become more efficient in alerting potential drivers of where and when a coveted space might become free.

“Some people spend the equivalent of several days every year looking for parking,” Canetti said. “That leads to core emissions because they can’t find space.”

The project involved measuring customers’ walking speed from a shopping mall or similar locale to their cars. Knowing that value might help estimate when the customer would turn into a driver on the way out of the lot.

Problem: The only measuring device available was the smartphone, and the smartphone almost always has trouble getting a signal in the middle of a massive concrete structure.

“I tried to figure out how tools native to smartphones can tell us how fast somebody is moving,” he said. “Did it work? No. It did not. But did I learn a lot? Absolutely.”

In general, he appreciated that the process has value because it makes you think in new ways.

For his next act, he ventured abroad again. After a semester at Casa Artom, Wake Forest’s house in Venice, Italy, he remained in the country and worked on two projects.

One of them melded math and the environment. Based out of Bologna, Canetti was part of a large initiative evaluating sea temperatures, heat waves and the impact of floodgates within the waters of Venice.

“I’m trying to make the report more efficient,” he said. “The idea of the paper is to figure out patterns in when the lagoon can become unstably hot or cold and looking at projections to see not only how that is progressing but also how potential floodgate closures for extended periods of time could alter the sea level and the sea temperatures extremes and potentially aggravate or mitigate those circumstances.”

But that was only part of his Italian summer. The other was baseball.

Three or four days a week, he’d take a train from Bologna to Pianoro, where he served as a pitching coach and data analyst for a semi-pro baseball team. Whether throwing batting practice or evaluating pitchers in their mechanics, Canetti had his hand in several aspects of the game at its most obscure. And he kind of liked it that way.

“After the preseason, we talked with the league, and they said I hadn’t lived in Italy long enough to qualify to be a player,” he said. “I still wanted to be involved. I asked, ‘Need a coach?’ And they said, ‘Sure.’”

Scholarship funds helped him work on the Venice project. General financial aid, Stamps support and the freedom from traditional cost burdens allowed him to explore the baseball side of things.

The ride has been remarkable, and it’s not over. Canetti isn’t too busy to appreciate the extent of his education or the reasons things have come together.

“I have taken Korean Cinema,” he said. “I have taken three languages and want to take a fourth. At what other school are you going to be able to attend with full scholarship support, study abroad twice, finish an intensive quantitative major, join organizations, have your professors’ phone numbers and have an insane amount of connections?”

Jae Canetti (’24), from Fairfax, Virginia, is a recipient of the Stamps Leadership Scholarship Award, the Porter B. Byrum Scholarship Fund, the Jensen Family Scholarship, the Hubert Humphrey Studies Abroad Scholarship and the Camillo Artom Scholarship. 

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