her dismal UC Berkeley German, and decided it might be
a good idea to start a little earlier at learning languages.
After attending elementary at the Marin Waldorf School and
wanting a change (and a shorter commute!), she pushed me
towards FABS and it ended up being a great fit. It is impossible to describe to outsiders how well that much exposure
to a language between the ages of eleven and fourteen
really drills it into your head in a way that it will never ever
completely leak out. Trust me, plenty leaks out of my head,
so I know.
In eighth grade I had a big decision to make. My mom
was lobbying hard for me to stay at FABS (which by then had
become FAIS) and get the IB, but I was drawn to going to a
bigger school. We compromised by me getting my way with
the promise that I would consider transferring back to FAIS
after sophomore year. I ended up at University High School
with classmates Paul Gordon and Nicola Miner. By the time
sophomore year rolled around, I was a bit too entrenched
and never made it back to FAIS.
I continued taking French at UHS and what struck me the
most was how they taught it with all these formulaic rules,
whereas I was used to just writing what looked right and
saying what sounded right. It was hard to put your finger on
In my real-world career, every now and again I run
across an opportunity to use my French. It’s not essential to
my success now, but it is nice. Allegedly it is relatively easy
to learn Spanish once you know French and English, but I
have yet to put this claim fully to the test. It is also wonder-
ful to continue relationships with folks I met in France over
the course of living there on several occasions, with whom I
have traveled and shared adventures and become family. It is
also nice to continue relationships and share memories with
fellow classmates from the FABS days; there is a special con-
nection you make with classmates in Middle School and that
never seems to ever completely leak out of your head.
Tyson Thomas is the Chief Scientist at Neural ID where
he develops algorithms, feature extraction techniques and
pattern recognition applications. He has over sixteen years of
experience in application-specific neural/fuzzy hardware and
Previously, Dr. Thomas was at NASA’s Jet Propulsion
Laboratory (1995-2000) where he was responsible for system and circuit design, layout and test for numerous neural
network and fuzzy logic prototype chips and printed-circuit
boards while doing research in the areas of genetic algo-
How much French can be jammed into an eleven-year-old brain?
it, but I had developed an intuition for what was correct and
didn’t really have to learn it by memorizing rules. The other
kids were pretty good at reading and writing, but I could
blow them away at speaking. There is definitely something
very special about an immersive language education.
I went on to study Physics and Economics at Pomona
College near Los Angeles, continuing to keep my French
current by taking non-credit conversation classes and, as
mentioned, studying in Paris for a semester. While I completely failed with my primary goal of getting a French
girlfriend during my study abroad program, to this day I am
still friends with my French roommate from those days, who
would eventually ask me to be the godfather
of his son. I then went on to attend graduate
school in Electrical Engineering at University
of Southern California, during which time I
heard about the Chateaubriand Fellowship (a
grant offered by the Embassy of France in the
United States that allows doctoral students
enrolled in American universities to conduct
research in France). This was like the perfect
storm of opportunity, the chance to live in
France and do my own research, paid by
the French government! Are you kidding?! I
applied to do a project with a company in
Grenoble and I am certain that my fluency in
French, thanks to FABS, was a key to being
selected. It really felt like a win-win-win since
I also love to ski. You may have heard of the
French alpine skiing legend Jean-Claude Killy?
He won three gold medals at the 1968 Olympics in Grenoble. He’s a better skier than me,
but I still had lots of fun.
rithms and biologically-inspired pattern recognition for
a variety of DoD and NASA-funded programs.
Before joining Neural ID, Dr. Thomas was Principal
Scientist at NOVASOL, where he did analysis of hyper-spectral imagery and led the design and development of
target-detection algorithms and architectures. He has one
patent and holds PhD and MSEE degrees from the University of Southern California and a BA in Physics
and Economics from Pomona College.
Tyson’s outside interests include downhill skiing,
windsurfing, salsa and motorcycles.
8th Grade Graduation. Left to right: Xavier Tsouo,
Tyson Thomas, Francis Tapon ,and Jody Dunmeyer
La Lettre April 2013 | 29