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Singing and Lego Play Make Them Stronger at Work

By Philip Walzer

Hobbies boost academic productivity, according to an article last year in Nature magazine. They offer much-needed R&R and can jump-start creativity. The article cited Jennifer Hertzberg, a postdoctoral researcher at Old Dominion University who has reconnected to a childhood pastime.

Here's a bit more about Hertzberg and Old Dominion administrator Nakia Madry-Smith, their hobbies and the workplace benefits

Nakia Madry-Smith

Job Director, Peninsula Center

History at ODU She has led the center in Hampton since 2015. Madry-Smith previously worked at Old Dominion's Career Development Services for six years. "Everyone at ODU has been super supportive of my outside interests," she said.

Hobby She sings with two local groups, The Fuzz Band and Rocky 7. Their repertoire ranges from funk and progressive soul to '70s R&B and jazz fusion.

Their venues The Fuzz Band performed at one of former President Obama's inaugural parties and three USO tours. Locally, the bands appear at everything from corporate events and festivals to weddings. April to August is her busy season. She had three gigs one day last summer.

Her look She shaves both sides of her head. On stage, she wears a frilly tutu - or princess skirt - and black combat boots. The boots show her tomboy side. Her tutu "provides an amazing connection with kids. It's fun and magical. I love seeing people dance. It usually starts with children and goes from there."

The benefitsAt Career Development Services, her music helped her connect with students and dissuade them from the notion that "you have to choose one thing or the other. I do what I love and I still have a life. It brings balance to everything." At the Peninsula Center, too, "it helps me connect to people and it allows them to see who I am as a person."

The day after a concert, "it's almost like coming off a vacation. I'm refreshed and rejuvenated. It makes you more open to dealing with things when they happen. I'm not stressed out."

"Living the dream" "I dreamed of being a singer, and now I am. It's exhausting at times, but I'm so fulfilled by it."

The down side Sometimes after a heavy concert schedule, Madry-Smith has to take a day of annual leave to recharge.

Listen to Madry-Smith and the Fuzz Band perform Aretha Franklin's "Rocksteady" at https://soundcloud.com/will-urquhart/track-02-the-fuzz-band-at?in=will-urquhart/sets/the-fuzz-band-at-lockn-8242018

Jennifer Hertzberg

Job Postdoctoral research associate, Department of Ocean, Earth & Atmospheric Sciences

What she does Working with Associate Professor Matthew Schmidt, Hertzberg analyzes the chemical composition of microfossils from the ocean. They're trying to chart temperature variations in the Eastern Equatorial Pacific over the past 65,000 years. That could help researchers better predict future El Niño trends.

Hobby Putting together Lego kits. "It's not your average hobby, especially for an adult," she says.

Hertzberg estimates she has more than 100 in her apartment in Chesapeake. Her collection includes nano-block replicas of animals (sheep, camel, llama, lion) and world landmarks (Buckingham Palace, Stonehenge, the Louvre, the Leaning Tower of Pisa). She also has regular-size Lego city sights such as the U.S. Capitol,the Manhattan skyline and the Tower Bridge in London.

How she got started Growing up, Hertzberg and her brother and sister constructed Lego cities in the attic of their house on Long Island, N.Y. About five years ago, Hertzberg's sister gave her a Lego alpaca for her birthday, and she got hooked all over again.

The process Hertzberg usually works on her Legos on the weekends. "It's a chance to turn my brain off," she says. But she maintains the hyper-organized approach that guides her at work: "I tend to sort them by shape before I start." She predicts she'll get a 600-piece Shanghai scene done in three hours. The Capitol took eight hours to complete.

The benefits Her Lego hobby has improved her "manual dexterity." At work, she manipulates microfossils, which are usually no bigger than grains of sand, with a small paintbrush.

Also, breakthroughs don't come quickly in her research, "so it's nice to get instant gratification by completing something in a short amount of time." The weekend diversion allows her to return to work on Mondays more refreshed.

The down side "The hardest part is moving."

Photo of Nakia Madry-Smith by Vicki Cronis-Nohe

This article was in the fall issue of Old Dominion University's e-magazine, Monarch Extra. To read more, go to www.odu.edu/monarchmag

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