Interview with Justin Dimmel
Have you ever stopped to think about what a number actually is? Justin Dimmel, of Liverpool, NY, has, and his majors in mathematics and philosophy (and maybe even his minor in religious studies) equip him well to address the question. Although Justin already had an interest in philosophy in high school, he arrived at Hartwick thinking mathematics was the last subject he would pursue. “I didn’t see mathematics as anything more than manipulating numbers, and I couldn't see how such a ‘plug-and-chug’ science could really interest anybody. But then, during my second year, I took a course in Linear Algebra with Professor [Charles] Scheim and was blown away by how much reasoning—and not mere computation—was involved.” Later that year, during a seminar in Modern Geometry, Justin started to make exciting connections between mathematics and philosophy.
It was in Real Analysis—a math course examining the theory underlying calculus—that Justin started developing ideas for his senior thesis. Students in the course spent a class period formally analyzing infinity. “The idea of something that goes on forever has always fascinated me, but I lacked a sophisticated context for thinking about it,” Justin says. “It was just infinite, I thought, and what else can you say? But we learned that it’s possible to compare the ‘size’ of different infinite collections and that some infinite collections are actually ‘bigger’ than others. This amazed me.” Justin worked with Professor Scheim and Professor Stefanie Rocknak (philosophy) on his senior project on mathematical notions of infinity and set theory.
During his senior year, Justin was Student Senate president, a position he found both challenging and rewarding. He also served as a resident advisor in Wilder Hall and a year as editor-in-chief of Hilltops, the student newspaper. In the spring of 2001, Justin was one of six juniors chosen for the 2001-02 academic year as John Christopher Hartwick Scholars, the College’s highest academic distinction, He also has had two study-abroad experiences (in London and India), and describes them as unforgettable. “Whenever I think of any of them (which is usually a few times a day), I am thrilled beyond words that I came to Hartwick College and that Hartwick helped make these experiences happen.”
When asked about his most significant experience at Hartwick, Justin immediately identifies “The Architecture of the Sacred.” Under the guidance of religious studies professor Sandy Huntington, students studied classical and contemporary conceptions of the “sacred” and then designed and built a strawbale house on Hartwick’s Pine Lake Environmental Campus. Says Justin, “The two semesters and two June terms I spent designing and building that house are probably the most important classes I have taken. My interests in philosophy, mathematics, and religious studies, as well as my desire to tie everything I study back to something ‘real,’ came together in that course. Every student who comes to Hartwick should have that type of grand unifying experience.”