Hvidsten Receives Faculty Scholarship and Creativity Award

Posted on May 11th, 2005 by

At Honors Day, May 7, 2005, Professor of Mathematics Michael Hvidsten received the Faculty Scholarship and Creativity Award. Previous award winner Joyce Sutphen presented the award. What follows are the remarks she delivered on the occasion.

I am happy to be able to present this award today–an award which recognizes a member of the faculty for “publication of works, presentations of papers, or creative endeavors . . . which are judged by peers in one’s discipline to be important contributions.” As Rich Hilbert said last year, even though this is a day set aside to honor and recognize our best students, it is important to take a moment to show these students what we (the faculty) like to do and do well, perhaps inspiring them in some new and unexpected way.

Past recipients of this award have published in the fields of theology, historical research, the natural and social sciences, literary criticism, and classics. They’ve even included someone whose work involves sitting at a window watching clouds and then writing poems about it, so the message should be clear: we want you to know that you should live the life that is yours–or, as Terry Tempest Williams said on this campus just a few days ago: “Don’t worry about what you will do next; if you take one step with all the knowledge you have, there will be enough light to see what the next step will be.”

One of Shakespeare’s contemporaries, John Dee, said, “There is (gentle reader) nothing which . . . so much beautifies and adorns the soul and mind as does knowledge of the good arts and sciences . . . Many arts there are which beautify the mind . . . but of all none do more . . . than those arts which are called mathematical, unto the knowledge of which no [person] can attain, without perfect knowledge and instruction of the principles, grounds, and Elements of Geometry.”

The winner of this year’s award is someone who understands Geometry and wants others to join him in that perfect knowledge–in fact, he’s written a pioneering book with this lean and clear title: Exploring Geometry. One of my mathematical friends helped me understand, briefly, the nature of the book: “He seized on the notion of exploration and active learning, feeling that students should construct their own knowledge rather than simply receive it, but he’s gone beyond theorizing and is one of the first to show how this sort of learning can be done. The main thing is that he has figured out how to put together playful exploration with careful and systematic proof.” Of his own work, the author says, “In this book we give equal weight to intuitive and imaginative exploration of geometry as well as to abstract abstract reasoning and proofs.”

I begin to understand what Edna St. Vincent Millay meant when she said that “Euclid alone has looked on Beauty bare.” If I could go back to learning geometry with the help of exercises with titles such as “To Infinity and Beyond: Circle Inversions,” “Euclidean Eggs: Over Easy,” or “Rollin’, Rollin’, Rollin’ (with Cycloids),” I think I would learn (this time) to appreciate the elegant shaping hand of geometry, thanks to Gustavus’s own Mike Hvidsten, the winner of this year’s Faculty Scholarship Award.


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