Junior Eric Hanson ’16 Wins Goldwater Scholarship

Posted on June 17th, 2015 by

Eric Hanson '16

Eric Hanson ’16

Gustavus Adolphus College junior mathematics major Eric Hanson ’16 is the recipient of a 2015 Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship, the premier undergraduate award for students pursuing careers in the fields of mathematics, the natural sciences, and engineering. Hanson, an Apple Valley native, is the 20th Gustavus student since 1992 to receive a Goldwater Scholarship.

“I am honored to have been chosen as a Goldwater Scholar,” Hanson said. “It would not have been possible without the guidance of the Gustavus Mathematics Department and support from other faculty.”

Hanson is currently studying abroad through a program called Budapest Semesters in Mathematics. Hanson is one of about 50 students currently in the program, which draws professors from several of the top universities and research institutions in Budapest.

“The courses are all very rigorous, but the material is interesting and it makes the work well worth it,” Hanson said. “I am enrolled in courses on abstract algebra, algebraic topology, combinatorics, mathematical problem solving, and the philosophy of mathematics. Aside from my studies, I have had time to travel within Hungary and recently took a trip to Switzerland and France during my spring break.”

Next fall, Hanson will be back at Gustavus where he has flourished in the College’s Mathematics and Computer Science Department. Outside the classroom he plays the saxophone in the Gustavus Jazz Lab Band, the Gustavus Wind Orchestra, a saxophone quartet, and a jazz combo. He also tutors and grades for the Mathematics Department and is a member of the Math and Computer Science Club.

“Eric is a very hard working and insightful student who picks up on things really quickly,” said Professor of Mathematics and Computer Science Terry Morrison. “He is interested in things outside the classroom, is very conscientious and is the ideal student that we love to have here.”

“My experience with the Mathematics Department at Gustavus has been very positive. All of the professors have been very supportive, and I have been able to establish friendships with the faculty that go beyond coursework,” Hanson said. “I have had the opportunity to perform research with both Tom LoFaro (Math and Computer Science) and Jessie Petricka (Physics) and both have been fantastic mentors. Dr. LoFaro’s willingness to perform mathematics research with me has allowed me to put myself in a position where I feel prepared to pursue mathematics at the graduate level.”

Hanson’s research work with LoFaro came at the intersection of dynamical systems and knot theory. In particular, he studied a system of differential equations known as the Newton-Leipnik equations, that have a strange attractor. The objective of Hanson’s work was to develop a geometric model of this strange attractor based on LoFaro’s previous research and use that to determine whether the attractor might contain knots of all possible classifications. The two plan to continue working together when Hanson returns from Hungary.

“It was wonderful to work with Eric on this project. He is an incredibly enthusiastic student who was tremendously dedicated to the project,” LoFaro said. “At the beginning of the summer, we started down a different path and he stuck with it even after we decided to abandon the original path. It turned out that his persistence paid off and that was a fundamental reason why he made considerable headway once we discovered a more reasonable avenue of research.”

After graduating from Gustavus in the spring of 2016, Hanson says he plans to pursue a doctorate in mathematics. His ultimate goal is to be a mathematics professor, preferably at a liberal arts college similar to Gustavus.

Hanson is one of 260 undergraduates to receive a 2015 Goldwater Scholarship, which covers the cost of tuition, fees, books, and room and board up to a maximum of $7,500 per year for two years. Scholars were selected on the basis of academic merit from a field of 1,206 mathematics, science, and engineering students who were nominated by faculty members of colleges and universities nationwide.

The Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Program was authorized by the United States Congress in 1986 to honor Senator Barry M. Goldwater, who served his country for 56 years as a soldier and statesman, including 30 years of service in the U.S. Senate. The scholarship program aims to alleviate a critical current and future shortage of highly qualified scientists, mathematicians, and engineers and to provide a continuing source of highly qualified individuals to those fields of academic study and research.


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