Matthew Farrell '15
Hometown: Homedale, ID
Why did you choose Cornell?
I transferred to Cornell from a small, liberal arts university close to where I grew up, having decided that I wanted more opportunities to do research. Cornell came to my attention via my girlfriend at the time, who was a student here, and when I saw how much more energy Cornell puts into welcoming the applications of potential transfer students compared to other universities of a similar caliber, it was a natural top choice.
What is your main Cornell extracurricular activity -- why is it important to you?
I lived in Bethe house during my two years as an undergraduate at Cornell, and as a transfer student the events put on by the house were an important part of my ability to socialize. I took full advantage, including going to salsa dance lessons taught by GRF Jose Rios. These lessons became the foundation for what has become a staple pastime of mine -- I go out dancing at just about every opportunity.
What was your most profound turning point while at Cornell?
I experienced a good deal of self-doubt during my first semester, especially after doing very poorly on my first prelim. The corresponding class was an important part of my major, so I was under a lot of pressure to step up my game on the final. Overcoming my test anxiety and doing decently well on the final was my most difficult and important trial, and only afterwards did I start to feel that I could hold my own with my classmates.
What, if any, Cornell-related scholarships/special financial benefits did you receive?
I received a Trjitzinsky Scholarship through the Math Department and American Mathematical Society. I also received prize money for an Honorable Mention in the English 2890 Expository Writing Prize competition for spring 2014.
What accomplishments/activities are you most proud of while at Cornell?
I'm most proud of the aforementioned Honorable Mention I received for my essay "Approaching Escape Velocity in Akira" in the English 2890 Expository Writing Prize competition. I enjoy math on a personal level, and when it comes to teaching others, but writing gives me a chance to create something that I can be proud to show other people.
What, if any, research projects did you participate in at Cornell?
I worked on answering a particular question about chip-firing on finite directed graphs (an automaton model) with Professor Lionel Levine during the spring and fall semesters of 2014. Although I graduated this winter, I am still doing research projects with him.
What Cornell memory do you treasure the most?
Walking through the Plantations to visit Flapjack the donkey at the stables.
Who or what influenced your Cornell education the most? How or why?
I had a great research advisor. Working with him has helped me feel comfortable discussing ideas without fear of saying something stupid, and I feel more confident in my ability to come up with something worthwhile.
How did any of your beliefs or interests change during your time at Cornell?
Campaigns on campus, as well as discussions with students, have made me much more aware of the difficulties facing women in terms of sexism and sexual harassment from a variety of different sources.
What do you value about your liberal arts education?
I really believe that there are some key realizations that every person needs to make before being a fully-adjusted, reasonable human being, the most important of these being that just about *every* viewpoint, even those that seem crazy to you, has a very convincing argument standing behind it. The philosophical divergence point for even very different-seeming viewpoints is often surprisingly small, subtle, and lacking in satisfactory answers. This is an issue that I became familiar with through taking liberal arts courses.
What are your plans for next year; where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Next year I will be a first-year graduate student at the University of Washington, working toward a PhD in applied mathematics. In ten years I hope to be on track to be a professor.