By Alan Perry
For those who don’t often come in to Lewis Hall, I worked as the front desk Office Assistant for Applied Mathematics from 2015 to 2017. In between tending to the various perplexities involved with issues natural to an older building, I had many great experiences in the department that left me with lifelong impressions. I will be attending graduate school myself this fall, in far-off Chicago, and I think my experiences and the friendships forged at Lewis Hall have modeled what an excellent academic environment can be.
There is a definite collaborative sense to be felt in the department. As part of my art practice, math certainly makes itself known, and I was never made to feel like a nuisance despite asking PhD students extremely simple programming or geometry questions. This collegial atmosphere extends to the postdoctoral researchers and staff, and certainly to the faculty. There is no shortage of interesting conversations to be had in the halls.
The social life of the department is well developed too, with bi-weekly tea breaks and quarterly social gatherings. Students organize informal talks at the tea breaks, which often leads to the discussion of interesting ideas. I had the pleasure of giving a talk on some of my artwork, and the discussion afterwards fed into the further development of some of my current projects (and led to a sale!).
A definite focal point to the collegial atmosphere is the lounge coffee machine, which is provided with a suggested donation, and is managed by students. That coffee machine was the fuel for the majority of my work projects, and it was always enjoyable to pop up for a cup of joe and take a quick break to chat, be that with fellow staff, faculty, or students.
Overall, while my experience was through the lens of the staff, I could tell that the department was filled with individuals vested in their occupation – as abstract and inaccessible as that could sometimes be for someone with a Fine Arts background! While it was bittersweet to leave my job at the department, I felt that I learned a great deal simply from the community of scholars and students.