This week, Bennett graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Science degree in mathematics from the School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences and Barrett, the Honors College.

In August, Bennett plans to move himself and his kids to Baltimore, Maryland, to attend Johns Hopkins University, where he has been admitted to their Applied Math PhD program.

We asked him to share about his journey as a Sun Devil.

Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in? 

Answer: I was always more interested in statistics, but the exposure to mathematical research under Dr. Kuang was the moment I realized I wanted to study mathematics. The work didn’t seem like work — I found myself frequently enjoying myself while writing and proving lemmas for dynamical systems.

Q: What is something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you, that changed your perspective?

A: As an undergrad, I regularly attended the colloquiums at Wexler. Many of the presentations were difficult to interpret, almost like drinking water from a fire hose. But I learned to love attending these — they may take days to break down and understand, but they provide very valuable information.

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: Dr. Kuang has been the best teacher I have had, both in and out of the classroom. Besides his knowledge of mathematics, his philosophy and approaches to abstract problems are awe-inspiring. Also, Dr. Kostelich played a very significant role — he was the closest person I have had to a father-figure. He taught me to embrace my drive, and aim for schools like Johns Hopkins at a time in my life when my confidence and mental health were low while being a full-time single father.

Over the course of two years, I also received a lot of support from Dr. Nicolas Lanchier, Dr. Steven Kaliszewski, Dr. Horst Thieme, Dr. Marko Samara, Dr. Yun Kang, Dr. Sharon Crook and Tin Phan. Because of the inclusivity and support I received, I was able to do very well in my studies at ASU, and I would highly recommend the mathematics program to others. 

Q: What is the best piece of advice you would give to those still in school?

A: Do what other students don’t. Attend meetings you shouldn’t. Make connections with everyone.

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?

A: I have two favorite spots – the Barrett suite on West campus, and Discovery Hall on Tempe campus. Nina Mason Pulliam admin have offices at Discovery, and it’s a great quiet place to study and sleep.

Q: What do you like to do in your spare time for fun?

A: I coach my son’s soccer team, so I like to take both my sons to the park and practice soccer for hours. I also like to work out in my spare time.

Q: What do you think is most misunderstood about math by the general public?

A: “How high can you count?”

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: I have to be honest; I am a humanitarian first and a mathematician second. I was raised in a trailer park in a small town in Texas by an economically crippled family – I should not be where I am at today. I got very lucky and made connections after I left my hometown. I sincerely believe that I am going to make an impact in my field in time, but understand that there could be another Terrence Tao or Cedric Villani amongst us, but they can’t even afford to attend university. The idea of university being a luxury is an absurdity. I would use the money to solve this problem – to provide a platform for all humans despite race, gender, socioeconomic background, etc. Admittedly, I am biased and believe that mathematics is the most important and impactful major. Hence, I would like a caveat there that they must major in a math-related field, or at least perform math-related research.

Rhonda Olson

Manager of Marketing and Communication, School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences