Monday, September 24, 2012

No limits: Math, chess, reading, and acting are among new professor's loves

Rob Fisette majored in math in college, but he also spent a great deal of time studying English literature and working on theatre productions. He doesn’t believe in limiting himself—or others—to one discipline.

“My opinion of a liberal arts education is that smart people are smart people everywhere,” said Fisette, who is teaching mathematics at Randolph College this semester.  “They should be able to understand all the numeric aspects of life as well as all the artistic ones.”

“One of the main problems that students have in approaching math is this impression that they have things that they’re good at and things that they’re not good at,” he said. “They classify math in the category of things they aren’t good at because they’ve never had a good experience there.” Fisette hopes to change that for his students.

Fisette, a native of Rhode Island, attended a liberal arts college in Pennsylvania. While he had chosen to major in math, he also declared a major in English to help him keep up his love for reading. (His favorite author is Hubert Selby Jr.)

He began acting on stage when a college friend was producing “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.” He enjoyed the experience, so he continued participating in theatre. During his senior year, he directed a performance of “Sweeny Todd.”

He said there are many connections between the fields in which he studied and participated. “A lot of the skills that you develop in math really help in studying literature and analyzing problems in any field,” he said.

For example, mathematics teaches the importance of breaking a problem into smaller component parts. “Rather than be overwhelmed by it, just break it down into small parts that are more manageable,” Fisette said. “This is applicable whether you’re analyzing a short story, or you have some role for a play that you're trying to figure out.”

After college, Fisette worked in a mailroom in Chicago. While there, he picked up chess as a hobby to keep his brain active and entertained. After a couple of years, he realized that he was missing school and mathematics, so he prepared for graduate school and attended the University of Oregon.  He wrote his dissertation about algebraic curves.

Fisette is teaching at Randolph this semester while mathematics professor Yesem Kurt is on sabbatical.

When he isn’t teaching, Fisette’s main hobby is chess, and he also enjoys cribbage, racquetball, reading, and biking.