Math Department Student Spotlight: Benjamin Castle

Benjamin Castle was selected to participate in the Budapest Semesters in Mathematics (BSM) Program in the Fall 2014 held in Student Spotlight Benjamin CastleBudapest, Hungary. Ben is the first student in the math program to be admitted to the BSM program.

Castle is a junior studying math and music with an expected graduation date of May 2015. He is a Cedar Rapids native and went to Jefferson High School. Castle took an interest in music and math early in life.

“I’ve been obsessed with math for most of my life, and have participated in various math competitions as well as Academic Decathlon,” said Castle. “I also love classical and jazz music; I’ve played trumpet for nine years, and play in the Symphonic Band and Jazz Panthers here at UNI.”

Initially, Castle was drawn to UNI because of its combination of proximity to his home and its reputation as one of the best music programs in this region of the country. He also liked that UNI is a school large enough to have a variety of strong programs and also small enough to “feel” like a smaller college.

“UNI doesn’t seem quite as large. The academic opportunities are still there, but they seem more accessible and approachable,” said Castle. “I was relatively surprised by the amount of opportunities there are here for students to actively participate in their fields of study. I’ve been given an increasing level of freedom and responsibility in learning both math and music; for me, this has made my education much more fulfilling.”

Being a math/music double major doesn’t allow for a lot of free time; most of his time is spent listening to music and reading (generally math related articles). One organization castle has been a part of is Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia.

“I have been a member of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia, a music fraternity, since my first semester at UNI,” said Castle. “Sinfonia has produced some of the strongest bonds I’ve been able to make with fellow students at UNI, and has introduced me to a national network of like-minded people as well as numerous opportunities to advance music in our society. More recently, I became a member of Kappa Mu Epsilon, a math honor society which has helped connect me to others motivated by the power and elegance of mathematical reasoning.”

Castle’s biggest aspiration for a career is to practice math in a university setting. To help achieve this goal, it has been very beneficial to work closely with the professors in the math department.

“I’ve been able to take independent study classes, conduct original research, and give talks related to my fields of interest in math,” says Castle. “The UNI Math Department provides a great environment for undergraduate math study: it is small enough to be able to provide students with individual attention and opportunities to develop their own mathematical ideas; at the same time, there is a variety of mathematical interest in the department, so that it is relatively easy for students to locate professors who share               their interests.”

Castle’s involvement with both math and music have created many memorable experiences for him.

“Some of my highlights include two math research projects over the last year, as well as countless musical performances in various jazz band, concert band, and athletic band settings,” said Castle. “I was also part of a think tank group that started the Panther Plot, an on-campus student garden. Also, the semester-long process of becoming a member of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia is about as positive and memorable as a college experience could get. Participating in the Iowa Collegiate Math Competition (and beating everyone but ISU last year) was also a great experience.”

Both inside and outside of the classroom, Castle has a passion for math and has many positive things to say about the Math Department.

“The pure logical rigor and elegance of math have always been very appealing, and I have been fortunate to have many opportunities to work in the ‘purest,’ most abstract parts of math during my time in the UNI Math Department. Some of the math professors here prefer to teach classes in an ‘inquiry based’ setting, in which the students are guided through the process of discovering the ideas of the topic themselves. This provides a very fun and effective complement to more traditional lecture courses.”

After graduating, Castle wants to go immediately into graduate school, hoping to research mathematical logic and related fields. Ideally, he would also like to play in musical ensembles at whatever school he attends.