February 20, 2014
Professor of Mathematics Richard “Dick” Bedient has been a Hamilton professor since 1979 and former mathematics department chair. As such, he has played a crucial role in hiring the vast majority of the Math Department faculty as of today.
When and why did you decide to pursue a career in teaching? Have you always wanted to be a professor? As a child, what was your dream job?
When I was very young I went through an oceanography phase. I thought it would be fun to ride on a ship as a job. In college, however, my dream was to teach. My father was a college professor at Franklin and Marshall College, and I grew up surrounded by academic people. I started tutoring from an early age, and I saw I was good at it. The choice of math in particular was secondary, and the teaching piece was the key to my decision to pursue a career in teaching. I hope from my classes, students take away the skills mathematicians use: to solve problems, write precisely, and talk about technical topics in front of an audience. That is my goal.
How did you decide to come to Hamilton?
I was never interested in research. I always wanted to be close to the students. I knew that in order for teaching to be valued, I had to find a place like Hamilton, so coming here was a conscious decision. Luck played a big part of it. I had a few offers, but this was the best school.
During your time at Hamilton what has been the hardest thing for you to deal with as a faculty member?
The biggest challenge has been dealing with bureaucracy when I was a chair. Also, it is especially diffucult when I have to participate in honor code cases - those are days you don’t want to get up for.
How has the College changed since you have been here?
I came here right after the merger. There were a lot of ramifications, but I was not directly involved in them. Since then, the College hasn’t changed too much. This is what is appealing about schools like Hamilton—the skills and courses we teach are not subject for fads and don’t change over time. Technology hasn’t really changed the College, and the students are still the same.
What is a vivid experience from your life?
After my Masters in Pittsburgh Grad School, I got married and my wife and I served in the Peace Core in the Philippines. I worked with elementary school math teachers. It felt more like we were somewhere in South America than Asia, though. It was a fascinating experience. We lived without running water or electricity, in a house with a bamboo roof. When you live in another culture, what you really learn is more about your own culture. What you thought was human nature, you see is all learned.
What is the most intriguing teaching experience you have had on the Hill?
Ten years ago, after Hamilton dropped the curriculum requirements, we had a sophomore seminar requirement. Professor of English and Creative Writing Margie Thickstun and I teamed up and taught a seminar on Tom Stoppard’s play, Arcadia. Margie taught the literature part and I taught the geometric part. The prerequisites for the seminar were a class in either literature, math or theatre, and as a result, we had a classroom of people from different academic values. Teaching fractals to literature people and explaining romantic poetry to math people is not something that often happens at Hamilton. At the end of the semester the class performed the play, with all of its funny, sexual and intelligent components, for the community. It was an amazing experience abd we got a lot of positive feeback! In 2012, in honor of Hamilton’s bicentennial anniversary, we offered the seminar again and because we didn’t put any class restrictions for registration, it got filled up with seniors in the first 15 minutes of registration. Hopefully, some time in the future, when both Margie and I have time for it, we can offer the seminar again.
Can you tell us more about what you do in your free time?
I am a member of the Utica Curling Club. I curled last night and I will curl tomorrow night too. Being part of it gives me the opportunity to meet with all kinds of people from the Clinton area. I am also the faculty advisor of the Hamilton Curling Team. During the summer, I play cricket with friends which is completely social; none of us thinks we are very good.
Where do you see Hamilton and/or yourself in 15 years?
I will be retired, for sure. Hamilton would not have changed at all—online courses for credits, for example, still won’t be available. I believe the profile of a Hamilton student will also be the same as it is now.
Is there something else you wish to share with us?
In our current junior class there are 52 Math majors. This puts Hamilton at the top of the national rankings of Math majors per class year, together with institutions like MIT and Caltech. Sadly, I don’t know all 52 Math majors.