A Formula for Connection
UI gave mathematics graduate a place to explore academics and build relationships
Ben Anzis has had an impressive mathematics career at the University of Idaho.
He exhausted the university’s math course offerings. He earned one of UI’s Hill Undergraduate Research Fellowships as a freshman. He spent a summer diving into complex research at the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities. In 2015, he earned a Goldwater Scholarship that supported a semester in Budapest, Hungary, studying among the world’s brightest young mathematical minds. In March, he earned a prestigious fellowship from the National Science Foundation that will support his future studies.
But in his last semester at UI, amid cross-country trips to find the perfect graduate school, Anzis has enjoyed winding down his undergraduate experience gently.
He spends time with his friends. He encourages high schoolers to go to college through the UI College of Science Ambassadors program. He’s taken up archery.
“It’s nice to get a break from just sitting and thinking deeply,” Anzis said. “It’s nice to finish up on a really quiet note.”
Anzis, 21, came to UI from Marshalltown, Iowa, after taking a UI Engineering Outreach course online during high school. A double major in mathematics and computer science, he found a supportive community in the College of Science.
He’s grown close with collaborators, advisors and mentors from the faculty in the Department of Mathematics. He’s been engaging in research under the guidance of Assistant Professor Stefan Tohaneanu since his freshman year, and the two have co-authored three scientific papers.
When Anzis’ interest in algebraic geometry expanded beyond the scope of UI’s classes, he began independently studying with Associate Professor Hirotachi Abo.
“He’s been nice about sitting down with me for an hour or two, even if he’s super busy,” Anzis said. “I’ve really learned a lot from him.”
In Anzis’ final semesters, Associate Professor Jennifer Johnson-Leung has helped him navigate the complex landscape of graduate school applications. Johnson-Leung met Anzis when he was a freshman taking her cryptography course, and she said she’s impressed with his talent and diligence.
“He has an intellectual maturity that is rare, even among intellectuals. He reads math on his own. He came in ready to do that already,” she said. “He wants to learn and solve problems himself, and I think it serves him really well.”
Anzis also has found a challenging and interesting group of fellow mathematics students at UI, across the nation and abroad. While some people see math as a solitary endeavor, Anzis has discovered the benefits of working in groups.
“You throw different perspectives at something, you get a lot better results,” he said.
During an National Science Foundation undergraduate research experience at the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities in summer 2016, Anzis enjoyed meeting students from across the United States and learning about their varying approaches to research.
“The really valuable thing there was the students, and the connections,” he said.
At the Budapest Semesters in Mathematics program in fall 2015, he took classes from some of Europe’s most elite mathematicians and studied alongside some of the world’s best students. While he sneaked in some time to travel across Hungary and Austria and explore Budapest, the semester was all about math. He dug deeper into his favorite topic, algebraic geometry, and experienced an intense level of academic challenge that helped him grow as a thinker and mathematician.
“You’re formed in the crucible,” he said. “You learn so much that way, because you’re forced to adapt to it and learn from it.”
Anzis is now looking forward to building new friendships and meeting new mentors in graduate school at Stony Brook University in New York, where he plans to continue his studies of algebraic geometry and explore other areas until he finds a focus for his doctorate.
"Stony Brook has an incredibly strong faculty in algebraic geometry, with a special focus on geometrical aspects of the subject. I think it's a wonderful fit for me," he said.
Article by Tara Roberts, University Communications and Marketing.