Photo by Matt D’Annunzio

Kelsey Houston-Edwards ’13

mathematics - philosophy

Hometown: San Diego, California

Who I was when I got to Reed: Too much of an adventurer to stay in school past 10th grade. After a number of years of stumbling around, I was fortunate to take a community college English class from a brilliant and inspiring Reed alumna (Lisa Neville ’90). What I will do for the rest of my life looks very different than what I did before coming to Reed.

How Reed changed me: 
I unexpectedly fell in love with mathematics. I’m significantly better at crossword puzzles, largely thanks to Hum 110 and my extensive familiarity with the abbreviation QED. My professors have made the biggest difference to me. They have very high expectations and the better you do, the higher their expectations are. I like Reed’s unattainable threshold of what you can do.

What I would tell prospies: Everybody is dedicated to something and most people make those judgments from some kind of intuition. They are impulsively drawn to something, and the desire to actually to pursue that to an extreme degree is sort of a Reedie quality—to take the thing you might like and just keep going.

Influential book: Matilda by Roald Dahl was an important book in my childhood—a book I appreciated because of the dark and smart humor of both the author and main character.

Favorite spot: The math hallway on the third floor of the library. It has abundant hangout space and is always filled with a vibrant mix of professors and students huddled around chalkboards.

Random thoughts: Most people equate mathematics with equations or problems, the geometry that you do in high school, or solving the quadratic formula, whereas mathematics at a higher level has a much more narrative structure. You build these big-scale problems and then you work them out in little chunks. The written work of mathematics has actual paragraphs instead of just numbers and equations. There are very few numbers, actually. It’s mostly just thoughts.

Cool stuff I did: Operated Reed's nuclear reactor. Created my own major. Explored Portland’s dog parks. 

Scholarships, awards or financial aid: Commendations for academic excellence, Edward H. Cooley Scholarship, Opportunity Grant.

Advisers: Prof. Paul Hovda [philosophy 2002–] and Prof. Tom Wieting [math 1965–]

Thesis: “The Continuum Hypothesis: A Mathematico-Philosophical Exposition”

What it’s about: Georg Cantor’s continuum hypothesis, an assertion about the cardinality of subsets of the real number line, is formally independent of standard axiomatic set theory (ZFC). Philosophers want to know why.

What it’s really about: Different sizes of infinity.

What’s next: Pursue a PhD in mathematics at Cornell.

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