Education Without Boundaries
Although Zhuang arrived at Goucher completely undecided about his major, mathematics became a sort of gateway for him, one that has also connected him to philosophy and even to music.
Since beginning his classes here, Zhuang has become very interested in the connections between math and philosophy. "The origin of mathematics is in philosophy," he says. "In math there is a lot of logic and reasoning and writing proofs, and all those proof techniques come from philosophy because philosophy is basically the development of logic and reasoning."
And so he chose to do a double major in both subjects.
"Math and philosophy both require a lot of critical thinking. Math is more on the quantitative side and dealing with mathematical objects such as numbers, and philosophy is more on the qualitative side and writing arguments that employ abstract reasoning. I think it's a nice combination; it can prepare me for a lot of things," he says.
Though Zhuang feels there are certain disadvantages with doing coursework in a small department, such as is the case with mathematics at Goucher, there is also a benefit that he counts as his favorite aspect of the college: the individualized attention he gets from his professors.
"I've developed really close connections with my professors, and I even come to their office hours just to talk about everyday stuff. It's really nice to have that kind of relationship with professors because at big universities you have classes with hundreds of students, and it's very alienating because the professors don't even know your name. It's very different at Goucher," he says.
He also likes that the small class sizes allow professors and students to interact and work together one on one. Last year he did a summer science research project on superconductivity with Sasha Dukan in the Physics Department, and later this academic year he will be doing an independent study in topology, an area of math concerned with spatial properties of geometrical figures, with Mark McKibben in the Mathematics and Computer Science Department.
Mathematics, specifically the mathematical principles of sound, has also amplified Zhuang's love of music. He has always considered himself to be a musical person — he plays piano, clarinet, and saxophone; he sings with the Goucher Chorus; and he taught himself how to play the guitar. The more he learns about math, the more he appreciates the influence it has on musical scales, harmonics, rhythm, and acoustics.
Perhaps ironically, then, music also provides Zhuang with his main respite from studying math. "Playing the guitar and singing really takes a lot of the stress off from my classes and the other stuff I do," he says.
With the rest of his limited free time, Zhuang is the vice president for LOTUS, Goucher's Asian American student club. Every Friday the club's members have dinner together in Stimson Dining Hall, and then they watch a movie — usually an Asian movie. They also hold other events, such as Iron Lotus, a cooking competition à la Iron Chef; karaoke nights; and trips to Philadelphia and New York City.
"It's very fun, and I've met most of my friends here in my freshman year through LOTUS," says Zhuang, who is originally from Beijing.
Zhuang lived in China for five years until his parents decided to move to the United States. He has been back several times since then, usually over the summers.
"I'm pretty well connected with my Chinese heritage, and also with America," he says.
As a multicultural student, Zhuang has a special appreciation for Goucher's study-abroad requirement. "It's very good because it allows students to explore different cultures and have a more international view and a better understanding of other cultures and peoples. As someone who was born and lived a number of years in another country, I think this is very important for students to understand people like me and others who live in different countries," he says.Video of Yan