When he was a high school student in Midland, LSA senior Charles Crissman hated math. But if his recent recognition as a Churchill scholar is any indication, his distaste for of numbers and equations is a thing of the past.
Crissman was one of 11 American students awarded the elite Winston Churchill Foundation Scholarship for this year.
When he graduates this spring with degrees in math, linguistics and Italian, the scholarship will send Crissman to the University of Cambridge, where he will spend the next year studying mathematics.
“(Crissman) has an academic breadth that most applicants don’t have. It’s not required, but it appeals to us,” said Elleanor Crown, a scholarship coordinator of the LSA Honors program. “If I had to create a Churchill candidate out of whole cloth, he would be about what I’d come up with.”
The scholarship is based on an applicant’s academic record, score on the Graduate Record Examination and letters of recommendation. With a GRE score of 1540 out of a possible 1600 and a 3.98 grade point average, Crissman more than met the criteria, Crown said.
Although he said he felt his chances were good, he never actually expected the January phone call that informed him that he had won the scholarship.
“I don’t know if I’ve absorbed the fact I am going yet,” he said.
When he came to the University, Crissman thought he wanted to major in biochemistry and attend medical school. But by his sophomore year, Crissman realized what truly inspired him: math.
But don’t let his passion for modern algebra fool you – Crissman is not a stereotypical math geek. He is a member of a snowboarding club at the University, an editor at the Every Three Weekly and an avid scholar of five foreign languages: Russian, Finnish, Italian, French and ancient Greek.
Crissman said he is looking forward to learning about another culture and taking more specialized math classes.
University alum Christopher Hayward, who is currently studying mathematics at Cambridge on a Churchill scholarship, said the experience provides not only academic benefits, but a better understanding of European politics and education.
Hayward said Crissman should expect an academic environment different from the University’s.
“It is important to be ready for a more independent way of learning and to have an open mind to things you are going to experience,” Hayward said. “It is easy to come here and make comparisons to the U.S. about things you don’t like, but if you immerse yourself in the culture, you learn a lot more than just mathematics.”
When his year at Cambridge ends, Crissman intends to pursue a doctorate in mathematics and eventually establish a career as a university professor.
“My real interest is doing research in something related to modern algebra,” he said. ” I think a lot of people are surprised that you can do research in math, but that’s what most math professors do.”
The scholarship, established in honor of the former British prime minister, annually offers 75 colleges nationwide the opportunity to nominate two students for consideration by the foundation. Other participating institutions include Boston College, the University of Chicago and Michigan State University.
Selected students pursue graduate study in the fields of engineering, science and mathematics.