Ian Solves Math Through Prayer


XASS: Welcome! Why don’t you introduce yourself? Tell us who you are, where you’re from, and what you’re studying.

Ian: My name is Ian. I’m a junior studying mathematics with probably minors in history and Slavic studies and I am most recently from Central, South Carolina.

XASS: Most recently? What’s the story before that?

Ian: Okay, so I was actually born in Minnesota and lived there for the first two years of my life. And then just before I turned two my family moved to Nepal where we worked as… or I guess my parents worked as… missionaries for nine years before coming back and settling here.

XASS: Why Stanford? There were other universities that were closer to you. I know your sister went to another selective school. What drew you to Stanford?

Ian: My dad got his master’s at Stanford. I think that was… I think he kind of pushed me in that direction because he really loved the school and he also spoke very highly of the culture that they had there. And I was thinking I was going to go into chemistry, actually, before I chose math, and for chemistry Stanford’s pretty good.

XASS: All right. You mentioned your parents were missionaries, so I assume you had a Christian upbringing. Tell me about that. What denomination did you grow up in?

Ian: So the sending organization that my parents were a part of and are pretty involved with I would describe as Pan-Lutheran. It’s not tied to any particular Lutheran denomination, but it is based in the US. Within Nepal there aren’t really any Lutheran churches, so we went to the general Protestant international church when we were in Kathmandu. And then when we were further out we actually went to a Nepali Assemblies of God church for a while.

XASS: And so you come to Stanford, you have this missionary background. How did you stumble across Chi Alpha?

Ian: So I actually didn’t properly join until winter of my freshman year. So during NSO… wait, actually during Admit Weekend I was in FloMo and another person who was not my RoHo but somebody else’s RoHo was Connor. And he was such a cool guy. He was so welcoming and so even though he wasn’t my RoHo, he let me tag along a lot. Once when we were walking by building 530 he made some reference to his Christian group meeting there. I kind of forgot about it until later during fall quarter freshman year. I was in choir practice in MemChu at the same time as Chi Alpha on Tuesdays, and so walking behind Main Quad at that time I figured out that he must have been talking about Chi Alpha.

So the last week of the quarter after choir was done, I dropped by and I saw Connor and met everybody in Chi Alpha and realized what a cool community it is. And so I started going on Wednesdays after that.

XASS: Okay, you mentioned you’re in choir. What other hobbies do you have outside of math?

Ian: I’m also in acappella. I’m part of Testimony which is great, and I also really love the outdoors. I run and bike and hike. Over the summer I did a 70 mile backpacking trip in three and a half days with Nate, who is now a Chi Alpha alum. It was very hard, but fun retrospectively. I also play video games. And I’m trying to get more into music beyond just singing as well.

XASS: Are you learning an instrument?

Ian: I’m learning how to finger drum on a pad controller and also learning keyboard very informally.

XASS: Is there something that if I knew better, I would think to ask about?

Ian: I guess “Why math?” is a good question. I didn’t come into Stanford thinking I was going to be a math major. I did a lot of chemistry research in high school and I was like, “Okay, I’ll be a chemist” but then I started at Stanford and the math classes were just too much fun. A lot more fun than the intro chemistry classes, that’s for sure! So I switched. And that’s sort of the trajectory that I’m headed on now.

XASS: Is it the puzzle aspect of math draws you in? Or is it because chemistry is very detailed and fact-based whereas math is more imaginative? What is the draw?

Ian: I think one of the really interesting things about math is that it’s very heavily insight or inspiration based. You can look at a problem for hours and hours and then if you just have this flash of insight you can solve it in 15 minutes. I suppose that occurs in other subjects as well, but I think math is especially like that. So it’s been really cool to see all the times where I’ve kind of come to the end of myself and I was like, “Okay, God, I don’t know how I’m going to finish this problem set” and then the answer just appears in front of me. I’m like, “Wow, I did not do that.” It’s been a real lesson in relying on God!

XASS: We had a mathematician in Chi Alpha years ago who was studying abroad in Hungary. He’d been doing a problem assigned by his professor and he was just overwhelmed. He just stared at it and beat his head against it and just could not, could not, could not make any headway on it. So he went for a walk. If I remember correctly, he was going to be meeting with his professor later that day, maybe the next day. And he was frustrated, because he was going to have to say “I don’t have anything to show. Nothing!” And he said, “Lord, give me a sign.” And as he’s walking down the streets of Budapest he sees a street sign and the visual display on the street sign gave him an idea. So he went back, he did the problem and showed it to his professor and the professor was very impressed. He said, “I’ve never seen this approach this problem. This is really good.” He asked for a sign and got inspiration from a literal street sign.

Ian: Yeah! That’s pretty awesome.

XASS: How has Stanford been for your faith?

Ian: I think it’s definitely had a positive impact. I think one thing that’s really cool about being at Stanford is living in community with a lot of different people. Like being in a community like Chi Alpha with people who are really passionate about serving the Lord, and then also being in dorm community where there are people from lots of different faith backgrounds. And just having the opportunity to really actively demonstrate the Lord’s love to people, both within and outside the faith has been great. It’s actually been really hard to adjust out of that now that I’m living at home again! Definitely, there have been some hard times, but I think overall it’s been a positive.

XASS: Do you have a favorite Bible verse or passage?

Ian: Ooh, I really like Psalm 42. Especially the first verse, which goes something like “As the deer pants for the water, so my soul longs for you.” That feeling of deep desire – longing to be in the Lord’s presence – is something that I really want to emulate in my life at all times.

XASS: Okay. And in the final question, the classic Chi Alpha Spotlight Series question. Are you in a relationship?

Ian: No, and I never have been, but I think I’m open to it.

XASS: Ladies, you heard it here first! What would be your preferred first date?

Ian: OK. Wow. Ummm… I really like hiking, so if a girl was into that I would be super down.

XASS: All right, and thank you for your time. Have yourself a wonderful, wonderful quarter!