Standing within the unknown does not daunt senior math and philosophy major Hannah Fisk, even as she approaches graduation. Though she began her time at Westmont with a seemingly clear and efficient vision of early graduation in a STEM-related major, Hannah has ventured beyond her initial academic goals.
“Something Bruce [Fisk] said to me while we were abroad [in Jerusalem] when everyone was talking about scheduling and classes, Bruce made a comment along the lines of: ‘People don’t tell you this, but you should be choosing your professors, not your courses.’ I think that is kind of how I ended up on a discursive all-over-the-place time at Westmont,” Hannah laughs.
Within her first few semesters at Westmont, Hannah “dabbled” in various majors including physics, computer science, and English before finally settling on math and philosophy:
“People often ask me what do you plan on doing with that philosophy degree. Maybe nothing careering wise, but I think with a philosophy focus, more specifically you kind of build these frameworks and mental structures for interpreting the world in ways that I think it’ll serve me well in my life.”
“The math major is mostly just because I’m stubborn because I kept taking math classes. … The stubborn part of me kept going with math, because after each success of getting it right, it’s like a high. I’ve failed at this problem for two weeks, give me the next one.”
Along with tools for discovery, Hannah found professors in the math and philosophy departments who fostered and encouraged inquisitive discovery and passion for the material: “I like the discovery. Just especially in math and philosophy, so much work has already been done, what can I contribute here? Professors in both departments put a lot of emphasis on: ‘do your own thinking, re-derive this proof, I know you can google it, but derive it yourself! Try! Try, try, try. Fail, fail, fail. Try, try, try.’
Through her constant journey of discovery, particularly in philosophy, Hannah has realized the value of epistemic humility in approaching new knowledge and challenging questions. Hannah describes epistemic humility as “being able to sit in the I don’t know and the tension of disagreeing with people that are way smarter than you and watching really smart people disagree with each other. I think that’s one of my biggest takeaways from my time at Westmont, being able to say I don’t know but still thinking that it’s worthwhile to pursue truth and pursue answers.”
Shortly after declaring her philosophy major, Hannah recalls her experience in an upper-division philosophy course sophomore year as the only underclassman and female student: “I probably only said a total of ten words the entire semester. It was a super, super low point for me academically because I felt like these people are smarter than me. I’m a senior now, I don’t know anything!”
Hannah pauses thoughtfully and continues: “And I wish I could go back and tell myself, you don’t have to say something profound and you don’t have to say something groundbreaking, just say something. Let people know you’re in the room because you have something to contribute even if you don’t think you do.”
Throughout high school, Hannah participated in her high school’s Girls Who Code Club. The club’s female comraderie encouraged Hannah to seek similar community academically and professionally; although, academically she has found a different environment, as she laughs: “It’s also surprising that I ended up in male-dominated circles when I wanted to seek female-camaraderie. When you’re in the room and there’s seven men and two women, we make eye contact. There’s always that sense [that] we see each other.”
Hannah carefully expresses her perception of women and their lives in STEM, philosophy, and elsewhere, “The female voice is so powerful, I think, in ways I don’t even know or understand yet. I guess I don’t feel like it’s incumbent on me to speak out and use that voice. It’s almost incumbent on me to find the women that are and [apprentice myself] to them and to start riding their coattails.”