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Joseph Hirsh

College: Macaulay Honors College | Queens College
Awards: NSF Graduate Research Fellow, 2008

The Perfect Equation: Math = Abstract Art

For Joseph Hirsh, 21, who graduated summa cum laude from Queens College in December, the study of math is a lot like art appreciation.

"Although you can't hang an equation or a geometric principle on a wall and share it like a piece of art, there are wonderful moments of intense meditation and clarity that make math beautiful to pursue," he says.

Little wonder that four years ago Hirsh enrolled in the Macaulay Honors College at Queens College, where he went from a pre-med track to majoring in pure (i.e., abstract) mathematics. It was a decision he did not regret.

Hirsh has received a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, which will provide $121,500 over three years to support his graduate studies.

His experience at Queens College shaped his belief in public education in New York. In fact, Hirsh turned down the University of California, Berkeley choosing instead to enter the doctoral math program this fall at The City University of New York Graduate Center, where he will continue work that he began as an undergraduate.

Hirsh is also the recipient of the Molly Weinstein Memorial Award, presented annually by the Queens College Foundation to graduating seniors with a distinguished record of scholarship who intend to pursue a career in college teaching.

"Joseph Hirsh is in good company, as past recipients of this award have included two Nobel Prize winners and one of the founders of Google," says Queens College President James Muyskens. "A young man with extraordinary drive, determination and initiative, Joseph embodies all that we value most in our students. We fully expect him in the years ahead to make significant contributions to the nation's advancement in mathematics and science."

Hirsh, a Manhattan resident, grew up in Brooklyn and Long Island. He attended the Hebrew Academy of Long Beach, which combined religious study with a high school curriculum.

For the last year, Hirsh has been working at the Honors College as an Assistant Technology Fellow. In addition, he has been conducting research with math Professor John Terilla, trying to understand the relationships between complex algebraic theories and quantum field theory.

Hirsh also teaches introductory math and a course in calculus for business and social science students at Queens College. He has been invited by Professors Kefeng Liu (UCLA) and Shing Tung Yau (Harvard) to visit the Center for Mathematical Sciences at Zhejiang University in Hangzhou, China, to study differential geometry and physics.

While Hirsh has not yet zeroed in on his future career - "it seems like a burden to project where I'll be in a few years" - he is certain that for now he wants to focus on math and research.

Hirsh says he is grateful to the Honors College and Queens College for the opportunity to take advantage of experiences such as spending a summer with a Beijing family while studying Mandarin Chinese. He was also able to take doctoral-level math courses and seminars at Queens College and the CUNY Graduate Center. Thanks to his professors, he attended Moduli Spaces of Curves: a Winter School and Conference at the Max Planck Institute for Mathematics in Bonn, Germany.

"CUNY offers a lot of resources. It's an outstanding place to learn provided you're motivated," says Hirsh. "The QC faculty are great in just about any area in which you have an interest. They are committed to the ideals of education and really care about and are accessible to their students."

In the same way that Hirsh was guided, he believes in helping his peers pursue opportunities to advance their education. During his first semester at Queens College, he persuaded the math department to offer an honors section in linear algebra. He also recruited 15 students for an advanced course in algebraic topology, which had not been taught at the college for more than 10 years. In his sophomore and junior years, Hirsh was a math tutor, specializing in more abstract subjects, including graduate-level algebra and topology. His incentive, he says, was the great pleasure he received in helping promising students - many of whom had full-time jobs and no money for private tutoring - succeed in math.