Amazing Students

Monte Fischer

Monte Fischer. (Photo by Chad Osburn/UGA)

Goldwater Scholar Monte Fischer is passionate about mathematics, and as a Foundation Fellow he has been able to pursue academic and service experiences from Budapest to New York to Costa Rica and Bali.

South St. Paul, Minnesota

High school:
Henry Sibley High School

Family ties to UGA:
I’m the first in my family to attend UGA, though not the last! My brother Vic Fischer just started his first year at UGA.

Expected graduation:
Spring 2020

Degree objective:
BS/MA Mathematics, BS Computer Science,

University highlights, achievements, awards and scholarships:
First, I thank God for how he has blessed me with a loving and supportive family, a sound mind and a healthy body, and the gift of faith in Jesus Christ. Nothing I have accomplished has come from my efforts alone.

I was born and raised in Minnesota, like my parents. My family took plenty of road trips when I was growing up, and many of them took us through the Southeast. It was natural for me to consider UGA as an option when I started applying to colleges in high school. I decided to attend UGA after being awarded the Foundation Fellowship. It was during the interview weekend for this scholarship that I realized how committed UGA is to the excellence of its students. I owe a great deal to the Foundation Fellows/Honors Program community, not least for the daily inspiration that I find in talking to peers who are so devoted to bringing about good in the world.

My favorite achievement of my first year was being recognized by the mathematics department with a Hollingsworth award for my performance in MATH 3500. I had the pleasure of taking it with Michael Usher, who welcomed me and six other students into the world of higher mathematics in a tour de force of multivariable calculus, linear algebra and calculus on manifolds. This class indelibly marks the intellectual landscape of those students who persevere through it. After finishing the second semester of the course, MATH 3510, I knew that I would follow mathematics as far as my mind could carry me. I must also mention MATH 3100, a course in introductory real analysis which I had the pleasure of taking with Paul Pollack, who also selected me as the recipient of a Hollingsworth award for the class.

In the summer of 2017, I enrolled in a Maymester at Oxford University along with my class of Foundation Fellows. This experience remains a highlight of my education. I studied Shakespeare with Ben Morgan, lived in a foreign country for the first time, and spent the month after my studies backpacking through central Europe. I remember with special fondness the time I spent in Croatia, Montenegro, Switzerland and France with my good friend Nico Leis, who has always pushed me to adventure (whether it be exploring tunnels or scaling mountains).

I continued my dive into mathematics over my second year at UGA, starting research and taking foundational courses in real analysis and abstract algebra. My research was an attempt to improve an important inequality in an area of discrete mathematics called additive combinatorics. In this, I had the great privilege of working closely with Neil Lyall and Georgios Petridis. I deeply appreciate how their guidance has shaped my mathematical education. I presented this research work at the 2018 CURO Symposium. Over the course of my second year, I also served with the Honors Program Student Council to plan Honors Program events and tutored inmates at Athens-Clarke County Correctional Facility with Athens Prison Tutorial.

On April 8, 2018, my pastor and friend Matt Siple baptized me at Redeemer Presbyterian Church.

I spent the summer of 2018 at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Worcester, Massachusetts, working alongside three other undergraduates on two research projects in financial mathematics. Our mentors, Marcel Blais and Stephan Sturm, helped us out immensely with daily attention and assistance. During this valuable time I gained some much-needed experience with statistics and mathematical modeling and nursed my budding interests in finance, probability and the New England countryside.

Since my junior year of high school, I had wanted to study abroad with the Budapest Semesters in Mathematics (BSM) program. Hungary has gifted the world some outstanding figures in the mathematical sciences – John von Neumann, George Pólya and Paul Erdős, to name a few. The BSM program was started to help undergraduate students from around the world engage with the Hungarian mathematical tradition. I happily got the chance to do so in the fall semester of my third year. The mathematics courses I took were top-notch, Budapest quickly charmed me, and I enjoyed the company of fellow students from Hungary and around the world. I did my share of international travel also, meeting up with my wonderful girlfriend Johanna Hoover in Dublin, Oxford and Budapest over the course of our studies abroad. Although my Hungarian remains much worse than my calculus, I treasure the experiences I had living in Budapest for five months. I graduated from BSM with an honors distinction, four great mathematics classes under my belt, and a trove of European memories and friendships.

Returning to Athens from Budapest, I was honored as the recipient of two academic awards — the national Barry Goldwater Scholarship and UGA’s Charles M. Strahan award for outstanding junior mathematics majors. I am grateful to have been recognized by the Goldwater Foundation and the UGA mathematics department for my scholarly pursuits. I could not have achieved these things without a lot of help and support from my family, my girlfriend, my mentors and my friends, through times both good and bad.

This past summer, I spent 10 weeks at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York where I worked as a research intern under economist Michael Lee and research assistant Aaron Plesset. I worked on a research project that investigated systemic vulnerabilities in the national financial payments system. Joining this work gave me the exciting opportunity to investigate a societally important problem in a field that was largely new to me, all in the most vibrant city I have ever had the fortune of living in.

A final set of highlights and shoutouts: with the Foundation Fellowship, I have traveled on spring break trips to New York/Washington, D.C., Costa Rica and Bali. These adventures have given me even more to be grateful for, and have deeply enriched my experience of this vast world.

I chose to attend UGA because …
I saw that UGA provided an environment where I could:

— pursue the full extent of my academic interests.
— be inspired by outstanding peers .
— enjoy a great college town.
— cheer on the Dawgs in Sanford Stadium.
— explore the world,

All more-or-less for free because of scholarship support. I didn’t see that kind of package anywhere else.

My favorite things to do on campus are …
There are many. I enjoy a stroll around campus in conversation with my good friend Jacob Sparks. I somehow always find myself wandering the stacks in the Main Library or the Science Library, picking out the books that catch my eye and skimming their contents. Sitting outside, whether to do work, listen to music or simply rest my mind between classes, remains a pleasure. I have even grown to enjoy working out at Ramsey.

When I have free time, I like …
… to read a book. I have been cultivating a personal library for most of my life. At the moment it consists of over 500 books in my apartment, nearly all of quality. My professional/academic interest is in mathematics, but my curiosity extends far beyond this to economics, philosophy, religion, literature, history, etc. Along these lines, I also like asking people questions about the things they are deeply curious about.

When I’m in the mood, I’ll pick up a guitar and play a few songs. My tastes lie mostly in the alternative country/rock area but my favorite musician is Frank Zappa. This semester, I’m looking forward to jamming with my brother Vic, who drums and also plays guitar.

The craziest thing I’ve done is …
… run out of water, phone battery and daylight simultaneously during a hike on the Croatian island of Hvar. The day started out like this: My friend Nico and I had split up a couple days before to explore, and planned to meet that afternoon at a hostel in Hvar. I took a ferry to Hvar, arrived in the morning, and decided to take a hike around the island as I waited for Nico. I had fun exploring dusty paths winding through olive oil tree groves, having a late lunch in the small village of Brusje, and exploring the nearby lavender fields. But when I was heading back to the main town of Hvar, I took a wrong turn and found myself on top of a high hill looking at the setting sun, with a dying phone, and no water. I could see the lights of Hvar in the distance, so I set out scrambling down the rocky side of the hill until I reached a thick brush. I battled through the brush until I found a clearing, which turned into a path, which turned into a small road, which led me to a construction site adjacent to a small highway just as dusk fell.

I will never forget Nico’s face as he saw me finally stumble into the hostel, dehydrated, scratched by the brush and dead tired.

My favorite place to study is …
… the Think Tank on the fourth floor of the Science Library, or a certain desk at an east-facing window on the third floor of the Main Library (in the French literature section), or the Reading Room at the MLC, or at the desk at my apartment (strategically recovered from intended disposal with the help of my friend Joseph Campbell), or a bench outside on campus if I have a reading assignment.

My favorite professor is …
Tough question. There are many professors who deserve a mention: Paul Pollack, Brian Boe and Georgios Petridis from the math department; Bradley Bassler from philosophy, for starters. However, to choose a favorite, I will say Neil Lyall. There are two reasons for this.

First, he is an excellent teacher. Dr. Lyall, in two courses, has helped usher me into a deeper understanding and engagement with modern mathematics. I’m excited to be taking a third class with him this fall.

Second, he has been an outstanding mentor to me in research and advising. Dr. Lyall’s support of my undergraduate career has been unwavering, and I am very grateful for it.

If I could share an afternoon with anyone, I would love to share it with …
… Nassim Nicholas Taleb. He is an option trader turned scholar of probability (among other things). I respect him for his writings, his commitment to acting in accordance with his beliefs (skin in the game), and his complete willingness to call out nonsense when he sees it. From how his books have captured my attention, I anticipate that it would be a great pleasure to spend an afternoon with him.

If I knew I could not fail, I would …
… completely revamp this country’s attitudes toward city planning, infrastructure and prosperity. America has been running down the path of suburbanification and Disneyification at full speed, and it’s time to reevaluate. I believe that this country’s towns and cities suffer from the attitude that we need more huge building projects, the newest top-down technocratic solutions, growth at any cost, and more roads. Instead, what would actually make American cities and towns stronger is a focus on iterative, incremental change, financial responsibility and resiliency. Of course, this matter is thorny and difficult – but if I could not fail, this would be a worthwhile project. I suspect this is the first step toward rebuilding American civil society.

If money was not a consideration, I would love to …
… purchase some land in Croatia, and build a house on it. This would be the fulfillment of a dream my grandpa John had. I have been on visits to Croatia twice, and it is to me the most beautiful country in the world. Some years ago I discovered the work of Christopher Alexander, mathematician and architect. I would like to try out his ideas to build a quality house. The house need not be complicated, but it would of course include a large library and rooms for guests. I think that my mother would like to visit.

What is your passion and how are you committed to pursuing it?
As my friends might tell you, mathematics enjoys a special place in my heart. For about six years it has been my answer to questions like this, and I don’t see that changing until I am a father. Mathematics is a remarkably deep subject that carries the air of austere beauty and subtle wonder. There have been many times when this beauty is lost on me, but I have persisted through these times and have always been rewarded for it. The delightful thing about doing math is the moment when you finally glance up from the small bricks you have been laying and catch a glimpse of the whole stunning tower that is being formed. I felt this, for example when noticing the connection between partial differential equations and linear algebra this past spring. When I think about it, the fact that the natural world is so well described by mathematics is utterly astounding.

My academic commitment to mathematics is rather strong. Right now, I’m working on a Double Dawgs mathematics degree with the support of the math department. I’ve taken 16 mathematics courses as of the end of my third year (so far), and audited one on top of that.

I am not yet sure whether I will spend my career researching mathematics. If I do not, I will probably spend my career applying it.

After graduation, I plan to …
My postgraduate plans are not yet settled. I’m considering options from economics to mathematics, and from Wall Street to Silicon Valley. Immediately after graduation, I plan to accompany my family on our first international vacation to Europe.

The one UGA experience I will always remember will be …

… performing his song “Time Bandit” alongside my good friend Joseph Cambell at an open mic night. Senior year won’t be the same now that he’s graduated.