Graduate Reaps Rewards of Well-Rounded Education

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After he graduates from Southern Virginia University this week, Jesse Houchens will attend a prestigious summer program, serve as an intern on Capitol Hill and begin a top graduate program — bringing with him knowledge and talents gained during his pursuit of a well-balanced life through what he calls, “the A triangle.”

“Academics, athletics and the arts; you want to be involved in each of them because it leads to a healthy intellectual life, physical life, and emotional life,” he said. “In the center, though, is the big A: the Atonement. Center your life around Heavenly Father and his Son, partaking in that wonderful deed that He’s done — that’s the concept behind my drive.”

His pursuit of balance in each of these areas has led him to excel in a number of ways. According to Dr. Jan-Erik Jones, associate professor of philosophy, Houchens — a philosophy major with minors in mathematics and politics — has thrived academically at Southern Virginia.

“Jesse is a very careful reader and usually has very thoughtful responses and criticisms of the material in class,” said Jones. “You can tell that he’s really engaging with the assigned material because he understands it and has something substantive to say about it. He’s grown in his ability to write, and to explain arguments and his positions orally.”

Dr. Gertrud Kraut — associate professor of mathematics as well as Houchens’ academic advisor — said that he is an excellent student who always works hard. She taught several classes in which Houchens took the lead in projects and devoted himself to his studies.

“He’s not just satisfied with getting work done, he wants to do excellent work,” said Kraut. “I have seen him grow in his confidence and his ability to solve complex problems. That is an amazing achievement that carries over into regular life. If he can take a complex mathematical problem and work through it, then he can transfer that experience to any problem in life.”

Houchens’ drive and ability to succeed in academics has lead him to apply for, and be accepted to the Carnegie Mellon Summer School in Logic and Formal Epistemology, a summer internship in Senator Harry Reid’s Capitol Hill office, and the graduate level philosophy program at Ohio University.

According to Carnegie Mellon’s website, the summer school Houchens will attend on a full tuition and housing scholarship this summer aims to “introduce promising students to cross-disciplinary fields of research at an early stage in their career and forge lasting links between various disciplines.”

As an intern on Capitol Hill, his assignments will include attending congressional hearing, preparing reports, aiding a legislative assistant in research, conducting tours of the Capitol Building, assisting with set up for press conferences and maintaining databases.

Following both of these opportunities, Houchens will attend Ohio University — which has Dr. Philip Ehrlich, a professor whose main research is in the philosophy of mathematics and who is currently inventing non-Archimedean mathematics. Houchens said that he is excited to work under him and that he hopes to write his master’s thesis in Dr. Ehrlich’s field. Additionally, Houchens will serve as a teacher of record for a logic course at Ohio University and receive full tuition remission as well as a stipend.

Despite his dedication to academics, Houchens has not neglected his interest in athletics. He ran on Southern Virginia’s cross-country team for three years. Last year, he ran the National College Blue Ridge Marathon — America’s toughest road marathon.

Beyond his academic and athletic accomplishment, Houchens has developed his skill in the arts as a cellist in three orchestras, as a member of the Concert Chorale and as a supporting role in a main-stage theatrical production. He said that he appreciates the ways in which he has been able to hone his musical talent through participating in the Southern Virginia Orchestra and taking private lessons from accomplished cellist Julia Goudimova.

He particularly enjoyed the opportunity to play in the University-Shenandoah Symphony Orchestra, a semi-professional orchestra supported by Washington and Lee University. Mark Taylor — associate professor of music who also directs the Southern Virginia Orchestra — made it possible for Houchens to play in the USSO by driving him to and from rehearsals and performances.

Taylor said he has enjoyed having Houchens in the Southern Virginia Orchestra because of his talent, as well as his “infectious enthusiasm.” According to Taylor, Houchens’ musical growth is most evident in his solo performances. Taylor was highly impressed by a cello recital Houchens performed last month.

“He did an outstanding job, technically and artistically,” Taylor said. “And he’s a great example of someone who is looking beyond his major in terms of things that are of interest to him.”

Houchens said that he is grateful that all of his academic, athletic, and artistic pursuits took place in a Latter-day Saint environment. He said that an integral part of his experience at Southern Virginia was his opportunity to serve in various university wards as ward missionary, gospel principles teacher, ward financial clerk and Sunday school president.

“Southern Virginia has been a land of opportunity,” he said. “A place where I was able to find, develop and refine my talents.”