Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Keeping Up with the Kenigson Twins

You’ve probably heard of whiz kids who attend college at age 13. The big question is: what are they doing at age 21? We can only answer for one pair of whiz kids. The Kenigson twins, Jonathan and Jessica, are well known at Vol State. They came here to take classes in 2001, at the age of 13, using a special dual enrollment program to combine middle, high school and college work. They both received Associate of Arts degrees in University Studies from Vol State and transferred to the University of Tennessee- Knoxville.

Here’s the update: The twins just graduated from U-T with bachelor’s degrees. The U-T Department of Mathematics awarded them the John H. Barrett Prize for outstanding seniors in mathematics. They also received, between them, five National Science Foundation research prizes. Jonathan actually built his own degree at U-T: pure mathematics and religion. Here is how he describes his major:

“It’s the mathematical rigor involved in the formation of complex systems of values and beliefs; the rationalism in certain modes of religious thought,” Jonathan said.

One paper he and Jessica wrote together is under review for publication by the Iowa State University Press. The title: “Energy Decay Estimates for the Dissipative Wave Equation with Space-Time Dependent Potential.” They have presented the paper to mathematics conferences across the country.

Jonathan will most likely continue his exploration of religious philosophy and math in a unique interdisciplinary studies Ph.D. program at Oklahoma State University. The graduate program in mathematical sciences is one of the few in the nation with the interdisciplinary focus that Jonathan wants to pursue.

There will be one tough part: Jessica is headed to California for her graduate work. The twins have been together their entire lives.

“It’s going to be very lonely,” said Jonathan. “I’ve never been away from Jessica or out of Tennessee for any extent of time.”

“That’s going to be very sad,” Jessica said. “I know I’ll stay in communication with him at all times.”

Jessica is headed to the University of California at San Diego to pursue her Ph.D. in pure mathematics.

“I’m very excited. It’s an excellent program with a diverse group of mathematicians,” she said.
With all this success, we had to ask if the Vol State classes helped them on their way.

“I had a really great experience at Vol State,” Jessica said. “I encountered some excellent professors there who were inspirational. I wish the honors program would grow to include more math and science.”

“The honors program at Vol State prepared us to succeed in our work at U-T, even when taking graduate level classes,” Jonathan said. “It gave us the broad background we needed to be the top graduates in a class of 900 at U-T. The Vol State honors program was the deciding factor for us coming to Vol State. I will tell you that there was not a single day I spent there that was wasted.”

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