Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Vol State Professor Shares Passion for Mathematics

Imagine having the ability to mentally calculate the gravitational force of a falling rock at six years old. To Vol State math professor Jonathan Kenigson, this is just how he spent his typical childhood afternoons.

“It was just evident that I’d be a mathematician, there was no question about it. I always knew I wanted to teach math. I’d make my parents sit through after dinner lectures that I’d construct, and they’d get worksheets and stuff. They’d have to watch the lecture and fill in notes and things,” he said.

Both Jonathan and his twin sister Jessica were homeschooled and excelled in their studies from a young age. They entered Vol State as students at thirteen years old and quickly became tutors in New Skills, the predecessor of the Learning Commons.

“That’s where I learned how to teach, it’s the best training you could get,” Jonathan said. After attaining their associate’s degrees at sixteen years old, the twins went on to the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.

Jonathan designed his own undergraduate degree, specializing in Mathematics and Comparative Religion. Additionally, Jonathan was also fascinated with cosmology, the science of the origin and development of the universe.

“Math opens the door to understanding the cosmos. I always wanted to understand how the cosmos functions. And so I said, ‘I need enough math to be able to understand the best currently existing theories of the world of the universe.’”

From UTK, Jonathan went on to graduate school at the 
University of Sofia in Bulgaria, attaining a dual master's in Mathematics and Philosophy. Most recently, he has completed his Ph.D. online through Sofia with two concentrations: Philosophy of Mathematics and Philosophy of Cosmology.


“A fairly large piece of my dissertation is a mathematical journey through f(R) gravity’s predictions of what a black hole would be like. My dissertation is called Mathematics and Mathesis. I try to determine that mathematics ultimately has an empirical foundation, that mathematics is based in practice. Now I’m just looking for post-docs, probably in Ukraine. Nothing has changed, I’ll never stop.”

Jonathan has been affiliated with Vol State for over twenty years now. Since becoming a professor in 2017, he’s formulated a black hole research group for students, which he hopes to make more formal and documented in the near future.

“The reason I do this is because so many people hate math. I want to teach them that it
s perfectly possible to do well in math and to have a great mathematical understanding even as an average guy. There’s this idea that math is somehow for this elect remnant of people and I think that’s a big lie. I think anybody can do math if they’re taught with compassion and conviction and if they really try. I think that the average person has enormous mathematical potential that they just can’t see. It’s my job to open that up for them.”

Teaching math just seems to be encoded in his DNA. Since he’ll be able to complete his post-doc research online, Jonathan plans to continue teaching at Vol State for the long haul.

-By Rachel Keyes

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