Stephen Bean inspired non-majors to find beauty in mathematical ideas

Associate Professor of Mathematics Stephen Bean inspired non-mathematics majors with his course Great Mathematical Ideas (Math 110), which he taught more than any other class in his 19 years at Cornell College. The course applied words like creativity and beauty to mathematical discoveries past and present.

Stephen Bean“I viewed Math 110 as my chance to pay it forward. In general, when I taught the course, I stayed close to the kinds of subject matter that inspired me,” he said.

Bean’s undergraduate degree was in journalism but he was inspired to study math “because some physicists and mathematicians bothered to write about what they do in ways non-specialists can understand.”

He said he enjoyed talking to Cornell students about their non-academic interests. “That didn’t happen before I came to Cornell. I love talking to them about what they are reading (an incredible variety), their other classes, and their summer activities,” he said.

He also said he enjoyed the synergy developed between faculty and students. Students, he said, can have a “profound effect on faculty” — something we usually think of the other way around.  “Every few years a special group of students comes through,” he said, “and they change the culture of the department and the college because they have so much energy.”

In retirement Bean said he will continue to study math and participate more in his “hobby” of working with border collies herding sheep. And two other things: “More exercise. More sleep.”

Alumni remember Professor Bean

“Thank you for putting up with and participating in Math Club’s shenanigans, like when Pac-Man invaded your stats class!” — Myka Peterson Forrest ’09

‘Thank you so much for everything but especially for your help and feedback with my way-long capstone project. I hope you greatly enjoy what comes next,” — Déjà Hedes ’18

“Thank you for cheering me on through my academic and personal achievements at Cornell! Your courses are some of my favorite college memories!” — Grace Swehla Reed ’14

“You had a tremendous impact on my education, my life, and the lives of many others. Thank you and congratulations on your retirement!” — Rachel Spriggs Cooper ’10