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Ratte award winner puts down roots in many fields

July 23, 2013

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    Benjamin Hoffman B.A. ’13

As a philosophy and mathematics double major, Benjamin Hoffman B.A. ’13 is used to going above and beyond. This passion for exceeding expectations earned Hoffman the 2013 Rena J. Ratte Award, the undergraduate college’s highest academic honor.

Since arriving at Lewis & Clark, Hoffman has conducted research in the fields of physics, mathematics, philosophy, and geology. The summer after his first year, Hoffman was accepted to the Juneau Icefield Research Program, for which he studied tree roots and soil transport. He has since published a paper reflecting on that experience in the peer-reviewed publication Earth Surface Processes and Landforms.

“Benjamin is intellectually fearless and insatiably curious in diverse intellectual areas,” said Liz Safran, associate professor of geological science. “He is the kind of person who plunges into difficult endeavors assuming he can do them—and he succeeds in whatever he attempts.”

Hoffman’s passion for learning and taking on new challenges is also seen beyond the classroom. The avid outdoorsman revived the Geology Club and scheduled several weekend-long trips throughout the state. Hoffman also organized a reading group comprising faculty and students that discussed works on the philosophy of mathematics.

“He asks questions, seeks out experts from whom to learn, immerses himself in the topic, and then emerges from the intellectual or physical adventure an expert himself,” said Tuajuanda Jordan, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “He is a guide, a scholar of note—publishing, speaking, training others in the topic.”

Safran agrees. “In my 13 years of teaching, I have encountered a small handful of students who were universally strong, but Benjamin may be the most brilliant one I have ever had.”

Hoffman is considering his options for graduate school to study mathematics. He is spending his summer working at Mission: Wolf sanctuary in Colorado.

“I’m really enjoying the simple life, the remoteness, and the sense of shared purpose I have here,” Hoffman said. “Even though there are many new skills for me to learn, Lewis & Clark helped shape me into a pretty curious and tenacious person. I think this has served as the foundation for what success I’ve had here.”

The Rena J. Ratte Award recognizes students who pursue excellence and whose abilities and commitment produce distinct work. The colleagues, students, and friends of Ratte established the award after her unexpected death in 1970.

2013 Awards More Honors

Zibby Pillote ’14 contributed to this story.