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A Passion for Math and Chinese Drives Ratte Award Winner

October 13, 2015

Katie Keith B.A. ’15Katie Keith B.A. ’15

Katie Keith, a mathematics major and a Chinese minor, received this spring’s Rena J. Ratte Award, the undergraduate college’shighest honor. A native of Bozeman, Montana, Keith embodies the award’s criteria of “a graduating senior who has pursued and achieved the utmost in excellence while attending Lewis & Clark.”

Majoring in math: I’ve always loved math because it’s not just about numbers but rather it’s a way of recognizing and synthesizing patterns between different kinds of formal and informal systems. I had this love for math when I came to Lewis & Clark, but I became a math major because of the professors. In virtually all my math classes, the professors masterly blended a concern for their students with rigorous, demanding standards. Sometimes they would assign insanely difficult, long problem sets, but their open-door policy meant they were always available to help.

Learning Chinese (for the first time) at Lewis & Clark: Before the fall semester of my freshman year, I didn’t know a single word of Chinese. I learned more Chinese in one semester than the equivalent amount of French that I had studied for four years in high school.

Expanding worldview: Before coming to Lewis & Clark, I spent my whole life in the small town of Bozeman. I had only been out of the country a few times and never for more than 10 days or so. Now I’ve spent the past four years studying Chinese at Lewis & Clark, and I completed a language-intensive overseas study program in Beijing during the spring of my junior year. Studying another language and living abroad has forced me to reexamine my own culture and has made me feel more connected to people with different backgrounds.

Founding the L&C chapter of Project Pengyou: My semester in Beijing was one of the most formative times of my life because I made lasting friendships with American students from other universities and my Chinese roommates. I realized the importance of these people-topeople cross-cultural relationships and wanted to bring this to the Lewis & Clark community. I found out about the Project Pengyou network and instantly connected with their mission of empowering leaders to build bridges between the U.S. and China, currently one of the most critical bilateral relationships in the world.

Running cross country: The cross country team was my family for my four years at Lewis & Clark. Head coach Keith Woodard put a huge emphasis not only on the mechanics and discipline of running but also on the mechanics and discipline of being a kind, well-rounded person. So much of my academic success came from having such supportive, inspiring teammates and coaches behind me.

About her Fulbright: I received a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship, so I will spend the next year teaching English to Taiwanese school children in Jinmen, Taiwan. Although Jinmen is under the jurisdiction of the Republic of China in Taiwan, it is only 2 kilometers from the coast of mainland China, so I’ll have a very interesting perspective on Taiwan-China relations.

As a student, I spent the large majority of my time acquiring information and skills for myself. Now I feel like it’s time to take the privilege and learning I’ve been given and pay it forward. I see teaching as a unique portal into a local community that will allow me to connect with local kids, make local friends, and become immersed in the local language and culture.

Significance of the Ratte Award: Receiving the Rena Ratte Award was such an incredible honor. Most of the finalists were my friends, whom I respect above all else; they were more than equally deserving. But also, I think the award is a testament to all my mentors at Lewis & Clark who pushed me to take risks both academically and personally. Professors like Keith Dede, Paul Allen, and Cliff Bekar pointed me in the right direction and encouraged me to pursue challenging research and classes. I think the ability to develop genuinely close relationships between students and professors is probably the No. 1 thing Lewis & Clark has that other top schools don’t.

The Rena Ratte Award is made annually to recognize a senior whose abilities and commitment have combined to produce work of the highest distinction. Colleagues, students, and friends of the late Professor Ratte established this award in 1970 in memoryof a distinguished philosopher and esteemed teacher.

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