Kean University

“If these walls could talk…”


William Du, Staff Writer

Located between Morris Avenue and Hillside in Union, NJ, Kean University stands sullen with its large glass buildings, Barnes & Noble Bookstore, and campus sprinkled across the city’s busy intersections. Reflecting leaflets of sunlight, Kean University has been a beacon of STEM and learning, hosting competitions, tournaments, expositions, and more, not just for college students but for pupils as young as middle school. I’ve spent many an afternoon in Kean’s STEM building, under many circumstances. From debate and math competitions to conferences, I feel as if I’ve lived countless lives inside the steel beamed buildings and ain Ursino’s steakhouse.

My first experience at Kean University begins in a room: lights dim, voices rustling. The proctor looks around aimlessly. I’m holding graph paper. Custom printed diagrams. Competition legal pads. The geometrically segmented measurement circle stares at me aimlessly, and the thirty Pythagorean triples I’ve memorized swim through my mind. The first five questions are child’s play. Barely a minute each, but even that’s too long. The statements are designed to be tricky. Counterintuitive even. The simplest questions are always the hardest. That polynomial expression will expand forever, consuming every sheet of scratch in graphite if not careful. Problem 10 is a game theory problem. Alice and Bob are subtracting prime numbers from n. Whoever hits 0 first loses. I put ‘c.’ Final answer. After all, it hasn’t appeared in the last three answer choices. 

When I get my results back, it’s disappointing. 18 right out of 25, not even an honorable mention. Three years of taking the American Math Competition at Kean University, and I’ve got little to show for it. Doubts racked my mind. If I couldn’t stand out in the trenches of math warfare, how would I succeed in this domineering field? In hindsight, I now realize how little weight these competitions hold over one’s journey through the world of math. But nevertheless, that was my first experience with Kean University.

Flash forward… Tucked away in the giant glass infrastructure of Kean University is a Barnes & Noble. There would be no time to read today. The debate tournament is in 2 hours. My partner and I are prepping, making final notes. Flipping through our notecards, however, we come to a grave understanding: we’ve interpreted the prompt differently than everybody else. Our evidence might mean nothing if we don’t frame the argument the right way. We work tirelessly to gather new evidence, scouring through our research materials and discussing potential talking points. It’s a high-pressure situation, but we manage to pull it together just in time. As we take our places on stage, we feel the weight of the challenge ahead of us. The debate is intense, with each team presenting compelling arguments. The judges deliberate for what feels like hours, but finally, they announce the winner. It’s not us. We’ve failed again. 

After entering high school, and leaving both debate and competition math behind, I never thought I’ll see Kean University again. Then a month ago, Terra North Jersey Science Fair brought it all flooding back to me. After my career in competition math was over, I had pursued research in number theory and graph theory, an avocation that allowed for exploring at my own pace, working with incredible students and mentors, and use the resources at hand to the full extent. Over the last 2 years, I’d been through it all: papers, conferences, science fairs. Only this time was different. It was at Kean University. 

Once again the glass stem center was lit up to house a spectacle. Poster boards cascaded across the rooms. Each voice an upcoming scientist, engineer, or mathmatician. I was in the math section. Next to us was CS. As I made my way around the room, taking in the various projects and chatting with the other participants, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of nostalgia for my days of competitive math and debate. 

The fair itself was a blur. Judges came and went, each glance a nervous whisper. Each movement a chess move. A mission. At the end of the day, we stood by the podium and represented ourselves to the masses. We wore nice clothes, stood straight and tall, and answered questions with confidence. The projects were all amazing. Memorizing information is easy when you’ve done it for years. Listening to other people recite mathematical formulas is beautiful like watching a dance. Although compared to some people, I’m quite average. Did I do okay? The next day we received our results. We anxiously waited in sheets of paper scattered across the floor. I received $1,800 in scholarships as well as a few other random awards. 

Last week I stopped in front of Kean University one last time to attend the Garden State Undergraduate Math Conference with two close friends I’d worked with over the summer. No pressure this time, the event was simply an exposition to present, chill, and hang out next to food and raffles. The keynote speaker, from Northeastern, presented on topology and rubber ducks. Books were distributed. As the sun set over Kean University, it was impossible not to reflect upon the countless experiences that have transpired within its walls. In the end, Kean University is not just a mere backdrop for our academic escapades; it is a testament to the resilience, curiosity, and determination that defines us. Despite the inevitable setbacks that come with any journey, it is essential to remember that our value is not determined by the accolades we collect, but rather by the knowledge we acquire and the passion we bring to our pursuits.