The Alexander Hamilton Institute for the Study of Western Civilization (AHI) takes considerable pride in the accomplishments of their Undergraduate Fellows.  Will Eagan, a 2011 Hamilton College graduate and AHI Undergraduate Fellow, is currently working on a doctorate in statistics at Purdue University. AHI summer intern Michael Adamo interviewed Eagan for this story.

Former AHI Undergraduate Fellow Will Eagan

Eagan majored in mathematics at Hamilton College and completed his thesis in the physics department—an unusual achievement for a non-physics major. The thesis, concerning “the novel application of Bayesian methods to problems in astrostatistics,” proved instrumental as he applied to graduate schools. “I presented it as a poster at the American Astronautical Society meeting in Seattle,” he explains. “Several professors at top programs in astronomy recruited me to their departments, but several professors at Hamilton encouraged me to continue my focus on statistics.”

Adamo asked Eagan, “What’s the value of the AHI for someone like you, whose academic focus isn’t as directly related to AHI programming?”  “You are correct,” Eagan responded, “the stereotypical AHI student is a history concentrator or a government major. I did not major or minor in either of those, but most people mistakenly thought I was. Even then, I did seriously consider graduate study in political science, but statistics won out. The value of the AHI on my intellectual development is tremendous. The biggest lesson I learned at my time as undergraduate as the AHI was how to be a serious young intellectual dealing with the multi- and inter-disciplinary question of what is Western civilization? I took considerable interest in the concept of liberal education and its relationship to questions of morality such as natural law, natural right, and natural rights. In statistics, the questions are less philosophical, but adopting a multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary approach is essential to understanding the ever-ubiquitous data. To paraphrase, the late John Tukey, one of the most distinguished statisticians of the 20th century, in statistics you get to play in everyone’s backyard!

An endlessly curious scholar, Eagan found the AHI’s programming and professors to be indispensable guides to self-study. He recalled one event at which Colgate University Professor and AHI Senior Fellow Robert Kraynak gave a lecture on varieties of contemporary conservative thought. “In his talk,” says Eagan, “he handed out a list of books to read from leading conservative intellectuals. I read all of them. I looked at their sources and I realized I needed to learn more. I began to read some of the works by his undergraduate mentor Allan Bloom and his graduate mentor Harvey Mansfield, a distinguished professor of political science at Harvard University and an academic advisor to the AHI. This in turn led me to learn more about the Great Books and political theory on my own and take advantage of the events hosted by the AHI.” His interest in those topics was apparent to other AHI students and professors, who sometimes assumed Eagan to be a history or government major.

In his current scholarship Eagan says he is conscious of how he can apply his experiences with the AHI to statistics. “Statistics is deceptively broad,” he says, and even if he is not grappling with questions of natural law and political theory, he finds that “adopting a multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary approach is essential to understanding the ever-ubiquitous data.” He is also grateful to Professor Bob Paquette, an AHI Charter Fellow, who Eagan says “invested more time than anyone developing my writing skills,” and Professor Doug Ambrose, another AHI Charter Fellow, who, in Eagan’s words, taught him ‘to be so utilitarian in outlook toward your college education’ and to explore a variety of fields.”

The AHI wishes Will Eagan well in his current studies and congratulate him on his accomplishments.