Thomas Hill

By Stella Katsipoutis-Varkanis


Tom Hill sits at a desk, a plant to his left, blue filtered light shines in the room

Thomas Hill joined the Department of Mathematics in the fall of 1979 after completing his Ph.D. at University of Virginia. Throughout his career, he taught courses at all levels of the mathematics curriculum. In addition, he taught a First-Year Seminar, which included some ideas from mathematics, and he had the pleasure of working with many independent study and honors students who studied problems in real, complex, and functional analysis or differential equations—his areas of research interest. His focus on providing enriching experiences for his students was a consistent theme throughout his tenure at Lafayette.

Thomas Hill 1990

Recognizing the need to expand and modernize the department’s mathematics offerings, he spent his first sabbatical year at Harvey Mudd College working with a group of students in its Mathematics Clinic. The course Case Studies in Mathematical Modeling, the first course with an explicit focus on mathematical modeling offered at Lafayette, was developed during that leave, and he offered that course approximately 20 times over the succeeding years. In addition, during that leave, he learned to use an early computer algebra system, and that experience contributed to his interest in providing computer laboratory experiences for Lafayette students. That interest led to a successful application for National Science Foundation (NSF) support for the department’s first computer laboratory and contributed to the growth in the department’s use of computational tools. Those developments have helped Lafayette students develop a broader and deeper understanding of mathematics, and have given them tools they can use to integrate graphical and numerical methods with symbolic manipulation to become better problem solvers.

Beyond the classroom, Hill served as the chair of his department for nine years, a period of rapid growth for the department. Over more than 20 years, he was instrumental in developing and shepherding the growth of the joint major in mathematics and economics, contributed to the College’s transition to its current 4/4 curriculum, and led the department’s summer orientation efforts to place incoming students in appropriate mathematics courses. Looking back on his career, he observes, “When I came to Lafayette, we were a good department; since that time, ours has become one of the very best undergraduate mathematics departments in the country. While I cannot take credit for the accomplishments of my colleagues and the many students we have had the pleasure of serving, I like to think my dedication to the College and passion for providing high-quality educational experiences to our students have contributed to that success.”

Alumni remember Prof. Hill

“Prof. Hill is one of those incredible mentors who truly embodies the ethos of Lafayette. When I was a sophomore, he was kind enough to spend his summer teaching me real analysis one on one. It was a difficult subject for me, but Prof. Hill approached our sessions with empathy, passion, and determination. His dedication to his students is one of the reasons I succeeded in graduate school and chose a career in academia. Almost 15 years after I first met him, I seek to emulate him in how I interact with my own students. I congratulate Prof. Hill on his retirement and thank him for his many years of service to the Mathematics Department and the College, where I had the good fortune to learn from him.” —Teevrat Garg ’10

“I cannot overstate the impact over my mathematical development Prof. Hill had via his meticulousness, patience, kindness, and understanding as an instructor. I do not know where I would be, both professionally and as a person, without his influence and guidance throughout my time at Lafayette.” —Benjamin Adenbaum ’19

“Prof. Hill is one of the most caring professors I had the pleasure of meeting at Lafayette. I needed to take certain courses in order to prepare for my graduate studies, but I was also planning to study abroad in Buenos Aires, which made it difficult to fit in the requisite courses. Prof. Hill worked with me so I could complete one of these courses as an independent study while abroad, so that I could fit it all in. He absolutely did not have to do this, and I appreciate him going above and beyond to make sure I could fit in all of the things I wanted to do. As a token of my appreciation, I gave him a set of photos of my math textbook visiting various places throughout Argentina!

“Additionally, when I took another course on campus with Prof. Hill, he was very generous with his time. This was a challenging, high-level course, and I frequented Prof. Hill’s office hours. Regardless of how much I was struggling, he never gave up on me, and he patiently explained concepts as many times as I needed. Ultimately, these courses were integral for preparing me for my graduate studies. I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for the kindness of Prof. Hill.” —Carly Trachtman ’16

“One decade after graduation, and I can still remember those afternoons in Prof. Hill’s office on the second floor of Pardee Hall, where he was guiding me to ‘rediscover’ the wonders of the mathematical spaces. Not only did I learn a great deal of math from him, but I have also learned to appreciate attention to detail, and I was encouraged countless times to keep my patience and to take one step at a time—no matter how small—toward a difficult problem. Throughout my career in and outside of academics, I’ve run into more challenging problems, many of which seemed impossible to solve at first. Yet the confidence and patience I built inside Pardee 214 carried me through and helped me take steps—no matter how tiny—toward solving those problems. This has deeply impacted me and will benefit me for decades to come, and I can’t thank Prof. Hill enough for those valuable lessons.” —Peiyuan Mao ’11