[Adapted from the original blog post by Aidel Townsley of The Johnnie Chair.]
“I have never been bored, and I don’t understand how anybody ever could be, with all the things there are to learn and read and experiment on.”
Hailing from Wyoming, Mark Sinnett fell in love with The Microbe Hunter by Paul de Kruif in the sixth grade because it explained how scientists reasoned their way through an experiment. He still has his same copy, cover long gone, and remembers more clearly the classes in which he discussed it than “what happened yesterday.”
While this book started his love of learning, he has always been interested in a variety subjects. (St. John’s, with its lack of departments and majors, suits him perfectly.) His undergraduate degree was only “accidentally” in mathematics. He meant to be majoring in physics but unknowingly had been taking none of the requirements. Instead, he had taken whichever class interested him, and it was along (and because of) this variable trajectory that he discovered his true, mathematical passion.
This passion has sustained him all his life and also excites him for the future. Mr. Sinnett explained that, when he started to go to meetings of The American Mathematical Society, it was mostly attended by white men from the local area.
“Now, we literally have people from all over the world and half of them are women — which is amazing, just extraordinary!” It’s proof, he says, of what St. John’s has always believed: mathematics is a universal language that anyone can speak.
Before Mr. Sinnett arrived on the Annapolis campus, he began ministering at a Presbyterian church, a vocation he continues to this day. While he prefers the structure found in the Presbyterian community, the transition to teaching at St. John’s hasn’t been without its share of religious perks. He praises the school for always discussing sacred texts without “a fixed set of presuppositions that govern the conversation.”
His favorite book of the Program List is Gulliver’s Travels, which always get him “laughing, angry, mad, sad, and vexed” (“vexed” being one of Jonathan Swift’s favorite words). When I asked him if more contemporary books should be on the List, he responded, “One hundred years from now we will still have to read Homer and Plato and Augustine because that’s where we came from.”
So too you, Mr. Sinnett, are a part of where we Johnnies come from; one hundred years from now, I hope the school still remembers what you, and all tutors, have contributed to so many admiring students.