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Ben Noonan

Graduation Year: 2004
Major(s): Physics
Current position: Ph.D. student, Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion (Cincinnati, OH) in Hebrew Bible and Ancient Near Eastern Studies

Please describe your life journey since you graduated from Wheaton College.

While majoring in physics as an undergrad, I also took both Greek and Hebrew because of my own interest in these languages. I had toyed around with minoring in Ancient Languages, but the requirements were such that I would have to stay a whole extra year just to do this minor. My junior year, I learned about Wheaton’s accelerated M.A. program, which allows you to start taking M.A. classes your senior year and hence be able to finish your M.A. with only one year of courses after undergrad graduation. The accelerated M.A. program seemed like a good way for me to be able to pursue both of my interests—both physics and biblical studies/ancient languages. I applied and was accepted to the program. So, after I graduated from Wheaton in May 2004 with a B.S. in Physics, I stayed in Wheaton for another year to finish my M.A. in May 2005 in Biblical and Theological Studies with a concentration in Biblical Exegesis.

As I continued my graduate studies, my interest in biblical languages and biblical studies grew. While my interest in physics remained and I still enjoy physics very much, I decided that (for the time being at least) my interests were such that I wanted to pursue the field of Old Testament studies more, and I felt the Lord leading me to doctoral studies. After talking with various professors and getting their advice, I began looking at Ph.D. programs in Old Testament. I applied to several different schools, and when it came time to make the decision as to where I would do doctoral work, I chose Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, OH. Several of my Old Testament professors at Wheaton had actually graduated from Hebrew Union years ago, and they were able to tell me many positive things about the school. Hebrew Union has a solid program that emphasizes ability in ancient languages of the ancient Near East (such as Akkadian, Sumerian, Ugaritic, Aramaic, and, of course, Hebrew) to provide a proper context for understanding the Old Testament.

Now it is the spring of 2007, and I am in my second year of courses at Hebrew Union. Next year will be my final year of coursework, after which I will spend about a year studying for comprehensive exams, and after that I will be able to begin my dissertation. My career goal now is to teach Old Testament, Hebrew, and the like at a Christian college or seminary—I hope to be able to return to Wheaton and teach there in order to give back to the school and shape the lives of others, as I know how much of a impact my experience at Wheaton has had on my life in so many ways. While my current career direction does not relate to physics, I am glad that I majored in physics at Wheaton. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and it has prepared me for what I am doing now in many ways.

In what way has your Wheaton education in physics or engineering prepared you for your current (or past) job?

My Wheaton education in physics has prepared me for my current studies in many ways. My training in physics taught me about problem solving and how to think about various theories and concepts. While problem solving is obviously different in the humanities than in the natural sciences, there is still much overlap, I think. When you approach an idea or concept, it helps to approach it in both a methodological and creative manner. Physics taught me both, as there is both the need for method and the need for creativity in solving physics problems. The methodological side has helped me in language study, which is also very methodological. On the creative side, physics has helped me in learning to “think outside the box” when attempting to solve a problem, enabling me to be creative in my scholarship. There is something fun and exciting in finding the balance between the two, and physics has given me an appreciation for this that I can apply to any theory or concept that I approach in my current studies.

While often said, it must not be forgotten that physics is practical in many ways. Thus, one of the reasons that I appreciate my education in physics is that I also have the skills to approach a situation and figure out why something works the way it does. The practicality of physics is something I can use on a regular basis and something that anybody can use, regardless of what their future career may end up being.

Lastly, physics has encouraged and instilled in me a love for the sciences that I will never lose. For this, I am very glad that I chose to major in physics at Wheaton. Whereas many of my colleagues have only majored in the humanities over the course of their education experience, I have a unique background in both the natural sciences and the humanities. Both are wonderful and complementary fields that God has given us the abilities and gifts to study, which we should be very thankful for. It is good for everyone to be as well-rounded in terms of their educational experience as they can, and I feel that majoring in physics has been a very important part of a well-rounded education through which, in the midst of my Old Testament studies, I can appreciate the sciences and physics in particular.

Please describe the relationship of your Christian faith with your scientific training or career path.

My Christian faith provides a framework for understanding the world as God’s intentional and purposeful creation. God has graciously given us both the abilities and opportunities to use our intellect to discover, explore, and investigate different aspects of his creation. By studying physics, we can make use of these gifts within this framework, and we can also see various elements of God’s character that are reflected by his creation, such as his power, majesty, beauty, and love.

Do you have any words for young students considering a physics or engineering major?

I would highly encourage those who have an interest in physics to pursue that interest. Without repeating myself too much, I would just reiterate the ways that I described above in which physics has impacted my life and given me very practical skills that I am able to use on a regular basis. Physics provides a good basis for problem solving, creativity, and methodology. Thus, it helps you learn how to think and approach different concepts and ideas. The study of physics is also very practical and can be applied to a wide variety of everyday things. Lastly, physics enables one to study a thrilling and fascinating aspect of God’s creation. While physics can be a difficult and challenging field, be encouraged—it is also very exciting and rewarding.

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