Getting to know...Matthew Cathey
You can’t spell Matthew without 'M', 'A', 'T', and 'H'. At least not in the case of Wofford assistant mathematics professor Matthew Cathey. The Sewanee and Tennessee alum came to Wofford 4.5 years ago, and has been teaching his favorite subject ever since.
“I really love teaching,” says Cathey. “I love interacting with students any way that I can. I’ve done that through Interim with poker this year and professional wrestling last year. But I really love teaching mathematics. You can see it on the students’ faces when the light bulb goes on and they get it. That’s a great feeling.”
So why Wofford? Because everything added up when compared to the personal checklist he had in his mind.
“When I started graduate school, I knew that I wanted to get a teaching position at a liberal arts college,” he says. “I was looking to replicate my experience at Suwanee as much as I could. Wofford definitely fit that bill. When I was looking at all of the jobs that were available the year I was leaving graduate school, Wofford was easily at the top of the list. I feel very fortunate to have landed here.”
And now here he is, holding his dream job while wife Meghan works as administrative assistant to the Dean of the Library and interlibrary loan assistant.
“We met while I was in graduate school (Tennessee) and she was at Sewanee,” says Matthew. “We dated long distance for three years. In fact, we never lived in the same area code until we got married.
“She was the only reason I was able to get through grad school. She was an English major so she doesn’t quite get the math thing, but she is passionate about music like I am.”
Cathey possesses a nice singing voice to go with his bachelor’s degree in music theory and history. He says he loves all kinds of music, and laughs when asked to pick a favorite type.
“That’s like asking me to pick my favorite kid,” says Cathey, who is learning to play the mandolin. He points out that “even music has a strong mathematical basis. It kind of tickles the same part of my brain that mathematics does.”
Other interests include University of Tennessee football, disc golf (with tag teammate Dan Matthewson), reading, and the television show Lost. His favorite character? Farraday the physicist, of course.
But mathematics is Cathey’s main passion. Like one of his students getting it for the first time, his eyes light up when talking about it.
“Mathematics is really a misunderstood subject,” he says. “People who stop doing it in high school or after one course in college really only see it as a computational sort of thing. But once you get beyond that, it’s not like anything you’ve seen before. It’s rich. It’s deep. In a way it’s like a language.
“Some people call it the language of the sciences. It’s not really a science, though. We don’t use the scientific method. We use an axiomatic method to verify all of the things that we do, which is nice on the one hand because it takes away a lot of uncertainty. Either something’s true or it isn’t. It may be difficult to verify that something is true, but until you do, it’s out of bounds. You can’t use it.
“The way we go about verifying these things earns mathematics its place among the liberal arts. It’s a very creative discipline, even if it doesn’t feel like it when you’re sitting there with your Algebra II textbook, doing the same problem over and over with new numbers. I’m very passionate about it.”