Exploring the Physical and Theoretical World around Him
By Laura Powers
In simplest terms, Dillon Berger’s aspiration is to discover and fully understand the world around him. To do this, he looks at physical and analytical elements— majoring in both philosophy and physics with a minor in mathematics.
“When I tell people my majors, I get two responses. One is, ‘How do those possibly relate?’ and the other is, ‘Oh that makes sense,’” he says. “I mean, physics started as a natural philosophy, and it is a philosophy. It just kept growing into its own philosophical camp. That’s the way I like to look at it, at least.”
Prior to Mason, Berger says his focus lay mainly in sports and that academics were not a priority. But the confidence instilled by a professor at Northern Virginia Community College inspired Berger to focus on his studies, which has led him to attain an impressive academic record and an internship at Cornell University.
“I wasn’t always a thinker. I wasn’t even close to it,” he says. “But my entire worldview shifted in the last five years and now I just see a world that I was completely blind to before.”
Last summer, Berger took part in a National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates at Cornell University. There he worked with the physics department on research projects that taught him about computers, coding, accelerator physics, and more; subjects that, according to Berger, he would not have otherwise had the opportunity to experience as an undergraduate. Berger’s immediate goal after earning his degrees from Mason is to attend graduate school for physics. He hopes to eventually become a professor, encouraging students and helping them see their potential, the way a professor did for him.
Currently, Berger works with students as a tutor within the Math Tutoring Center at Mason. “Being a tutor has helped me learn to see where people’s sticking points are,” he says. “When somebody is having a problem getting their head around something . . . I lead them, not by telling them, but by this Socratic method of making them think and get to something they thought they couldn’t arrive at on their own.”
In 2016, Berger won the Dean’s Challenge Scholarship, which recognizes exceptional undergraduate students who have excelled while making academically challenging choices. In the 2013-14 academic year, the Department of Modern and Classical Languages recognized his talent for language with the Outstanding Dedication and Perseverance in Upper Level Latin Award. He also received the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute Scholarship in Spring 2016.
“I never let people call me smart,” he says, “because it’s really about hard work and falling in love with something. I would say it’s more important to fall in love with something, because when you do that, the hard work just comes out in the wash. You’re going to do it because you enjoy it. And then it doesn’t feel like hard work. It doesn’t feel like studying.”
July 19, 2017