When Theory Meets Practice – an Interview with Stefano Cavagnetto

Head of School of Business, IT & Computing at Prague College

Stefano Cavagnetto from Prague College speaks about mathematics and philosophy and their application in interdisciplinary projects.

Stefano, many people know you as a lecturer, scholar and dedicated researcher in the areas of mathematics and philosophy. What has led you to study these subjects, and why did you choose to live in Prague?

Philosophy and mathematics have always been my interest and I have been attracted to these fields since I was very young. I decided to develop myself in these areas and combine my deep interest with a professional career. Why Prague? My first visit to Prague was the kind of story you have probably read or heard many times, and it is really nothing out of the ordinary. I first came to Prague as a tourist, a high school student, who was eager to explore Europe. I naturally came with a group of friends and then returned many times as a more mature visitor who fell in love with the art, architecture and magical feeling of Prague. When I was deciding where to pursue my doctorate in Mathematics, Prague stood out as a promising option. I had completed my PhD in Mathematics at the Institute of Mathematics of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, Charles University, when I became involved in research activities. I truly enjoy living here and I believe that Prague is a great representation of Europe, being in the heart of everything, in the center of art of art and philosophy; you know, I really find myself here.  

Throughout your career you have conducted research in the areas of mathematics and philosophy. Can you tell us more about your involvement in these areas and its application across disciplines?

I believe that philosophy and mathematics can be found in all disciplines. When I teach business courses, I always try to find links between these fields and explain reasons how certain principles work. The understanding of mathematics and philosophy gives me a certain advantage in comprehending concepts in various disciplines. My idea is to teach my students to look for reasoning when learning new information, to understand the root of the problem and not to mechanically memorize information. In my teaching I like to use various research methodologies and I also encourage my students to apply research in their work.

You have been exposed to different educational systems in Europe and the United States. You studied and worked in the Czech Republic, Italy and the USA. What main differences do you see in the areas of higher education between Prague, Turin and New York?

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The education system in Europe and United States surely varies. In itself, this could be subject of a long research paper, chuckling…… Briefly, the main difference that I personally see is in the basic structure of learning. The university administration in United States is very dynamic. Large university systems have many resources at their disposal and a high capability of managing these resources. Europe, on the other hand, has a long history in learning. The core of the education system is tradition and knowledge, which has been acquired throughout centuries. Each system has its pros and cons, and I can’t say that one system is better than another. For me as a researcher, I have to say, that I have had one of the best experiences conducting research here in Prague at the Institute of Mathematics of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic. I have found the institution very supportive and the staff very helpful. As a result, I was able to publish papers in international journals.

You were very involved in the interdisciplinary cultural project Underground City XXI (UCXXI). Can you tell us more about this experience, which also involved cooperation with cultural organizations from different countries, and many other creative activities including your lectures in Prague and Labin?

Underground City XXI was the second project of this kind that I have been involved in. I participated in another project for a university in Italy. UCXXI’s aim was to create a multidisciplinary platform that allows an online collaborative network of architects, computer programmers, philosophers and others interested in the future of design and living. We were tasked to construct a virtual community for abandoned coal mines in Croatia. Underground City XII was a pan-European project with participating members including Libat, a French arts nonprofit, Labin Art Express arts association (Croatia), Nomad Theater (Austria) and Prague College. I would say that the final work was very satisfying. There were a total of two papers published as a result of this project in the Masaryk University Journal of Law and Technology and produced in cooperation with my colleague and principal lecturer of the Business Programme, Bruce Gahir. Bruce’s contribution has been very valuable in establishing and promoting the research activities at Prague College. The experience has been very beneficial for me as an instructor and researcher.

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Another interesting and important project you have done was the ‘Cryptography Conference – International Conference on Cryptography and Intelligence,’ this past May. Was this the first time you have organized this kind of event, which involved the participation of many important speakers, including representatives from secret services? What does this kind of work and experience mean to you?

The Cryptography Conference was the first conference of this kind that I have organized, and I was involved in organizing and managing the entire event from putting together the content to finding speakers to ironing out all the little details that are part of managing an event of this scale. The event offered multidisciplinary, historical and contemporary views of the “clandestine” world of ciphers, cryptography, intelligence and information management. The event was organized in cooperation with Prague College, the Military History Institute of the Czech Republic (VHÚ) and the National Security Authority (NBÚ). We managed to invite well-known personas, academicians as well as intelligence professionals who have worked in the trenches. Muzeum Vojenske Historie allowed us to display equipment used during the Cold War for the first time. It was a great experience to combine history and theory, and make the information relevant to today’s time. Our challenge was to make the topic, which is in its nature very technical and specific, easy to understand and relate it to students and the general public. I believe that we managed to do so by holding interactive workshops and testing modern technologies and its application to cryptology. The event was thus applicable to modern day and gave the participants insight into management and the use of modern technologies.

Apart from teaching, you are also Head of Prague College’s Research Centre. How do you see the work of the Research Centre in the future?

The Research Centre started off with a couple of lecturers interested in publishing papers in their disciplines. While it was predominantly an activity of the School of Business, the research activities have now spread across the college. We now have active contributions from all schools and are working on the development of new projects. There is also an active involvement from the student body. One of our graphic design students is, for example, in charge of creating the graphic design of our Research Centre bulletin, which we publish on a quarterly basis.

You will participate in a fellowship programme, which is administered by the Isaac Newton Institute for Mathematical Sciences in Cambridge. How does this fellowship work?

Yes, that is correct, I have been invited by the Isaac Newton Institute to take part in their fellowship programme. I was already invited once before during my PhD programme as a doctoral student. The Institute runs scientific programmes varying in length from 4 weeks to 6 months. I will take part in the programme Syntax and Semantics at the beginning of 2012, which will bring together international researchers from different areas of computer sciences, philosophy and mathematics.

You are a very busy person during the school year. When do you finally take a vacation? Do you have some favorite spot where you like to go? What interests you in your free time?

Yes, I do like to take long vacations after the school year is over. I like to take at least a month off and just disconnect, clear my head and spend time in Sardinia with my family. I enjoy good food, relax and recharge myself for the next academic year. 🙂


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