Friday, December 30, 2011

Stories

Please submit any stories about the section, its members or meetings that you think other members would find of interest. 

5 comments:

  1. A long-time member and leader of our Section died recently:

    http://www.loyola.edu/Media/News/2012/0813-helen-christensen.aspx

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  2. Getting involved with the MAA: Part I

    Many of us in the MAA are given student memberships as undergraduates, or graduate students, or high-school students. Here is a member with quite a different story.

    You had a talent and a taste for mathematics, went through school and somehow or other ended up with a Ph.D. in mathematics with a dissertation in number theory and a tenure-track job as a college professor at a university that was “on the way up.” This was in the day when research mathematicians talked about teaching behind closed doors – if they talked about teaching at all. Although you always enjoyed teaching, research was your big thing, so you subscribed to the Journal of Number Theory, published like mad, joined a scholarly organization, and attended professional meetings focusing on research in general or in number theory. Of course, your university subscribed to quite a number of research journals, and to the reviewing journals Mathematical Reviews and Zentralblatt. Your department also took an interesting magazine devoted to expository mathematics called the American Mathematical Monthly. Somewhere along the way, you were tenured and promoted. You received your professional organization’s official magazine, and went to meetings – and things began to change.

    Meetings devoted to your specialty were, and still are, highly enjoyable. However, you noticed that the business meetings of your professional society were becoming less mathematical and more political, more contentious, and a whole lot less enjoyable. Also, for whatever reason, the articles appearing in that official magazine were hard to read and were not particularly well written. It was as if the writers had all heard your major professor’s advice (“You should write your mathematics as if you wanted someone to read it”) and had all decided to do the opposite. Those big meetings weren’t fun anymore. What to do?

    Just about this time, your department recruited a new full professor, a prominent young researcher named David Roselle who had been one of your teachers in graduate school, had written a letter of recommendation for your current job, and who just happened to be involved with the MAA at the national level. The two of you chatted about the situation, and he suggested that you might want to join the MAA (“You meet the nicest people there”), one of the benefits being your own copy of the Monthly. So you change professional organizations and become an MAA member.

    Of course, one of the first things you discovered is that the Monthly was and still is a wonderful source of problems, especially useful for the weekly undergraduate problem session that had been running in your department for several years. You immediately get involved in that problem session. And for the next 24 years, your involvement in the MAA consists of reading the Monthly and answering a call by one of the terrific Monthly editors to review problem submissions and edit solution sets. Oh yes, and you attend a grand total of one section meeting. At that meeting, you meet the legendary Herta Freitag, attend an invited address by the prominent number theorist Carl Pomerance, and are introduced to a young graduate student named Art Benjamin. One section meeting in 24 years. Pitiful. But again, things began to change.

    You are promoted to full professor, and about that time, two things happen. The first is that you realize that in number theory, you are never going to be Gauss. The second is that you teach an undergraduate course in number theory that does not go well. In fact, it is a complete disaster. Your student evaluations contain many creative descriptions about how awful a teacher you were – and they were right. So you take the evaluations home and burn them in the fireplace.

    But you can’t burn the words.
    (PLEASE CONTINUE TO PART 2.)

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  3. Getting involved with the MAA: Part II

    You can’t burn the words, so you resolve to do something about it. You receive and heed plenty of sound advice from several outstanding teachers on your campus. You get your ego out of the classroom. You put your students and the subject matter at the center of each class. You put into practice many of the ideas that are presented at MAA workshops – although you did not know it at the time. You put into practice many of the ideas that are presented to Project NExT Fellows – although at that time, Project NExT was years in the future. You get involved on your campus with a calculus-readiness program called the Emerging Scholars Program (ESP) that is modeled after Uri Treisman’s collaborative workshops at Berkeley and at the University of Texas. You mentor graduate students and young faculty colleagues in teaching. You take on the enjoyable task of helping colleagues prepare dossiers for possible teaching awards.

    And then in January of 1999, your department head tells you to go to the spring meeting of the MD/DC/VA Section, which is your MAA section, because (as he puts it) the people there are interested in our ESP student-success program and want to give us some money. At the meeting, you discover that your department head had brought you there under false pretenses, and that you were really there to receive your section’s teaching award.

    You are rendered totally speechless.

    And then you think to yourself that if these folks have done this for you, the very least that you can do is go to their meetings and get involved in their section, which is of course your section. So you do, and the only section meeting you miss from that day down to this is one that takes place the day after you have cataract surgery.

    Around this time, you go to a Joint Math Meeting in Baltimore to give a talk about getting students involved in undergraduate research. You see a long-time friend and number theory colleague named Underwood Dudley, who tells you that he has been named editor of the College Math Journal and invites you to submit some expository articles. So you write up two pieces for the CMJ and they are published.

    Because of those two articles, you end up at MathFest in 2000 (at UCLA) and 2001 (at Madison), where you meet Frank Farris, editor of Math Magazine. Frank suggests that you might want to write an expository article for Math Mag, and so you do. You go to MathFest in 2003, where you meet and are able to personally thank one of the referees of that article, the great number theorist and combinatorialist Richard Guy. You give a talk at a meeting of the Northeastern Section in 2004 and have a conversation with one of the other speakers – none other than Art Benjamin. The result of this chat is that the two of you organize an Invited Paper Session called Gems of Number Theory for MathFest 2005 in Albuquerque. It turns out to be a roaring success. The MAA asks the two of you to put together a collection of articles on number theory that would be accessible to students who have had, or who are taking, a first course in number theory. The two of you do just that, and the MAA publishes that collection under the title Biscuits of Number Theory. Apparently, lots of people like it.

    Meanwhile, back in the MD/DC/VA section, you join the section’s teaching committee, then you chair it, then you are named the section’s Program Chair, and then you are elected section Governor. During this time, the section begins holding its own version of Math Jeopardy at the spring section meetings, and the organizers ask you to be Alex Trebek.

    So, 24 years as a mostly-inactive MAA member have been followed by thirteen years of being quite involved with the MAA at both the section and the national level. And the question one might ask is: Why?

    There are many reasons why, but the main reason why is quite simple: as Dave Roselle said almost 40 years ago, “You meet the nicest people there!”

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  4. I have a book autographed by Benoit Mandelbrot. My dad was a PhD statistician and my son was on a fast track to a doctorate in math, so I suggested that an inscription of "To three iterations of Dr. Minton" would be appreciated. Mandelbrot looked at me for a second, opened up the book and wrote "To Drs Minton 1, 2, 3, and on to infinity."

    I wanted to write about the role of the MAA Section in the lives of Drs Minton 1, 2, and 3. My dad, Paul Minton, was a 50-year MAA member (I just passed 30, my son Greg has 6 or so years in). He and I went to a section meeting together after he retired, and it was a pleasure to be with him and have him in the audience at the short talk I gave. I remember a long conversation with his (and everybody's) friend Sister Helen Christensen.

    Greg and I went to a section meeting when he was in 10th grade, and I will always be grateful for the fantastic attention Greg received there. We ran into Bud Brown in the hotel, and Bud talked about the performance of Greg and his high school math frenemy Brian Rice, who had both placed top ten in the Virginia Tech Math Competition. At the meeting, Greg's favorite talk was not mine (10th grade, right?) but John Osoinach's on the lying oracle. John spent a lot of time with Greg after the talk going over some details and potential extensions, and recruiting Greg to participate in the HSC Problem of the Fortnight competition (which he did). A big issue in Greg's life at the time was whether to graduate from high school a year early. I was nervous about it for various reasons, but we had a long talk with Jon Scott at the book display about pros and cons. Jon's advice, of course, was sound and well reasoned and very helpful to us. Greg, by the way, did graduate a year early and ended up at Harvey Mudd with Brian Rice; but that's a different long story.

    I met Bob Hanson at the Joint Meetings in Phoenix the following year. Greg and I gave a talk together (a little gimmicky, but how could a dad resist?). After the talk a nice gentleman came up and introduced himself and said we had made the section proud. This, of course, made my day.

    Organizations often talk about a sense of community and family. I hope that my story is a nice witness that our section actually achieves this. Bud and John and Jon and Bob and many others in the section have had a tremendous impact on me and Jan and Greg. We thank everyone in our MAA family.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks so much for posting this, Roland!

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