See RC Math Books Grow!

by minton on May 12, 2021

Roanoke College mathematics professors Karin Saoub and Hannah Robbins have each had textbooks released in April! The books, published by CRC Press, join a long line of textbooks from RC mathematics faculty.

Karin’s Graph Theory: An Introduction to Proofs, Algorithms, and Applications was tested in her MATH 268 (Combinatorics and Graph Theory) course, and introduces students to the exciting field of graph theory. The graphs here are not parabolas or circles, but can be thought of as diagrams showing connections among various entities (web pages, or cities, or other systems). Among many other applications, UPS uses graph theory to find efficient delivery routes, and soccer teams use graphs to analyze which players are connecting well (or poorly). This is Karin’s second book with CRC, following A Tour Through Graph Theory targeted at non-mathematics majors. The current book is intended for early (e.g., second-year) mathematics majors.

Hannah’s Functional Linear Algebra has been used in her MATH 201 (Linear Algebra) course, and is also intended for second-year(-ish) mathematics majors. Linear Algebra has long been a core course in mathematics majors, but has suffered from a dual identity as an applied course (matrix calculations) and a theory course (the theory of vector spaces). Hannah’s approach allows her to integrate (sorry, small math joke) the theoretical development with the calculations and applications. This enables students to learn the theoretical concepts in an attractive context. Vector spaces are used throughout mathematics to describe related objects. Hannah’s book illustrates how mathematical theory underlies applications by showing what is possible and what is impossible.

Adding to the CRC/RC library is the upcoming second edition of Dave Taylor’s Games, Gambling, and Probability: An Introduction to Mathematics. This update of Dave’s successful first edition, used several times in May term courses, adds new topics including the use of probability in sports. Some of Adam Childers’ tennis research appears in a new chapter.

Although Roland Minton also has a CRC book, Sports Math, his book news is from a different publisher. The Mathematical Association of America has just released an ebook Mathematical Themes in a First-Year Seminar. Roland wrote a chapter titled “The Magic of Chaos” about the use of chaos theory in his INQ 110 course.

Congratulations to all of the textbook authors! Five CRC textbooks and counting: we put the RC in CRC!


Karin Saoub Receives High Honor!

by rahmoeller on April 23, 2021

Congratulation to Dr. Karin Saoub, who was recently named the Dr. M. Paul Capp & Constance Whitehead Professor of Mathematics. A prestigious honor, this 5-year award provides funding for a physics or mathematics professor in order to supplement their efforts of furthering their research and of providing students with meaningful research experiences.

Once a purely theoretical mathematician studying graph theory and graph coloring, Saoub has broadened her interests to better support student endeavors into mathematical research. She developed a graph theory and combinatorics course, designed to help students transition from learning foundational proof-writing techniques to producing quality proofs for upper-level theoretical courses. Within this class and a course titled “Efficiency and Optimization” (a course for Roanoke’s INQ curriculum), Saoub incorporates several projects encouraging a hands-on approach to the material learned in the course. Students have created fake businesses to maximize the returns they can receive, create routes for given scenarios, and organize pipelines. More recently, Saoub has been studying gerrymandering, particularly with using mathematics to minimize the effects of gerrymandering.

One of Saoub’s most impressive accomplishments (and I’m sure many mathematicians would agree) is her book A Tour through Graph Theory, published by Taylor & Francis Group, which won a Choice 2018 Outstanding Academic Title Award. A math textbook winning such an award is not common! In this book, Saoub makes graph theory approachable to non-math students, incorporates both historical and modern questions arising in graph theory, and encourages examples and diagrams for exploring the concepts. Saoub has also published a graph theory book for math majors, Graph Theory: An Introduction to Proofs, Algorithms,and Applications, and is scheduled to serve as an editor for the 2025 edition of the Handbook of Graph Theory.

Congratulations, Karin, on this wonderful and well-deserved achievement!


Bill Ergle, RC Legend

by minton on February 23, 2021

One of Roanoke College’s greats passed away last Friday (2/19/21). Bill Ergle, long-time faculty member and chair of the MCSP department, was 81 and living in Atlanta near his beloved children, Christi and Mike.

Roanoke College got to know Bill quite well over his 44 years of teaching and service. He was chair of what is now the MCSP department for 15 years. Under his leadership, the size and prestige of the department increased dramatically. One of his most important contributions to the department was the culture of everybody being able to teach all courses, a principle that has kept the department’s teaching fresh and innovative. He was instrumental in the creation of the first computer science course taught at the college, and was an early director of the Computing Center. For many years, he taught all of the upper-level statistics courses, preparing an impressive number of students for graduate school in statistics despite the lack of a statistics major. Bill had an important voice in all campus wide discussions. One of my first impressions of the college was that even in intense discussions of policy or curriculum, there was laughter and (mostly) good will. This is one of Bill’s influences on his colleagues.

I got to know Bill when he hired me in 1986. He had just taken over as chair of the department after the sudden passing of Ron Walpole. He was a great mentor, always available for counsel or just listening to young-faculty complaints. I trusted his judgment and valued his friendship. In those early years, I used to take a free Tuesday and drive to Augusta, Georgia, for a practice round of the Masters golf tournament. Bill was delighted when I started listing the “International Conference on Applied Projectile Motion” in my annual report, and would comment on the importance of the conference. There are publications of faculty activities that list my ICAPM attendance. There was almost always mischief brewing on the second floor of Trexler with Bill around. He and his wife Joy often had the faculty over to their house in Roanoke and later their place at Smith Mountain Lake for some good fun.

In his 44 years teaching at Roanoke, thousands of students got to know Bill’s great sense of humor and on occasion his impatience with laziness. As a Ph.D. statistician, you might think that teaching Stat 101 year after year would get old, but Bill always enjoyed (most of) the students. He wrote an introductory stat book that we used for years. Students could always get help from Bill, but they quickly found out that he did in fact lock the door when class started.

For many confused and increasingly uncomfortable recent students, the name Ergle has presented a puzzle. The door labelled “William David Ergle Lavatory” looks like it might lead to a restroom, but is there time to Google “lavatory” to make sure? Bill enjoyed the “honor” of that sign, which was completely a show of affection from the department. It’s too bad that these students never got to know the man behind the legend. I am still not clear if the publishers of the Roanoke College Magazine article (see below) at his retirement ever took a good look at the image on the coffee mug in the foreground.

Bill with Kelly Minton

Bill was an old school man of principle and great loyalty. In a Facebook post his daughter Christi listed his loyalties to God, family, education (Roanoke College, Roanoke County School Board, and others), and Clemson (his alma mater and eternal rooting interest). You could joke with him about Clemson, but you were not going to get away with messing with the other three. We talked about family often, especially his pride in and concern for his two children. He took a great interest in my kids and passed on helpful lessons he had learned, usually wrapped in his trademark sense of humor.

Bill was fun. At a retirement dinner for him, the department faculty took turns reciting poems and limericks written for Bill (not to be repeated here), sang a song written for him (“There’s No One Like Bill” to the tune of Roger Miller’s “King of the Road”), and put various outfits on the Flat Bill that we made with Joy’s help. Very silly and quite wonderful.

For those who got to know Bill, the world was a better and more enjoyable place. We thank him for giving us that, perhaps the greatest gift any of us can give. A toast to you, Bill Ergle.



Vote for Mathematics

October 21, 2020

I voted yesterday. That is only noteworthy because it is still October. Early voting is one of the nicer firsts in 2020. One of the amendments on the Virginia ballot would establish a commission to try to reduce gerrymandering. This is on the heels of an excellent MCSP Conversation Series on gerrymandering by Ellen Veomett […]

Read the full article →

Physics Major, Conor Kinkema, wins All American Scholar distinction

July 10, 2020

Conor Kinkema has been named as a 2020 CSCAA (The College Swimming & Diving Coaches Association of America) -All American Scholar Click here to read the press release  

Read the full article →

Talk Physics to Me !

April 21, 2020

Sigma Pi Sigma celebrations.  These unusual times call for unsual ways to do things. One this is certain; fun and physics dont change, even in these uncertain times. This year, the physics group found a way to carry on the tradition of celebrating our students’ induction to the Sigma Pi Sigma honor society. It retained  […]

Read the full article →

On Heroes

April 3, 2020

A conjunction of events provoked me to think about the role of heroes in our lives. Spoiler alert: in what follows there are no Marvel* heroes or even a Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. To me, an interesting article is a great gift. RC History professor John Selby came across two items in quick succession that he […]

Read the full article →

Physics Students Attend Conferences

April 3, 2020

(submitted by Rama Bala) Fall 2019 was a busy and exciting semester for physics students. Three of our Maroons, Morgan Hale (’22), Sophie Martin (’21), Rosie Hamed (’21), attended a 3-day long national conference for physics students. According to the conference organizers ‘PhysCon 2019 brought together over a thousand students of physics and astronomy with […]

Read the full article →

Stat Crew Records Double-Double

February 25, 2020

Chicago Cubs baseball legend Ernie Banks was known for enthusiastically saying, “Let’s Play Two!” On a date such as Saturday’s 2-22-2020 you almost have to do exactly that. The Roanoke College baseball team opened its home schedule with a doubleheader against Elizabethtown. Stat Crew members Luke Elder and Warren Payne were there to operate Track […]

Read the full article →

Passing Remarks

February 4, 2020

Eric Lee, a junior Actuarial Science major at Roanoke College, has passed both Exam P (Probability) and Exam FM (Financial Mathematics) offered by the Society of Actuaries and the Casualty Actuarial Society. These two exams along with the courses Eric is taking for the Actuarial Science major put him in excellent position to gain a […]

Read the full article →