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 given 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 that, perhaps the greatest gift any of us can give. A toast to you, Bill Ergle.



Vote for Mathematics

by minton on 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 of Saint Mary’s College.

The commission to draw district lines would be split equally between Democrats and Republicans, but the legislation does not mention how many mathematicians would be involved. You may think that I’m trying to be funny with that comment. However, there is a long established and active area of mathematics devoted to quantifying the reasonableness of the shape of a district. Such objective measures of gerrymandering should be essential tools used by any districting commission.

More generally, there is a long history of mathematical contributions to political concerns such as districting, apportionment, and voting methods. In fact, the Mathematical Association of America just released a collection of articles on mathematical approaches to voting. (See One quick brag: the first article referenced has one co-author “G. Minton” who is my son, Greg.

Did you know that the first Presidential veto was over how to round numbers? In deciding the number of Representatives a state gets (i.e., apportionment), the general principle is that a state with 8.4% of the country’s population should get 8.4% of the Representatives. But what if the House of Representatives has 435 seats, and 8.4% of 435 is 36.5? Should this state get 36 or 37 Representatives? It turns out that it is very difficult to find a rounding method that can be applied to every state’s quota and has the total number of Representatives add up to 435.

The method to use for the country’s first apportionment was hotly contested between proposals from Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton. This could have been a showstopper in the musical! Congress approved Hamilton’s method, but George Washington vetoed it. The history of Congressional apportionment is fascinating because of the surprising ways that rounding methods can behave. Check it out in the book The History of Congressional Apportionment by Charles Biles.

And vote!


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



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  […]

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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 […]

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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 […]

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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 […]

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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 […]

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Things to Do in Denver

January 24, 2020

Adam Childers and Dave Taylor received a national award at the Joint Mathematics Meeting in Denver on January 17, 2020. They were honored with the Outstanding Contributed Paper in Statistics Education award for 2019. In their award-winning talk, Adam and Dave presented their Classroom Stats app and several of its potential uses in a statistics […]

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Concentrate! On Sports Analytics

November 8, 2019

Roanoke College has a sports analytics program! The recently approved concentration in sports analytics is a six-course program giving students a broad background in important skills as well as practical experience in the field. Details can be found at Analytics.html. The concentration builds on the success of Stat Crew. With over twenty students (and […]

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