Play It Again, CSAM

by minton on April 18, 2019

It was a weekend of comebacks in sports: Tiger Woods winning the Masters, the Clippers erasing a 31-point deficit against the Warriors, and CSAM returning to Furman. The last item made few headlines, but the Carolina Sports Analytics Meeting at Furman University is a highlight of the year for myself and several students.

Roanoke College had a large presence at this year’s CSAM (other schools well represented included Furman and Davidson). Senior Physics major David Moreau gave an excellent talk on golf analytics, one that prompted a follow-up conversation with ESPN writer Peter Keating. Sophomore Sport Management major Megan Wheeler presented a poster on shot probabilities in Division III women’s basketball. In a different form of comeback, alum Taylor Ferebee (RC ’17) returned to the meeting with an outline of genetic work being done at Clemson University and other research labs. Seniors Emma Blair and Lexi Denning would have also presented posters but they and their posters were at the NCUR meeting in Atlanta. Math professor Roland Minton led the group, which also included sophomore Stat Crew member Jessica Louros and freshman Stat Crew member and Math major Jake Beardsley, who has worked on analyzing March Madness upsets this semester.

The CSAM meeting itself represented a comeback of sorts. Hosted by Furman for four years 2013-2016, this highly successful conference was on hiatus for two years. Roanoke College held the substitute VSAM in 2017; VSAM was also successful, but we are glad that Furman has resumed its leadership. The conference has a great culture of openness to students and researchers at all levels. RC students have taken advantage to gain some great experiences!


Star City

by minton on March 21, 2019

In Agnes Handal’s hometown, Christmas season is a happy time with numerous parades and festivities. Musical groups called scouts come from miles around to march and play their drums and bagpipes, celebrating with local townfolk and tourists of various religious backgrounds.

Agnes, who is a junior actuarial science major at Roanoke College, showed pictures and videos of her home to a group at Salem Presbyterian Church. Her story becomes especially interesting when you realize that her family has been living in the same area for more than 500 years. They live in Bethlehem in Palestine.

For a Christian, walking down Star Street in the path followed by Wise Men, then into Manger Square and Nativity Church would add a huge emotional dimension to the season. This is true for Agnes, who is proud of her Christian heritage. Her siblings all have holy names (Agnes means “lamb”).

Where it all becomes complicated is the political context of Bethlehem. Agnes says her house is a ten-minute walk from Jerusalem, but since she is considered Palestinian she would need a special permit to take the walk. She showed pictures of a nine-foot wall on a border of Palestine and Israel. A distantly-remembered past when the region’s melting pot of Jews, Muslims, Christians, and others learned to co-exist has given way to today’s politically charged power struggles.

Most of this seems to be set aside at Christmas, as Muslims join in the centuries-old traditions surrounding December 25 in Bethlehem. In this historic place, for a brief time each year, people converge to celebrate the past and create hope for the future.


Another Year, Another Pi Day

by rahmoeller on March 15, 2019

Whew! What a week! Not only was it the week right after Spring Break (which is always a tough week), but it also happened to be a very busy mathematical week! Thursday, March 14 was Pi Day! Pi, a mathematical constant, was originally defined as the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter, i.e. circumference = 2π*radius = π*diameter. Did you know that we use the symbol π for pi because it is the first letter of the Greek word for perimeter (or circumference)?

Have you ever heard of a guy named Lawrence (Larry) Shaw? He was an American physicist, among other things, but most importantly for this post, he invented Pi Day back in 1988. Why did he pick March 14? Well, we typically approximate π to 3.14, and so logically one might think, 3 represents the month and 14 the day.

But, there are other dates that could work well for Pi Day: April 5, say. Why? Well, since we begin our year with January, when 3 months have actually passed, we are at April 1. But 14% of April turns out to roughly 4.34 days, which means that by April 5, 3.14 months of the year have gone by. Another possible date could be to choose the 314th day of the year: November 10. In fact, why not celebrate all 3? Heck, someone come up with another day to celebrate π: I’m in!!

How did Roanoke College celebrate Pi Day this year? On Wednesday, March 13, some faculty, several students, and our amazing RC baker baked a total of 58 pies (26 apple, 32 pumpkin), all of which were donated to the Salem Food Pantry.

Then, on Pi Day, we calculated the results of our jar fundraiser. For about 3.14 weeks, we collected donations for the West End Center into jars, which were associated with both math and chemistry professors.

The professor (Dr. Skip Brenzovich, chemistry) whose jar had the LEAST money ($12.42) was pied:

If only you could see Skip’s expression underneath that pie…

And the professor (Dr. Richard Keithley) whose jar had the MOST money ($92.01) was pied:

Call from crowd: “Dr. Keithley, you have some hair in your pie…”

We raised a total of $315.83 this year!! Thanks to all who donated to the West End Center!

We already are counting down the days until Pi Day comes around again…so, April 5 anyone??


Special thanks to the Salem Kroger for a generous gift card donation; to Lavelle Glenn who baked the pies to perfection in the scary ovens; to faculty members Hiba, Bonnie, and Claire for their efficient work in peeling 40 lbs of apples; and to RC students Ricky, Andrew, Anna, Sara, Sophie, Lydia, Gavin, Sam, Gideon, Abbi, Robert, and Cody – all y’all did all the hard work and are absolutely incredible!!!


Breaking News

March 15, 2019

The students, faculty, and programs in the MCSP Department are constantly growing. Here are some recent developments, starting with two students who are at the top! Gabe Umland ’19 has been named a Fulbright scholar. Of the 11,000 yearly applicants, fewer than 1,000 students and professionals nationwide earn this prestigious teaching/research award each year. With […]

Read the full article →

Fuzzy Memories

March 14, 2019

Some of the reminisces that follow are true, but some are only partially true. That statement may seem obvious given the unreliability of human memory. However, in terms of mathematical logic (and, after all, I am writing about a mathematician) the phrase “partially true” may seem nonsensical. My intention, as I hope you will see, […]

Read the full article →


February 27, 2019

David Moreau will graduate in May as Stat Crew’s GOAT. If you’re not familiar with sports lingo, that means Greatest Of All Time. David’s four years at RC coincide with Stat Crew’s four years of existence, and he has played a major role in the success and development of this experiment in academic-athletic collaboration. At […]

Read the full article →

The First

February 21, 2019

Emma Blair will become Roanoke College’s first graduate in actuarial science on May 4, 2019. From which it logically follows that Emma is our first triple major in actuarial science, economics, and Spanish. With a math minor. And two years on the lacrosse team. And ballet. With a grade average that rounds to 4.0. Being […]

Read the full article →

Making an Outstanding Choice

January 30, 2019

Karin Saoub’s textbook A Tour Through Graph Theory was selected as an Outstanding Academic Title by Choice magazine for 2018. Choice is the trade magazine for academic libraries, and Outstanding Academic Titles are “must haves” for academic libraries. Congratulations to Karin! Karin’s book now joins a select list, representing about ten percent of the 6000 […]

Read the full article →

RC Exhibits in Baltimore

January 25, 2019

Roanoke College had a strong presence at the Joint Mathematics Meetings in Baltimore January 16-19. Professors Adam Childers, Dave Taylor, Hannah Robbins, and Roland Minton all gave talks. Maggie Rahmoeller completed a short course in the use of R in statistics. Hannah talked with various editors interested in her newly written linear algebra book. We […]

Read the full article →

Fun With Physics and Life

December 11, 2018

I was saddened to learn that Dick Minnix died on November 28. Dick was a hero to me, and I suspect many others, and truly had a large positive effect on physics education. I first met Dick in California at a large conference for community college math professors. Dick was there as a keynote speaker […]

Read the full article →