Those Were the Days

by minton on April 22, 2019


There are some advantages to being over 60 years old. I can play golf from the senior tees, and get the senior discount at the cafeteria. I saw Jimi Hendrix in concert. That might be it.

Roanoke College math lecturer Claire Staniunas was hired by Ron Walpole. In RC history, Walpole has the star power of Hendrix (substitute Tupac if you don’t know Jimi). He was the long-time chair of the precursor of MCSP and was the author of the best-selling introductory statistics book in the U.S. He hired Claire to teach an evening statistics class in 1984. That gives Claire the longest RC employment record in the department. Claire and I recently talked about some of the changes in the teaching profession, the department, and the RC campus.

The teaching job has acquired a large layer of structural duties. Claire showed me a syllabus from 1984 that barely filled half a page. I couldn’t reciprocate because I wrote my “syllabus” on the board the first day of class. Current syllabi run 3-5 pages. Part of the information explosion is due to improvements in typing technology. After fighting with WordPerfect back in the day, we had little interest in producing lengthy syllabi which were difficult to print. Claire and I both taught classes with three tests and a final exam making up 100% of the grade. Classes now are littered with homework and projects and presentations. When Claire taught her first class at RC, Walpole greeted her with his statistics book (on loan, and faithfully returned at the end of the semester) and a drawer in a desk for her “office” space.

At Roanoke College, introductory statistics courses were hard. Stat 101 used to account for more than 20% of the F’s on campus. Math 103 (Elementary Functions) created another 10% of the F’s. I taught Math 102 (Finite Mathematics) on Tuesday-Thursday 8:00-9:30 (yes, classes started at 8:00) and had a class GPA of 1.0 (a D average). Math 102 included formal logic, and an early student of Claire’s gave the summary, “Logic isn’t logical!” Students were expected to (and sometimes did) memorize the statistics or calculus formulas they needed. INQ 240 is a very different statistics course, with projects and technology giving much-needed aid to the students.

The department was much smaller in 1984. Interestingly, both Ron Walpole and Bill Ergle had PhD’s in statistics. Ken Garren and Jane Ingram completed the big four faculty in math/stat, but by 1984 Ken had moved into the Dean’s office (eventually becoming President of Lynchburg College). Sue Glass and Susan Smith were full-time teachers; both, by the way, were outstanding tennis players. Physicists Lee Anthony and Jerry Adams had moved on, leaving Bob Hudson to fend for himself. Ron Walpole died suddenly in 1985, leaving the mathematics program also shorthanded. When I was hired in 1986, the department also hired mathematician Jeff Spielman, physicist Frank Munley, and computer scientist Patti Ollar. Almost half the department was new! Fortunately, MCSP is much more stable now.

Trexler was not new in 1984, but with fewer faculty there was more room. It just wasn’t usable, as much of it was devoted to storage of machine parts and physics equipment. One of Claire’s “office” assignments was at the end of a lab table, accessible only through careful navigation of stacked equipment. The room was kept very cold to keep condensation from raining onto the equipment. A later office was in a computer storage room, usable after shoveling off a space on a table. The rest of campus was not much better. If you taught in the basement of Miller, you had to be careful after a hard rain because the chalk trays would fill with water and turn the chalk into mud. Trout Hall was missing air conditioning and plumbing. A three-hour final exam could be a challenge on many levels.

Claire has weathered the cold offices, storage rooms, muddy chalk, and other calamities with her characteristic good humor. Facilities have improved, paperwork has expanded, and students have changed, but Claire continues to provide the same great service to Roanoke College.


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

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. […]

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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 […]

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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, […]

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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 […]

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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 […]

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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 […]

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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 […]

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