Plus Ca Change

by minton on July 28, 2021

The last year-plus has been an assault of covid-inspired change. We’ve masked up, gone online, and stayed remote while developing zoom and other skills we didn’t really want. But there have been some pluses to the changes: we proved that we are in fact capable of adapting, and we found new interests.

Even in non-pandemic times, college years can be a time of massive change in career goals, personal values, and friendships. This is often change for the better, representing growth and clarity rather then failure. While interviewing several students for the departmental podcasts, I heard several stories of change.

One of my questions for the students was how they chose Roanoke College. One student was interested in Virginia Tech and only visited Roanoke because if his parents were going to drive several hours they were going to see more than one school. Another student grew up an hour away and didn’t know there was a Roanoke College.

Once you’re here, the next step is to choose a major. One student who ended up in Actuarial Science had heard of the field in high school but thought it sounded boring.

Another student hated Physics in high school and ended up as a (can you guess?) Physics major.

And yet another planned on being a Physics major, but to her surprise liked Math better. Most of the students changed majors at least once, and were glad they did.

After finishing a major comes the serious part of entering a profession. Even right at graduation, intended professions are not always directly related to the major. A Physics and Math graduate is looking to law school. An Actuarial Science major is headed to Accountancy grad school. Another Actuarial Science major got a good look at the actuarial exams and is going into finance.

For him, this in no way represents failure.

The title for this piece is taken from the saying “Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose” in French which means the more things change the more they stay the same. But that’s not the moral of this story. The above stories represent progress. Change can be a plus. Finding the right path is not easy, and sometimes you have to try on multiple ideas to see what suits you best. Champions adjust.


Little ‘Bits

by minton on July 20, 2021

Growing up, one of my friends was the son of a mortician. He’s now the leader of The Ted Vaughn Blues Band. We were trumpet buddies in the band, and made jokes about everything, including his Dad’s ghoulish profession.

Years later, I was sitting in on an Honors Math and Art class listening to film maker Vanessa Gould discuss her documentary on the world of origami (Between the Folds) and her more recent documentary on The New York Times obituary writers (Obit). The subject of obituary writers struck me as ghoulish and probably boring, but Ms. Gould was wonderful in class and so I dutifully watched Obit … and loved it!

The writers who were profiled, a couple of whom were fairly eccentric, had the challenging task of hastily throwing together online research and phone interviews to produce a faithful and interesting summary of a person’s life work. In the process, they invariably developed an admiration for and even love for their subjects. Although I had never thought of my own work as obituary-related, this is exactly what I had been trying to do with pieces for the department newsletter and blog.

A November 2014 blog article on Al Bayse illustrates the pleasure in writing such articles. I knew nothing about Bayse other than a rumor that one of our graduates had become an assistant director of the FBI. I got some information courtesy of College Archivist Linda Miller, and then stumbled onto several online (recently declassified) descriptions of Bayse’s work and personality. It all fit together into a cohesive picture of a highly successful and likable man. The published article prompted comments from relatives and co-workers that further cemented our “friendship” and capped a great experience.

Much to my surprise, it turns out that I enjoy writing obituaries, intimate reflections on life that try to do honor to a friend. However, I much prefer doing such pieces on the living (e.g., graduating seniors)! Check out Vanessa Gould’s documentary Obit and the podcast Mobituaries for interesting takes on the obituary. The book Obit by Jim Sheeler has several wonderful little life stories. Here’s a short list of my pieces on the deceased and living.
Al Bayse; Bob Hudson; Emery Wade; Bill Brubaker; Dick Minnix; Jane Ingram; Jeff Spielman; Bill Ergle;
Eric Lee; Megan Wheeler; Agnes Handal; David Moreau; Emma Blair


Eric Lee and Actuarial Science Secrets

by minton on May 18, 2021

Eric Lee is graduating as Roanoke College valedictorian with a major in Actuarial Science (Honors in the Major), and a minor in Economics. Impressive, yes, but that only begins to scratch the surface of what Eric has accomplished at Roanoke. He sang in the choir, going to France with the choir to sing at Normandy on the 75th anniversary of D-Day. He is an impressive pianist, performing as accompanist for a Theatre Roanoke musical. And he passed exams P, FM, and IFM!

In case that last line did not provoke awe, you should know that the actuary profession is always one of the top-rated jobs in terms of working conditions, salary, and stability. Actuary science is the science of risk, studying data to predict the future and manage financial strategies (e.g., insurance companies setting rates). Entry to the actuary profession is restricted through exams administered by the Society of Actuaries. Our major at Roanoke College is designed to help students prepare to pass the first two exams, on Probability and Financial Mathematics. Pass those two exams and throw in an internship experience and you are highly marketable!

Eric passed those two exams, which helped him land a very prestigious internship with Willis Towers Watson in summer 2020. He then passed a third exam on Investment and Financial Markets, which earned him a job as an actuarial analyst at Geico. The internship and job would be impressive in a normal year; it is spectacular in COVID times, and is due in large part to Eric’s success on the exams.

What is Eric’s secret? I asked him in an interview:

So don’t let the gecko tell you that 15 minutes will do it! You might wonder if all of that work is worth it. Here is Eric’s answer.

You can hear more of Eric’s interview at this link.

Congratulations to Eric for his accomplishments, which make us all very proud. We wish him the best as he starts what we are sure will be a highly successful career and life!

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Megan Wheeler and Sports Analytics Secrets

May 15, 2021

Megan Wheeler is the first person to graduate Roanoke College with a concentration in Sports Analytics. The concentration is an interdisciplinary mix of sports management (Megan’s major), statistics (another concentration for Megan), and computer science. The concentration provides a background for students who might want to pursue a career in sports analytics. For more information […]

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See RC Math Books Grow!

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 […]

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Karin Saoub Receives High Honor!

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 […]

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Bill Ergle, RC Legend

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 […]

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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 […]

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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  

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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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