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

by minton on 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 this award, Gabe will be teaching English in Indonesia for a year. Gabe is multitalented, with a Business Administration major with Marketing concentration and a minor in Mathematics. He works for the IT and resource development departments on campus, and is also a photographer for the PR department. He did a semester abroad in New Zealand and spent his 2018 summer in Istanbul, Turkey teaching English. We know that Gabe will do great work and enjoy the journey.

Anika Holzer ’19 has been accepted into the Peace Corps. After graduating this May, Anika will start training for a two-year adventure in Tanzania teaching math. Anika’s diverse talents are reflected by her major in Art History and minor in Mathematics and singing with Oriana, as well as a semester abroad in Ireland and a Washington semester as an intern for Search for Common Ground. We wish Anika the best and thank her for her commitment to making the world a better place.

Past graduates have sent in exciting news.

Linnea Kremer ’17 has been accepted into the University of Chicago Ph.D. program in Medical Physics. After graduating from Roanoke, Linnea went to the University of Nottingham for a Masters in Medical Physics (and to play some football). Linnea was a Physics major at Roanoke.

Taylor Ferebee ’17 has been accepted into the Cornell Graduate Field of Computational Biology Ph.D. program. Taylor has been in the Masters program in Mathematical Sciences at Clemson University while working in a computational biology lab. Taylor was a Physics and Mathematics double major at Roanoke.

Morgan Elston ’15 has received her Masters degree in Mathematical Sciences from Clemson University. Morgan was a Mathematics major at Roanoke.

MCSP faculty continue to earn honors.

Mathematics professor Chris Lee has been named one of three Teaching Scholars for Roanoke College. This is a new award for faculty researching evidence-based best teaching practices, as Chris has been doing with mastery-based teaching. Congratulations to Chris!


Actuarial Science at Roanoke College is on the map! The program, in only its second year, has been certified by the Society of Actuaries and is one of only two schools (joining George Mason’s Masters program) in Virginia on the Universities and Colleges with Actuarial Programs (UCAP) list. Being on the UCAP list also puts us on the map of actuarial science programs at the Society of Actuaries website and is an important certification.


Fuzzy Memories

by minton on 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, is for the statement to be self-referential, almost a pun.

Jeff Spielman died on Sunday, March 10. He was a longtime colleague and friend. We worked together at Roanoke College for 28 years. My sadness over his passing is a longstanding sadness, as the intelligent and funny man I worked with for so long had been lost in dementia for several years.

In happier times, Jeff arrived at Roanoke the same year I did. He was hired as the senior mathematician, I as the junior. He thought that was quite funny for a few years, then we got old enough that neither of us wanted any kind of “senior” label. We were often mistaken for each other. Maybe all mathematicians with moustaches look alike. Together we got math majors doing independent studies, we got grants to do technology workshops for local high school teachers, and we reshaped the mathematics curriculum. We spent way too much time talking about sports.

Jeff brought exploratory data analysis into our traditional statistics courses and helped design a successful statistics concentration. But I remember him best for his “Dr. Fuzzy” persona. His hair could get curly when he needed a haircut, but the reason for the nickname (to be honest, this was not widely used) was his work with fuzzy logic. Years later, fuzzy logic is now known as a populist reworking of probability and not anything important mathematically. Back in the day, it was a hot new field used by various industries to solve difficult problems. Smart washing machines that responded to the amount of dirt in the water, control systems for ultrafast trains, and other complex systems were going to be transformed by fuzzy logic.

In fuzzy logic, a statement is not necessarily true or false. Each statement has a truth value. A statement like “Jeff loved the Pittsburgh Steelers” would have a truth value of 0.95 (almost completely true), while a statement like “The Steelers are lovable” might come in with a truth value of 0.1. The truth values are similar to probabilities, and make up the components of loosely phrased common sense rules like “If you are approaching a turn at high speed then slow down.” The mathematics of combining statements with logical operators AND, OR, and NOT is consistent and produces good results. Jeff taught courses, supervised independent studies, and gave talks on fuzzy logic.

Unfortunately, the statement “Jeff had good health” would not have a large truth value. He battled epilepsy as a child, and blamed years of epilepsy medicine for his later cognitive difficulties. Early in his Roanoke career he went into the hospital with kidney problems. Plans to remove the infected kidney were abandoned when it was found that he had been born with just one. Jeff always found the humor in these difficult situations. It was sometimes discomforting to hear him joke about such things, but in the end the truth value of “enjoy life while you can” has to be high. Keep smiling, Jeff.



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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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 […]

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On Beyond RC

December 7, 2018

What happens when you graduate from Roanoke College? You might be surprised what there is to be found once you go beyond RC and start poking around. Five recent MCSP grads shared their graduate school journeys on Friday, November 9. Taylor Ferebee, David Matheny, Thomas Lux, Damian Ream, and Anderson Lidz have a wide range […]

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Physics SPS wins the 2018 Blake Lilly Prize.

December 7, 2018

The Society of Physics Students (SPS) at Roanoke College has won the 2018 Blake Lilly Prize for outstanding science public outreach and awareness. This prestigious national recognition is bestowed upon only select few colleges nation-wide, about 10 or so, each year. The award letter from SPS National Council states “Members of the SPS National Council […]

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