A Top Trio

by minton on May 3, 2022

ZZ Top and the Eliminator

Depending on your age and musical tastes, you may remember the great ZZ Top music videos from the 1980s. ZZ Top, a three-piece blues band from Texas, created a sensation with fast-paced videos featuring a hot rod, hot actors, hot songs, and spinning guitars. The two guitarists in ZZ Top featured long-flowing beards. The drummer, clean-shaven, is a Beard (Frank Beard, to be exact).

Spinning Guitars

While not especially musical, the Roanoke College trio of Jake, Claire, and Sean have rocked the Roanoke campus in various ways. Echoing ZZ Top, Jake and Sean are very Beardsley and Claire is a Beard.

Claire Beard, Jake Beardsley, Sean Beardsley

Their paths to Roanoke were quite different. Jake and Sean are brothers from Bakersfield, California, with Jake being two years older. Jake wanted to shed the West Coast for college, so he and his Dad made an eastern swing that brought them to Harvard, Brown, Penn, Washington and Lee, and Roanoke, among others. If you think that one of those schools is not like the others, you’re right – Roanoke was the only one with a sports analytics program. Roanoke (the city) also has Star City Games, a huge Magic: the Gathering retail store. Jake is a national-caliber player. Those other schools never had a chance. Claire was not especially interested in the college search process, and was fine with Bridgewater until her Mom put Roanoke on the must-see list and she had a good campus visit. Sean knew about Roanoke through Jake, and loved the place when he came on an official visit. He is also a big Magic: the Gathering player.

Sean’s first year was our full-covid year. He was on campus, to get acclimated to college life and to establish an identity beyond being Jake’s little brother. Jake, interestingly, was not on campus. He and Claire were in California, struggling with 5:30 jogging and physics classes, respectively. They had connected in their first year at Roanoke as project partners in their INQ 120 class. Work on the project and several trips down YouTube rabbit holes revealed a variety of shared interests and a common sense of humor and outlook on life.

Claire and Jake have been heavily involved in research at Roanoke. Claire was one of Dr. Jorgensen’s favorite student researchers on respiratory systems in lobsters. Jake did a series of projects with Dr. Childers on basketball analytics. Despite the pandemic, Jake presented his work at several conferences.

Jake was an invaluable member of Stat Crew, where I got to know him best. In his first semester, we were in the press box for a soccer game. Roanoke was not playing well, and Jake had several humorous (possibly snarky) comments on their mistakes. I was a little uneasy about this, as both Scott Allison (athletic director and Hall of Fame soccer coach) and Mike Maxey were also in the booth. I ran into both of them in the next week, and was relieved to hear that they both thought Jake was hilarious and a great guy. Later on, we were in the baseball press box getting training on the high-tech TrackMan system, which I pointed out would show the exact location of a pitch and possibly indicate how bad of a call the umpire had just made. Remembering who was in the booth, I said, “By the way, nobody in Stat Crew has ever been thrown out of a game” to which Jake immediately replied, “That sounds like a challenge!” We always had a great time at the games.

Jake in his Stat Crew shirt and research poster

Looking back on my conversation with Jake, Claire, and Sean for this article, my main thought is that this is what college should be like. We covered multiple topics, relevant to anything or not, laughed frequently (Me: What was the best thing about Roanoke? And the worst thing? Claire points at Jake and says: Both!), made some thoughtful statements (Claire on posting class notes online when we were remote: “It helped with grades, I think. It didn’t help with learning.”), and some provocative statements (some about being in STEM majors and taking HNRS or INQ courses, some about not getting credit for labs, some about Division III sports referees). Challenging, unique, enjoyable: the intellectual life at its best.

ZZ Top waves goodbye

In the ZZ Top videos, the heroes drive the hot rod off into the sunset while the ZZ Top beards wave goodbye. It is always a little sad when our favorite graduates hop into their hot rod and drive away, but in this case none of our three heroes are going far away. Jake is in the Ph.D. statistics program at Virginia Tech, Claire will be at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute in Roanoke, and Sean will be back at Roanoke College after working for Grimmway Farms in their IT department. Jake has said that his eventual career goal is to be a college professor; in particular, at Roanoke College running Stat Crew. Now that is a good Hollywood ending.

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!

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 https://roanoke.prestosports.com/sports/mswim/2019-20/releases/20200709ho6b85  

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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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