Teachers of the Year

by Roland Minton on June 7, 2018

Blaire Conner (RC Math ’08) has earned the first Fauquier County Public School’s Superintendent’s Innovator of the Year award. County School Superintendent David Jeck cited Blaire as  “a teacher who demonstrates innovation, a true growth mindset, and a 21st century approach to instruction.” Blaire teaches at Liberty High School and is known for fun activities in her courses. In Blaire’s words, “Our students build catapults using popsicle sticks, clothespins, spoons, rubber bands, and tape. We then use those catapults to fling bright orange ping-pong balls. With a coordinate plane projected onto the wall, we use the slow motion video on our phones to record the ball in motion. Students then watch the video playback to record points the ball passed through on the coordinate plane. We then use these points to determine the equation of the quadratic curve of best fit that the ball traveled.” Blaire was one of our favorites at Roanoke College due to her sense of humor and passion for excellence. She completed her mathematics major while raising her son Braden and coaching cheerleading at Salem High School. Focusing all that energy into the classroom produces an award-winning teacher, who will continue to improve. She says, “The world, and therefore our students, are constantly changing. We owe it to them to change with them and to do whatever we can to help them to reach their goals and to be successful.” Congratulations, Blaire, and thanks for representing Roanoke College!

Susan Sine (RC Math ’88) has earned the 2017 Roanoke County Educator of the Year award from the Salem-Roanoke County Chamber of Commerce. Theresa Hartley, the school division’s mathematics coordinator, praised Sine’s dedication to her students, along with her love of math and fun lessons. “Susan is an outstanding math teacher,” Superintendent Greg Killough said in a news release. “She has helped countless numbers of students both in her classroom and beyond learn and excel in math.” Susan (then Mayorshi before marrying fellow math major Ken Sine) was in some of the first classes I taught at Roanoke College. She is another of my favorite students as an upbeat presence who made everybody around her better. She has clearly retained those wonderful traits.

The faculty in MCSP are here because we love teaching, and it is a special pleasure to see our graduates share the passion for learning that makes great teachers. We especially pride ourselves and innovation and constant growth, and we are proud to see those qualities so perfectly exemplified by Blaire and Susan.



Link to APS article on Liam Lambert


Physics and Mathematics double major, and a winner of 2018 Goldwater Scholarship in physics



Oh, The Words We Say!

by David Taylor on May 24, 2018

Physics Faculty and their favorite phrases painted on mementos presented by senior class 2018; from left to right: Dr. Matt Fleenor “Tangent Unavoided“, Dr. Dan Robb “That deserves a Starburst“, Dr. Jarrett Lancaster “Sup“, and Dr. Rama Bala “It’s just algebra

As faculty often do, we not only reflect on the impact we make on students’ learnings but also often wonder about what other things catch students’ attention. It turns out the ‘quirky’ phrases some of us use make a lasting impression more than we think. The 2018 graduating physics class captured some of those phrases in memorable mementos and presented it to us, during graduation reception. We know we are making a lasting impression on our students who not only remember what we teach, but how we teach, unusual phrases included. Now for the story behind how those phrases came to be.

“Tangent Unavoided” by Dr. Matt Fleenor

These shorts rants often entail some important application or some important piece of background information that currently adds to the topic at hand.  While the short, impassioned diatribe may be viewed by students as unimportant, it most certainly is essential.  This is especially true when I notice that one (or more) students have a rather confused (or bored) look on their faces.  Nothing to rescue boredom or confusion like a “tangent unavoided”.

Of course, there must also be a “tangent avoided”, which usually contains more peripheral associations that typically only I would understand (or, it would take a significant amount of time to explain).  Students much prefer these but it has been shown that there are many more tangents “unavoided” than “avoided”.

“That deserves a Starburst” by Dr. Dan Robb

The story behind it is that several years ago (I think while teaching Electrodynamics in Fall ’15) I decided to start rewarding especially good questions or especially insightful answers to questions I asked the class with a Starburst. The class definitely took to the idea, with some students aiming to earn Starbursts and other students actually deciding to turn them down because of a desire to pursue learning for its own sake and not a candy reward. They also came to decide as a group whether a certain question or answer was worthy of a Starburst or not — sometimes there was 30 seconds or so of debate about this! And that’s where the phrase “That deserves a Starburst” (decided by the class as a whole) came from. Overall, it’s made the atmosphere of the upper-level classes more fun, and so I’ve kept up with giving out Starburst over the past several years!

“Sup” by Dr. Jarrett Lancaster

It wasn’t until I talked to April (a 2018 graduate) that my message of “sup” made any sense. Since I didn’t teach the seniors (aside from 310) I’m most remembered for stumbling into the office (physics student lounge) and saying “what’s up?” to anyone unfortunate enough to be sitting around. It was actually really touching that I’m now immortalized with this inquisitive statement.

“It’s just Algebra” – Dr. Rama Bala

This phrase came about in one of the upper level physics courses, specifically in quantum mechanics course.  We were solving several complex wave function problems in that course. With so many mathematical expressions involved, I used the phrase “it is just Algebra” in order to alleviate the exasperation from solving those hard problems. While in the context of quantum mechanics this phrase has a mathematical connotation, it has deeper meaning for me.

To me this quote also represents a logical way to look at everything, not just physics problems or how nature works, but beyond that as well. It gives us the ability to solve problems and understand complex concepts and ideas, if we can break problems into smaller pieces, mathematical or otherwise, and solve them one by one. Then all we have do is to ‘add’ those solutions, until a big picture emerges. This, to me, represents the essence of physics, an ability to construct, deconstruct and reconstruct in order to understand the nature of things or issues, and to find appropriate solutions.


Stairwell to Heaven

April 25, 2018

There is a big surprise waiting for new users of the east Trexler stairwell between the second and third floors: it looks great! Jan Minton’s HNRS 241 Mathematics and Art class took on the project as part of their community engagement activity. The “grand opening” featured tea, cookies forming an M.C. Escher tiling (note the […]

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Using Statistics to Find Trends in Data – One Student’s Experience with Kaggle

April 18, 2018

One thing that really boggles my mind is how quickly the world has changed. Yes, I remember when computers were slowly becoming the norm in the home and at schools. In school, we had designated times when we could go to the computer lab and learn how to type (thanks, Mavis Beacon), play with Logo […]

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MCSP student Liam Lambert wins Goldwater scholarship

April 6, 2018

Who is Liam Lambert? –A Quantum Physicist’s ponderings William ‘Liam’ Lambert has won a Goldwater scholarship, one of the most prestigious prizes awarded to students for their academic excellence and commitment to research in the STEM disciplines. He is one of 211 recipients out of 1248 nationwide applicants this year. So, who is Liam Lambert? […]

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Hilarity and Pi-ety

March 26, 2018

  Pi Day was served cold this year, with a la snow on the side. The unseasonably cold weather did not deter the Math Club from its celebration of 3/14 and various things mathematical. The Pi-athlon was run with teams of students solving mathematical puzzles for points, with the goal of gaining as close to […]

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Sacred and Ephemeral

March 14, 2018

Sacred geometry has a long history, including Plato’s Academy (“Let no one enter who is ignorant of geometry.”) and the design of Washington D.C. (see Nicholas Mann’s book) … and several conspiracy theory books and movies. For Floyd artist Carolyn Deck, sacred geometry is a source of inspiration. She discussed this and her Smoyer Gallery […]

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Behind the Folds

March 5, 2018

An interest in mathematics can lead to amazing new experiences. For Jan Minton and her HNRS 241: Math and Art class, the new experience was a conversation with an award-winning documentary maker*. The documentary in question, titled Between the Folds, is about the wonderful world of origami. Vanessa Gould followed a winding path to her […]

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175! MCSP Student Research Gallery

February 15, 2018

Roanoke College recently concluded its celebration of its 175th year in existence. Another 175th  milestone has just been reached in the MCSP Department: 175 student research displays on the second floor of Trexler! To be clear, the gallery on the second floor does not currently display all 175 frames, just the 100 or so most […]

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