UNC Asheville’s Mathematics Department Sums Up Success
(October 29, 2013)
Average would not be a word used to describe the Mathematics Department at UNC Asheville. Faculty members teach across disciplines with courses in humanities, history, environmental studies, religious studies, the MLA Program and the honors program. Each year, several students go on to graduate programs in mathematics. Many students also choose other career paths, including culinary schools, divinity schools and graduate degrees in economics, psychology, computer science and engineering. And in 2013, the program graduated the highest percentage of math majors in the UNC system.
Of course, the department’s numbers do not stop with commencement. They are looking toward the future of mathematics in Asheville, engaging middle schools and high schools along with national experts and making sure students have the financial and intellectual support they need.
Most recently that support has come in the form of a $100,000 gift in honor of Jane Oliver Swafford, a nationally recognized math educator, who lives in Hendersonville. She retired from Illinois State University after 12 years there, where she chaired the mathematics department for five years, and she edited the seminal study of mathematics learning from the National Science Foundation, Adding It Up: Helping Children Learn Mathematics.
“I’m delighted to have a formal attachment to the Mathematics Department at UNC Asheville,” Swafford said. “I have spent my entire professional life in a mathematics department, so I miss being around mathematicians. The UNC Asheville mathematics faculty are not unlike those that I’ve known at other universities, except they do a better job of undergraduate programming than any other university I’ve been at, including the one that I’ve chaired.”
By the Numbers
Half of the $100,000 gift will go toward department programing, specifically for continuing the community Math Summit, offering additional public lectures, such as the popular Pi vs. e Debate, and sending students to regional and national conferences. The remaining $50,000 will establish an endowed scholarship for mathematics majors. Seniors Zoe Hamel from Sedan, France, and Georgia Mason from Richmond, V.T., have received the first awards for the fall semester.
“The scholarship is helping me pay for tuition, which is extra useful since I am an out-of-state student,” said Mason, who is taking three senior-level math classes and a special honors topics course called Evil Genius in the fall.
Hamel plans to use the funding to finish her degree, focus on undergraduate research and continue her success on the court. The women’s tennis player has earned the scholar-athlete award for the past two years.
“I am really excited about my undergraduate research on Pythagorean sequences with my advisor Dr. Bahls,” Hamel said. “It is dealing with number theory which is the subject I would like to specialize in when going to graduate school.”
Adding to the Degree
The mathematics degree from UNC Asheville prepares students for their next positions in a wide variety of careers and graduate programs. Because of the interdisciplinary nature of mathematics, the mathematics department graduates a large number of double majors and minors.
As Department Chair and Professor Dave Peifer explained, “I think of mathematics as a language. We are teaching more like the literature or language department, or even a foreign language like French or Spanish. We teach students how to speak quantitatively. Every discipline has the same quantitative side. If you go into chemistry, economics or business, there’s going to be a side that uses the standard deviation, the mean, the integral, the derivative. We are teaching them the language.”
That common denominator becomes recognizable to community members as well, as was the case with Swafford and her brother Jim Oliver, owner and founder of AvL Technologies, who sponsored the gift.
“The math department at UNC Asheville, with its liberal arts focus, is much bigger and much better than you would expect. The energy and passion of the department matches that of Jane,” he said. “I believe this will be a great combination”.
To learn more about mathematics at UNC Asheville, visit http://math.unca.edu/.