Spring 2008 • Volume 14, Issue 2
‘Go figure’ with these professors
Do symbols for infinity and pi look like hieroglyphics? Does the plus sign look like a “t” and a zero look like an “O”? Thanks to professors like Dr. Gerald Jungck and Mary Jane Sterling, students see the complexities of mathematics unravel as they experience “aha” moments. Jungck, who has taught at Bradley since 1959, was recently awarded a Caterpillar professorship of mathematics. Caterpillar professorships recognize and award the highest level of scholarship among faculty. Sterling’s ability to explain complicated mathematics in simpler terms has made her a prolific author in the popular yellow books known as the “For Dummies” series.
The beauty of math
As a young man returning from the service, I went to college and began to learn this language called mathematics,” Jungck says. “In a sense,” he says, “each number is a word, each calculation a sentence.
He continues, “In teaching, we like to see a logical progression of the development of mathematics. We see the theory develop naturally, and that naturalness is echoed in applications to the physical world.
Topology is Jungck’s specialty. “In most areas of mathematics, we deal with distance and proximity to help define our structures. In topology, we throw away distance and use sets to define structures. Topology looks at some of the most abstract settings you encounter in mathematics, so as to obtain a broader scope of applicability.
Jungck comments, “The typical person is not as math-oriented as I would like. I want students to see the structure behind math so they know what they’re doing. The ever-present question is, ‘Why?’. As they learn this, they gain an appreciation for the beauty of the structure and to some degree, the inevitability of the structure. Part of the process is ascertaining the inevitability.
“Most students who have become excited about mathematics see the beauty in mathematics and how they themselves can add to that beauty with their God-given talents,” Jungck adds. “Mathematics almost seems to coalesce with nature.
The simplicity of math
Mary Jane Sterling, lecturer in mathematics, explains math concepts in ways that make them comprehensible for even the most math-phobic person. That ability has been the foundation for her successful venture into writing math-based books for the popular “For Dummies” series.
Algebra for Dummies was published in 2001, followed by Trigonometry for Dummies and Algebra II for Dummies. Released in November 2007, Math Word Problems for Dummies is Sterling’s most recent book. In addition, she has written workbooks and study solvers, which are a cross between workbooks and tests. Three of her books have been published in German, as well. She currently is working on Business Math for Dummies.
Sterling has reviewed and edited math books for years. After she edited GED and GRE workbooks for a publishing company, an editor approached her about writing a “For Dummies” book.
“I came up with a table of contents and sample chapter. I had to use their lingo. They have a 15-page standard style sheet that tells how to word everything, she says, noting books must be written in about 24 weeks.
Asked how her teaching strategies have helped with writing the “For Dummies” books, Sterling says, “Over the years, I’ve found what works best to explain concepts. I like to use humor. At first, students don’t know what to think of me. I try to work in real-life examples. After I introduce a concept, I try to boil it down to the real basics. If you can engage students, you’re halfway there.”
National Geographic photo award; Professor in national media; Campus construction | Math professors | Artist Bill Hardin | Cooking up laughs; December grads; BU placement statistics | ILR Pacific Northwest trip; Fulbright experience
The Mathematical Association of America awarded a Certificate of Meritorious Service to Dr. Herb Kasube, associate professor of mathematics, at its joint meeting with the American Mathematical Society in San Diego on January 7.
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