Times
Three
The
InCommon Profile
Mathematics and Computer Science has more
new blood than any other department on campus.
Sylvia Forman joined the math faculty in
2001, and this year saw the arrival of Michael Fraboni and
Gordon Williams. The computer science end of the department
also welcomed a new professor last year, Stephen Corbesero,
which makes for four junior and four senior faculty members
in this busy section of the Priscilla Payne Hurd Academic
Complex, where they have their offices.
The three assistant professors of mathematics
represent geographical diversity: Pennsylvania, the Midwest,
and the West Coast. Mike attended the University of Scranton
as an undergraduate and got his Ph.D. from Lehigh University.
Sylvia’s undergraduate studies were at Knox College
in Galesburg, Ill., and her doctorate is from the University
of Iowa; and Gordon, who started out in New England (Hampshire
College and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst) went
out to the University of Washington for his Ph.D.
They follow department custom in having married
people who speak the same language. Alicia Sevilla, the department
chair, is married to Clifford Queen, an associate professor
of mathematics at Lehigh University; Kay Somers’ husband,
Bruce, is an engineer, so he’s fluent in math, too.
Sylvia’s husband, Sean, teaches math
at St. Joseph’s University, and they live in Philadelphia.
Gordon’s wife, Leah BermanWilliams, teaches math at
Ursinus College (which happens to be
Kay Somers’ alma mater) and they live in Collegeville,
northwest of Philadelphia, with their “insanely energetic”
dog, Jasper. And Mike’s wife, Trisha Moller, is finishing
her doctorate in math at Lehigh.
Mike taught for several terms at Moravian
as an adjunct while he was working on his doctorate. Now
that
he’s gotten it and has become an assistant professor,
he and Trisha have moved from the south to the west side of
Bethlehem. “I’ve shortened my commute,” he
jokes.
It’s not all that unusual to find life
partners in the same or a closely related field. After all,
if you don’t marry your high school sweetheart, you’re
more likely to start hanging around with people in your own
subject the longer you stay in school. But all three math
professors admit: “It’s hard to find somebody
who understands” what they do.
Even so, they don’t sit around home
tossing problems at their spouses. “Everyone always
says, ‘Do you talk about math at home?’ ”
Sylvia says. “I’ve learned more about baseball
than Sean has about my field.”
Gordon
and his wife are writing a paper together, but it’s
because they have the same adviser. “That made
it easier to get started,” he says. (Leah also
makes a wonderful raspberry pie, which she labeled p
at the math department
TGIF party in February.)
How they got into math differs. Sylvia
planned to major in biology and become a nutritionist.
Mike thought he might be a physical therapist
or a doctor, but he took a course in chaos theory as an undergraduate,
and “that did it for me.”
All three work in
areas far more rarefied than what they teach. Two of
Sylvia’s articles on commutative rings are in
the pipeline for publication. Gordon recently has delivered
two talks on Petrie schemes, which are not fraudulent
investment
opportunities but unusual polyhedra and polytopes. (Lucky
for him, he inherited Doris Schattschneider’s collection
of polyhedra when he moved into her office.) Mike makes
sense
of “qconvexity properties of coverings of complex
manifolds.”
What they teach is calculus, statistics,
abstract algebra, mathematical structures and proof, differential
equations, complex variables. All this sounds like pretty
abstruse stuff to the numerically challenged, but it’s
basic material to those who think in mathematical constructs.
“What you learn in high school isn’t
real math,” Sylvia says. “It’s tools. It’s
the grammar.”
“It’s more like parsing a sentence
than it is English lit.,” says Gordon. “If you’re
still struggling to put a sentence together in English, it’s
hard to understand a pun.”
Teaching the basics keeps them fluent in
the vocabulary and alert for that alltoocommon undergraduate
disease, mathophobia. “Your students have lots of baggage,”
Gordon says.
You’re definitely switching gears,”
says Mike. “I don’t find it difficult, personally,
and I like explaining things to students.”
Math at an undergraduate institution like Moravian is, first,
a fundamental subject for prospective elementary and middleschool
teachers; second, a service subject to other majors, such
as business, physics, and biology. Sylvia is supervising an
independentstudy project on knot theory, which has many applications
to the sciences, especially as it affects the possibilities
of DNA structures and organic chemistry molecules.
Complex variables, one of Mike’s subjects,
helps designers of objects with complicated skins, from aircraft
to the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, break down the
surfaces into the sum of all their smaller units.
Gordon is working with Gerard Maynard, assistant
professor of art, to revise the syllabus and methods for “Mathematics
for Design,” to help art students improve their capacity
for abstraction and for visual logic. (Along the same lines,
Fred Schultheis, associate professor of mathematics, studied
math and music at last summer’s math association meeting.
His knowledge may come in useful to students of orchestration
or acoustics.)
Sylvia is active in the faculty reading group,
which this year is pursuing the topic of “Risk”
in the sciences, economics, art, psychology, and literature.
And Gordon is helping the campus community confront the issue
of war with Iraq by organizing a forum for debate and discussion
on Thursday, February 13.
They’re so normal—but the stereotypes
persist. Everybody knows that mathematician John Forbes Nash
of A Beautiful Mind lost his. And in David Auburn’s
Pulitzer Prizewinning play, Proof, both mathematical geniuses,
father and daughter, suffer from mental illness. Mike asks:
“Why does every popular depiction of mathematics show
people going nuts?”

