Statement on Service (complete version)
President Ross, distinguished members of the Board, friends,
thank you for supporting community service.
I am flattered and thrilled to receive this award.
I am especially grateful to the committee
and to Bart Corgnati and Thomas Todd for their work on this event.
Also, a special thanks to Shari Dunn and Leslie Zenk, at UNC Charlotte, who helped put the nomination together.
The timing of this event is terrific.
I'll be 70 on Sunday.
Thank you for this great birthday party!
Service is not a unilateral activity.
For some activities, it takes a community.
Fortunately for me, my UNC Charlotte career has been
carried out in an environment that encouraged, enabled,
and rewarded my efforts.
I want to thank all four chancellors, Dean Colvard, E. K. Fretwell, Jim Woodward, and Phil Dubois,
Provosts, and Miss Bonnie Cone, UNC Charlotte founder,
all of whom embraced my outreach efforts.
Remember Bonnie Cone was also a math teacher. Long after her retirement, she came to our high school math contest, congratulated winners, and helped us present the Bonnie Cone rotating trophy to the winning school.
Chancellor E K Fretwell came to the first such contest and passed out ice cream to all participants. I started calling him I C Fretwell.
My dean Nancy Gutierrez and my chairman Alan Dow realized that my work in math clubs, math camps, contests, and festivals promoted the long-term interests of the university.
The mathematics community lost a giant last August. Topologist William Thurston died.
On a personal level, Bill Thurston was my daughter's mathematical grandfather. Thurston's student Benson Farb was Ashley's PhD mentor at University of Chicago.
Also, Thurston was married to a UNC Charlotte math department graduate.
But what I recalled as I read the obituary in the New York Times was the paper on math education he published in 1990.
I had begun to get calls from frustrated parents asking advice about
acceleration versus enrichment,
calculus versus discrete math,
problem solving versus theory building.
I didn't have any good answers.
I studied Thurston's paper avidly and came away with a confidence that enabled me to work with parents, educators and students of all ages.
Having reread the essay, I can tell you that it is just as relevant today
Thurston made three important points
First ---There is too little communication among curriculum developers, university mathematicians, and teachers of that curriculum.
Second --- The curriculum is too tall and spindly, not nearly broad enough or deep enough to support advanced mathematics, and
Third --- There is too much dependence on high stakes testing, often resulting in teaching designed to increase test scores at the expense of understanding.
From this essay and from early work with math club children, I realized that university faculty members are uniquely qualified to help precocious, enthusiastic students broaden and deepen their mathematical development.
By the way, I still get calls from frustrated parents, but now things are different. There are many opportunities available for ambitious students: Art of Problem Solving, Beast Academy, Davidson Young Scholars, Epsilon Camp, and Life of Fred books, and math circles throughout the United States including our own Charlotte Math Club and Mecklenburg Math Club, among others.
Without the contributions of many North Carolinians, activities like teacher circles, math clubs, and math festivals would not have been possible.
Tom Bradbury, for many years an associate editor of the Charlotte Observer, made the community aware that mathematics is not a spectator sport.
Tom was one of the strongest advocates for education I ever met.
Once he spent an afternoon in my office with me and four high school math clubbers, all taking advanced courses at UNCC.
He was taken by the similarities with sports, and likened our session to a pregame pep talk.
He wrote an editorial piece - Work is Key.
In a visit to the Mecklenburg Math Club - grades 4-6, we expected 30 students, but more than 100 showed up.
What a zoo!
But Tom loved it and over the years wrote wonderful editorials
Math for Fun and Missionary for Mathematics.
He died a year or so ago. I miss him and Charlotte does, too.
Another, Dale Halton - Mrs Pepsi - UNCC Halton Arena.
During the early years of the Mecklenburg Math Club, she quietly provided some funding.
But what I remember best is the motivational note that usually accompanied the sometimes-unsolicited check.
Once she said that she wished there had been a person like me around when, as a child, she did well at mathematics, but she failed to catch the fire she knew the kids at the math club caught.
Also, Dr. Sam Houston, director of the Burroughs/Welcome STEM center.
Sam funded three projects that address Thurston's communication problems:
Charlotte Teachers' Circle, enhancing communication between teachers and university faculty,
a coaches' workshop that John Goebel of Durham directed
and, following a fact-finding trip to Singapore, Sam returned with an invitation to NC math educators to organize high school mathematical modelers to participate in the first Singapore International Math Challenge.
John Goebel, Randy Harter of Buncombe County and I headed the delegation of 30, which included five teams.
Former student Michael Pillsbury is now a teacher at Randolph Middle. Mike, like me, will be the first to admit to modest mathematical talent. Yet using Tom Bradbury's idea - Work is Key, a great attitude, and a magnetic personality, Mike has a wonderful influence on students and teachers locally and across the state. Mike and I continue to collaborate on several projects.
I have many students to thank for this award.
Three of these, Akira Negi, Nathan Bronson, and Scott Harrington were among the first high school students taking courses at UNC Charlotte. I called them 'my three sons.' My wife and I took them to the university ACM programming contest in Auburn, Alabama. Most teams had 2 undergraduates and one graduate student. Our group of three world-class problems solvers with two code-writers beat all but one of the teams (can I say it here?, Duke). On the way down, I asked the kids how they would solve a problem that had come up that day in my graph theory class. They didn't make much progress, so I gave them a solution. Lo and behold, that problem was on the contest. I was sure they would nail it. Later when I asked how they'd solved it, two deferred to the third, who explained his solution. It was nothing like what I'd told them. 'Why didn't you use my solution, I protested.' Well, the two said, 'Nate was asleep when you told us. He solved the problem.' I learned that my job was to drive the vehicle, not coach the programming.
There has been over many years a chain of fabulous code writers in the club, and each it seems to have mentored younger ones. Many were homeschooled. It started with the above mentioned Scott Harrington and Nathan Bronson (PhD in Computer Science, Stanford University) who came to the club as an 8th grader. After spending a year with his missionary parents in Togo where he learned programming, he returned to Charlotte, and as a high school senior, won a gold medal at the International Olympiad in Informatics (IOI). We had the training session in Charlotte, and we included a younger student Brian Dean, who later won a silver IOI medal himself, and much later became director of the United States' IOI program. Brian, who earned the PhD at MIT, is a professor of computer science at Clemson. A contemporary of Brian is Garrett Mitchener, another excellent programmer (PhD Princeton University in applied mathematics). Ryan Vinroot, Garrett's and Brian's peer is a math professor at the College of William and Mary.
Then came Joseph Schaeffer, who recently earned the PhD in computing at Cal Tech. Not long after Joseph came Anders Kaseorg, yet another international gold medal winner. A few years later David 'Drew' Boyuka came along having been mentored by Anders, and himself mentoring several younger kids including Brendan Fletcher, another star programmer. Brendan, like several his predecessors took the discrete math course at UNC Charlotte while still in middle school.
I also want to thank my long-time collaborator Arthur Holshouser. Wonderfully self-taught mathematician, researcher and problem solver, at nearly 70, Arthur maintains great energy for mathematics, doing Bradbury's Math for fun all day, 24/7, while he takes his daily 12 mile hike. My life is much richer because of Arthur. My collaborators at Charlotte Math Club have been for nearly 20 years Stephen Davis of Davidson College and Susan Schaeffer. Recently Carl Yerger, Michael Pillsbury, and Elizabeth Keady have joined our group of regular volunteers.
There is one more person I would like to thank, my wife Betty Baker Reiter. For nearly 50 years Betty has quietly guided, encouraged, and brain-stormed projects with me. Betty, I accept this award for both of us.
How many of you can name the units digit of 3 to the 2012 power? This week I had a conversation with a first grader who could. That day his homework was to count backwards by 10s from 50 to 10. He didn't want to bother.
A little 6 year old friend told me that he could name a fraction between one half and two thirds. 'Five ninths' was his almost instant reply. Before I could ask why, he continued 'because five ninths is bigger than five tenths and five ninths is less than six ninths.'
It was a 10 year old who told me that the realtor's rule of 72 was really the rule of 69.2. He was right.
In August I had an 11 year old tell me how to get a formula for the nth Lucas number out of Binet's formula for the nth Fibonacci number. Where else but with a mathematician could a child like that have had that conversation?
For every student in this category, there are hundreds with average talent who can nevertheless catch fire. We see that every year at the Julia Robinson Festival. That's what keeps me going.