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    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

Math Geek Mom: Finding a New Equilibrium
May 1, 2014 - 5:40pm

One of the first topics studied in a Principles of Economics course involves the shifting of curves. Downward sloping demand curves (price and quantity values at which consumers are willing to purchase goods) and upward sloping supply curves (combinations of price and quantity at which suppliers are willing to offer goods) are united in an equilibrium where there is no pressure for the price to change. These relationships are often presented as straight lines that shift up and down or back and forth. I found myself thinking of this the other day as I saw a large crane lifting a huge beam (downward or upward sloping- it wasn’t clear) from what was once our swimming pool. I realized that the demolition that is finally happening on campus is only one piece of our school’s effort to find a new equilibrium after the destruction that occurred last summer.

Even before the tornado tore through our campus in late July of last year, changes were in on the way. We had just been accepted to Division II of the NCAA, an accomplishment that puts us in the company of only a few other women focused colleges that have attained this status. We joined a conference that includes schools from throughout the Midwest, and so our students would travel out of state to play games. That was just the start of the changes that were in store for us this year. We were incredibly proud of our acceptance, and our president was even heard wishfully saying that now she just wished she could have a new gym to go with our new status. As she likes to joke now, apparently God heard her.

When the tornado destroyed the gym and pool, it became necessary to travel not only to games, but also to practices held in neighboring schools. I was incredibly impressed at how well my students did juggling their work and their commitment to sports. While they sometimes came home from a weekend of travel tired and frazzled, they always seemed to keep their schoolwork as a priority. I recall the phrase I have heard many times; “if you want something done, give it to a busy person.” My students were certainly busy people this year.

Despite needing to do this again next year, the end is in sight. Plans are made to build a new (amazing) gym and a new academic building that had been made before the tornado struck. After a year of having a broken gym exposed to the elements (leading to a wonderful picture of a Christmas tree in the midst of rubble,) construction on the new buildings has begun. This has led to the (temporary, we hope) relocation of the math department so that changes in the STEM building can be put into effect. Although we like our new offices, we hope to move back with our STEM colleagues when the dust settles.

The Biology department intends to study the process by which the woods that were damaged by the tornado are slowly re-claimed by nature, perhaps incorporating this into an environmental studies concentration. While the athletic departments are currently housed in portable structures, the students look forward to the days when they can once again point to a more permanent building as the home for their athletic lives. Right now, plans have the construction being completed in the spring of 2015, about a year from now. When I hear that, I recall the advice that a fellow graduate student gave about interviewing for academic jobs; “when they ask you when you will be done with your dissertation, look them straight in the eyes and confidently say ‘June’.” We all know that plans can change, as they did for me, and do for many others on the academic job market.

When people die, those around the survivors often talk about working to find a “new normal.” It has taken us most of this academic year to make this progress in finding one.  As I see cranes move beams and walls from what used to be our gym, I suspect that we are well on the way to moving to such a new equilibrium.


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