When I describe Calculus to my students, I explain that it is the part of math that studies change. The change in location, of speed, or the number of bacteria in a petri dish; these are all topics covered in Calculus. Change has become a constant companion on our campus this past year, and such change has come home as the Math department prepares to move its offices in the next week.
When a tornado tore through our campus in late July of last year, it affected almost everyone. Most inconvenienced were the athletes, who now had to travel to practice at neighboring schools. The Math and Science building had large broken windows and bits of glass impaled in facing hallway walls. The roofs of buildings needed to be repaired before anyone could re-enter them, and plans for a new building were severely altered as money needed to be raised to replace the gym that was destroyed. And that was just in the first month or two. Little by little, changes were made on campus to adjust to the “new normal” that we all had to live with. Classrooms would be converted to lab space, offices moved, and detailed plans altered. Through most of this the Mathematics department stood by, watching. And then, last week, the last domino fell.
The math department would be moved to make way for changes that partially arose from the aftermath of the tornado. We will spend our spring break moving, and are doing so in hopes that we will someday return to what has been, for years, the Math and Science building. As I prepare to (temporarily, I hope) leave my science colleagues, I found myself thinking of the role of science in our lives as I watched my daughter and some friends from the neighborhood play at what they called “Myth Busters.”
Large piles of snow rest at the ends of most of the driveways on our street, and the neighborhood children have found that they are ideal for play. One day they become forts in snowball fights, and another day they become hills for sledding. The latter was the case last weekend.
I only half noticed the children gathering at the end of my driveway that day. I saw that they were sledding off the snow, and that they were using every sled they could find; saucers, traditional sleds and a new cool sled that my daughter received for Christmas a few years ago. There was even a broken old wagon that they were using to sled on. (OK, I realize now that I should have probably gone out and told them not to sled on the wagon.) They went up the hill and slid down, sometime alone, sometimes with others, and sometimes kneeling or standing. Curious, I asked my daughter what they were doing once the crowd dispersed for dinner.
My daughter seemed rather excited to tell me that they were playing “Myth Busters” and were trying to see which type of sled worked the best. They compared how the sleds performed with children of different weights and different total weights, sitting, kneeling and standing (Oh no- more danger- where WAS your mother?!?) I smiled when she told me about adding her weight to a total, because I am sure that she did not take into account the recent growth spurt she has been going through. Still, I was proud that she had discovered the joy of the scientific method, and wanted to encourage her enjoyment of discovery. It is a joy that is central to my professional life.
I have spent my time here working closely with the science faculty and their students. I teach Calculus to the pre-med students and statistics to science and nursing majors. I advise Biology students on statistics as they write senior research projects, and helped take a re-designed physics class through Curriculum Committee. Although I am a social scientist, I have begun to think of myself simply as a scientist.
I know that in some ways, my move to another part of campus is a positive thing. The offices are newer and freshly painted and rumor has it that that HVAC system there actually keeps them at comfortable temperatures all year long. However, I will miss being around the science faculty, even as I look forward to meeting new faculty members.
And of course, change can be hard. Except, that is, for the change to Daylight Savings Time that occurs this weekend. As the snow piles melt, it brings with it a promise of spring after a particularly brutal winter.