• Mama PhD

    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.


Math Geek Mom: Welcome Back!

A changing world.

March 17, 2016

I sometimes am greeted by strange looks when I say that I have my students dance in one of my math courses. Combining an experience of the proprioceptive sense (which tells you where you are located in space) with that of the visual sense gives, I believe, an entirely new way of understanding concepts. I illustrate this by facing the person for a second, then turning completely around to face them again. I explain that what I have done is, in essence, identical to the act of adding zero to a number or multiplying a number by one. I found myself thinking of this recently as I learned that cicadas which have been living underground for the past seventeen years will very soon be emerging in the Eastern United States, including the Eastern portion of Ohio where I live. They, like me when I turned completely around, will be returning to places they had left. However, unlike me, this return will not be to exactly the same place they had once known.

It has been seventeen years since this last happened, and the world has changed greatly in that time. Seventeen years ago, hardly anyone knew who the Taliban or Al Qaeda and certainly, ISIS were, Pluto was still officially a planet and Donald Trump was just a real estate developer in New York City and Atlantic City, New Jersey. A man named Bush was running for president, but he did not write his first name with an exclamation point. A visitor flying into New York City would descend into that city after passing two huge skyscrapers that dominated the skyline, and computers, usually on a desk, were running Windows 2000, the most advanced operating system yet. Dates were written beginning with the number nineteen, although there was a growing fear of what would happen when dates would begin to be written as two thousand and something. Surely, all of our computer systems that were set up to assume that the first two digits of a date were nineteen would crash at midnight as the millennium changed, and it appeared we had returned to 1900!

In higher education, we had yet to learn of the coming “disruption” from MOOCS and almost all colleges or universities were incorporated as nonprofit organizations. On our own campus, there were five less buildings than we have today, and sports participation in intercollegiate sports was a new experience just beginning to be offered to students. Those new athletes, of course, played and practiced in an aging gym that had been built for intermural sports many years earlier. Financial considerations prevented anyone from even suggesting that it would be nice to have a new gym someday.

I was an untenured Assistant Professor who was also serving as chair of my department, which is not a combination I would recommend to anyone. We had yet to move to our current home, and my husband, working as a public defender, had yet to hang out a “shingle” for his own law firm. We had no children, and were just starting to take the steps necessary to adopt.

The people in my life were very different, as my daughter had not yet joined us, and my mother, my sister and my grandmother were still alive. My sister was just starting to date the man who would become her husband and father to her two children. I did not yet know the word “cholangiocarcinoma,” the horrible cancer that took my sister’s life when she was much too young.

If I could talk to one of the emerging cicadas, I would tell it that it had missed some very exciting and, at times, very scary, years while living underground. I wonder if it would recognize the world it is returning to.

And so, I ask my readers, how has your world changed in the last seventeen years, and, perhaps more importantly, what do you expect it to look like in seventeen more years, in 2033?


                                Wishing all of my readers who celebrate Easter a happy and holy holiday!




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