Recently, as we were studying probability in my Statistics class, a student asked me about the use of probability in math and economics. Actually “where will we ever use this?” might be a better way of explaining what was asked. I explained that probability is the foundation of all of statistics, and that economists, whose field is based on statistics, also use probability to study decisions made under uncertainty, when the best one can do is maximize profit or utility given the expected value of the outcome of a choice. One of the best examples of this is found in the study of how an insurance company sets the rates it charges customers. As many of us know, people with many traffic citations are often charged more for auto insurance than are those without any, since those who have had accidents or tickets are seen as higher risks for the company to insure. This is also why the issue of pre-existing conditions was so important in the recent overhaul of health insurance, as it was customary for those with medical conditions to be denied access to insurance or to be charged more for insurance, since they were seen as greater risks for expensive illnesses in the future. I found myself thinking of this as I opened the newspaper a few days ago to see a picture of the destruction on Ursuline’s campus only hours after the tornado tore through it in late July of last year. It seems that after months of negotiations, Ursuline College has come to a settlement  with the insurance company. We now can continue the process of rebuilding our picturesque campus.
Although we are sad that the construction (temporarily, we hope) displaced the Math department’s offices, I must admit that the new buildings  that will soon be springing up on campus look amazing. The new gym will be one worthy of our new-found NCAA Division II status, and the new building for the Creative and Healing Arts and Sciences will be a joy to have on campus. However, although the college has reached a settlement with the insurance company, it seems that quite a bit of money still needs to be raised. Some of the money was given to us long before the tornado, by donors who wanted to be part of the important role that Ursuline College plays in the healing professions in the Cleveland area. Indeed, it is currently the case that our Nursing School is the part of the college that is most recognizable to the general public. Alas, the Math major is not (yet!) the major that draws the most students to Ursuline.
While there is still money to be raised, construction and demolition can begin soon. This construction on campus is made possible only because the insurance company and Ursuline College were able to come to an agreement about a payoff on the insurance policy the college held. I imagine that, in a few years, when my students ask me what role probability plays in the “real world,” I will be able to point to the new classroom building on campus, or remind them of their sports practices which are held in a state of the art gym. This will give them an answer to their question that they can both walk into and touch with their own hands. Indeed, someday my own daughter may practice in or wander the halls of those same buildings.
Wishing everyone wonderful spring!