Models of Excellence, Scholars in Dialogue

Gordon professors from very different fields are often invited to offer their insights and expertise on teaching and dialogue at national gatherings. Here are three recent examples:

Crisman-_Karl-Dieter_2007_11_01_10_12_39In January as the Joint Mathematics Meeting gathered in Baltimore—”the world’s largest mathematics meeting in the world”—Karl-Dieter Crisman, associate professor of mathematics, was there as well. In a poster presentation, Crisman discussed Gordon’s long-running relationship with a local community partner, Girls Inc of Lynn, Mass: “We used a Tensor grant to begin a Math Circles program with an explicit mentoring component for urban middle school girls, mostly from underrepresented minorities.  After one semester, the program has been a success in getting the girls excited about math; it has also provided extremely good experience in flexibility and thinking on one’s feet for our mentors, who are mostly pre-service mathematics educators.” Crisman also gave a talk entitled, “Thou Shalt Compute, in One Click: Using (Embedded) Sage Cells Online” where he demonstrated several ways to use free, open-source Sage cell technology as part of his pedagogy.

Brink-_Paul_2007_11_02_08_59_52Paul Brink, associate professor of political science, will also participate in a unique dialogue related to his scholarship. At an event sponsored by The Constitution Project (TCP) in Washington, D.C., in March, Brink will travel there to discuss a recently commissioned TCP report called, “Preventing Irreversible Error: Recommended Reforms in the Administration of Capital Punishment,” which offers current analysis of the country’s death penalty system to help Americans get beyond fruitless debate over abstractions. Brink was one of only 20 evangelical leaders invited to participate and said that the “goal of the report was not to resolve the theoretical issue of whether the death penalty is right or wrong in the abstract. Instead, it’s to examine how the death penalty is actually practiced and how that practice might better conform to constitutional principles and American values, regardless of theoretical positions.”

Vanborre_Emmanuelle_0729_sm_2011_11_22_10_58_43Dialogue and technology are crucial elements for professors of foreign languages. Emmanuelle Vanborre, associate professor of French, will also present in March at a training workshop called, “Technology as a Tool for Linguistic and Cultural Development” for the Northeast Conference on the Teaching of Foreign Language in Boston. Vanborre will  explore “numerous ways to help make students proficient readers and writers, and to integrate art, culture and literature in the curriculum through technology. I’ll  present strategies  (in French) that can help facilitate comprehension and expression by focusing on developing reading and writing skills while enhancing background knowledge of culture, history, geography, and politics.”

Revolutionaries and One Remarkable Woman: Friends from 19th Century British Mathematics

Take several mathematical equations, add a few radicals and you get some thinkers whose influence still affects today’s math world, according to Richard Stout, professor of mathematics. As part of the mathematics department’s monthly and public Math Forums on campus, Stout will be discussing some key figures in history, Tuesday, December 3, 2013, in the Ken Olsen Science Center room 127 from 4:45-5:45 p.m. Stout‘s talk will also be the basis of his research next semester while on sabbatical. Here’s how he describes it:

“If you had been a student at Cambridge University in the early nineteenth century (sorry, no women allowed) you would have studied mathematics—lots of mathematics. This was especially true if you wanted to graduate with distinction. However, the mathematics taught at Cambridge around 1810 was still held captive to the methods and memory of their most famous graduate, Isaac Newton. The exciting new results and methods coming from France, Germany, and other places on the continent, were not communicated to Cambridge students, at least not until a group of exceptional students formed a radical organization called the Analytical Society.

“These revolutionaries—Charles Babbage, John Herschel, and George Peacock—were students who went on to reform mathematics at Cambridge and provide leadership for British science over the next fifty years. These people, over the last few years, have become good friends of mine, and so I’ll focus on the academic, mathematical, and even religious climate in which they worked.

“But what of the women? Although she was not part of this Cambridge group, we will also look at the remarkable work of Mary Somerville, a woman of privilege who persevered and overcame great odds to pursue a life of intellectual vigor and influence, providing translations and commentaries for important works such as Laplace’s difficult work, Mécanique Céleste. This is an interesting era in the history of mathematics, with some fascinating people who I hope will become your friends too.”

Six Faculty + Summer Grants = Interesting Scholarship, Part II

Each summer at Gordon, the Provost’s Office invites applications for small grants that Faculty can use toward ongoing research and scholarship in between academic years. This summer, six were awarded stipends, ranging in projects from screenwriting and data reviews to humanitarian logistics and fiction writing. Here are two more recipients, with others to follow:

Mike Veatch, chair and professor of mathematics and computer science, writes about his project entitled: “Airport/Port Congestion During Relief Operations”: “Humanitarian logistics, which concerns the acquisition and delivery of material, is receiving increased attention from aid agencies and academics. Although similar to commercial and military supply chains in their core IT and transportation technologies, humanitarian operations have unique timing, goals, and human factors. This project addresses an aspect of humanitarian logistics that has not received much attention: scheduling an airport or seaport after a disaster. Mathematical models and data from Port-au-Prince airport after the Haiti earthquake are used to test innovative scheduling strategies to allow more aid to be delivered. One or two papers will be submitted to logistics journals.”

Valerie Gin, 2013 distinguished faculty, chair and professor of recreation and leisure studies, and Jo Kadlecek, senior writer and journalist in residence, are co-authoring a novel (tentatively) titled, “When Girls Became Lions.” Here’s their abstract of the story: “A work of contemporary fiction, When Girls Became Lions celebrates the power of women’s friendships against the backdrop of Title IX. Through alternating view points and parallel stories, the novel follows a young woman soccer coach/high school teacher in 2008—herself an ‘entitled’ beneficiary of Title IX—as she discovers the history of her school’s first girls soccer coach, his state championship team, and their corporate legacy. The more she learns what the inaugural team endured just to compete, the more her own perspectives are challenged. The novel’s climax publically honors those first players, who had never received recognition.”

Math as a Means of Helping Humanity

On Saturday, March 2, 2013, dozens of practitioners from a variety of non-profit organizations gathered at Gordon for a first day-long conference entitled, “Humanitarian Response: Innovation to Meet Needs.” Organized and led by Mike Veatch, professor and chair of mathematics and computer science, and colleague Jarrod Goesntzel at MIT’s Humanitarian Response Lab, participants heard from representatives at agencies such as Doctors Without Borders, Partners in Health and the Salvation Army. Here’s how Veatch described it:

Mike Veatch

“This conference brought together practitioners of humanitarian response and international health, students considering a career in this area, and academic researchers. Supply systems are critical to humanitarian response, yet the contexts present unique challenges for logistics management, which is where the role of mathematics comes in. Speakers talked, for instance, about the logistics of humanitarian responses in situations ranging from the 2010 Haiti earthquake to the recent Hurricane Sandy. Because this type of work can be somewhat technical, gatherings like this were best suited for students and scholars with some background in math, statistics, or economics as well as an interest in humanitarian work. Certainly, it’s easy to see how math, nonprofit management, economics and business, biology, health professions, international affairs, and sociology all come together when discussing crucial and innovative ways to respond to humanitarian crises. As we discussed international health, food aid and disaster response, we recognized how important it is to be working together and sharing our resources and expertise for the best possible services we can provide. And I think our program discussions reflected what it means to deliver the best health and humanitarian assistance we can find.”

Center for Faith & Inquiry Honors Faculty Scholarship: Part II

In an effort to promote outstanding scholarship that can reach both professional and public/church audiences, the Center for Faith and Inquiry recently announced its inaugural Fellows for the 2013-14 academic year. Congratulations to the follow faculty!

David Lumsdaine

Professor of Political Science, David Lumsdaine will explore the implications of “Biblical and Ethical Perspectives on International Affairs”:

“As Christians, and simply as citizens concerned with our ethical responsibilities, we must weigh what kinds of international policies, practices, and institutions are just and good. As Christians we believe that all creation is God’s, and all we do – publically and governmentally, as privately, should be governed by God’s principles and commands, which are right and good, and thus can alone help bring about a better world. However, many students, church members, and citizens, arrive at conclusions with at best a rather cursory understanding—and often one-sided—of the background and issues.  Explicit consideration of ethical considerations—and theological or biblical considerations—is well off the beaten track in the study of International Relations. This project aims to help remedy that situation, by developing a short book which will discuss international affairs from an ethical and  a theological point of view, in a balanced, historical, and accessible way to Gordon students and the general reading public.”

Brian Glenney

Craig Story

And conducting collaborative and interdisciplinary research around the project topic, “A New Approach to Theistic Evolution: Determinate Outcomes of Random Processes,” will be Brian Glenney, assistant professor of philosophy, Craig Story, associate professor of biology, and Mike Veatch, professor of mathematics and chair of the mathematics and computer science department:

Mike Veatch

Philosopher Michael Ruse presents a fundamental problem for theistic evolution: according to many religious beliefs, human beings had to exist, because God directly created them as intelligent and moral beings. But according to the random and contingent processes of evolutionary theory, these beings need not have existed. The most popular form of reconciling these views is to consider the process of random species modification itself to be guided by bottom up causal influence from God’s careful manipulation of quantum states or some other as-of-yet-unknown strategy. We offer another theory: well-defined genetic mechanisms, while random at the lowest level, may still be determinate in that they give rise to defined higher-level functional outcomes—including traits such as intelligence and morality . . . Our project will consider and popularize the claim that the evolutionary mechanisms, though random in the individual modifications produced, operate on such a large scale that the overall outcome is, in important respects, determinate.”

Center for Faith & Inquiry Honors Faculty Scholarship: Part I

In an effort to promote outstanding scholarship that can reach both professional and public/church audiences, the Center for Faith and Inquiry recently announced its inaugural Fellows for the 2013-14 academic year. Congratulations to the follow faculty!

Ruth Melkonian-Hoover

Ruth Melkonian-Hoover, associate professor/chair of political science and international affairs, will continue her scholarship focus through a project entitled, “Evangelical Attitudes toward Immigrants and Immigration Reform”: 

“Designed to assess the impacts of Christian organizational advocacy within churches aimed at changing attitudes on immigration, and based on my prior research on evangelicals and immigration, World Relief asked me to assess the impact of their advocacy on the attitudes of evangelicals re: immigration and comprehensive immigration reform (CIR). I’ll pursue this by focused surveys and interviews of parishioners of churches in two key sites in which WR has concentrated its efforts , Denver and Chicago. I will also provide an analysis of recent public opinion data evaluating non-religious factors (economic, partisan, etc) as well as religious factors shaping evangelical attitudes on immigration and CIR. Over the summer I plan to combine my qualitative research into a research article and a WR report based on my overall research by early next fall.”

Karl-Dieter Crisman

Karl-Dieter Crisman, associate professor of mathematics, will continue his research on, “The Moral Case for Open-Source Software”: Most of us in the academy are now familiar with the distinction between programs ‘on the desktop’ and ‘in the cloud.’ Similarly, one would have to withdraw from society not to understand the distinction between software you pay for and software you don’t have to pay for. But there is a third, crucial, distinction. It is the one between proprietary software and open source software, and it is only vaguely understood by most of us. Over my time at Gordon, I have become convinced that this distinction is of great significance, one with deep resonance with Christian thinking.  Through my ongoing research and this Fellowship, I hope to better  reach academic and lay audiences with this message.”

Imagining the Next Supercomputers with ‘LittleFe’

Jonathan Senning, right, in his office with student Peter Story ’14 and the model supercomputer they built together.

Last month while attending SC12, an international conference on  high performance computing (HPC) in Salt Lake City, Utah, Jonathan Senning, professor of mathematics and computer science, did something he’d wanted to for a while: he built a hands-on model computer he can use in his class for the first time next spring. Thanks to the National Science Foundation, Senning and his student Peter Story ’14 also spent the week exploring ideas we’ll probably see in the future. Here’s how he described it:

“High performance computing is everywhere today. Weather forecasting, molecular modeling, mapping the genome, economic modeling, simulation, and visualization are just some of the areas that work with large data sets and need substantial computing power. So when Peter Story, a computer science & mathematics double major, and I were selected to participate in a fully-funded HPC Educators program for faculty and/or students from undergraduate colleges, I knew this was an exciting opportunity for Gordon. 

“We also received an additional grant for a small parallel cluster designed for HPC education and spent most of Monday assembling it as part of a ‘build-out’ event.  The cluster, named by its designers ‘LittleFe’—a play on ‘big iron’ which is a term originally used to describe large mainframe computers—is a model of a modern supercomputer.  It operates in the same way and has essentially all the same parts and programming modes as today’s supercomputers.  It’s just not as fast or large, and it certainly doesn’t use as much power.

“This spring I’ll be teaching a new course called Parallel and High Performance Computing and will be able to use LittleFe.  The course will explore the three main forms of parallel and distributed processing in use today: shared memory multiprocessing (the dual and quad core processor chips in our phones and laptops), cluster computing (modern supercomputers), and GPGPU (general purpose graphics processing unit) programming.  GPGPU-equipped systems are the current cutting-edge devices.  As of this fall it is possible to buy a GPGPU ‘card’ to fit inside a desktop or server computer that has 2,496 processing cores and is capable of over 1 teraflop per second.  To get close to these speeds, however, either existing programs must be rewritten or new programmed solutions must be developed. Our new LittleFe cluster supports all three main types of parallel architectures, and as a result allows us to explore hybrid approaches, combining various types of parallelism in the solution of a single problem.

“I learn best by ‘tinkering,’ and I’m convinced that many of our students will benefit from having hands-on experiences.  The LittleFe cluster fosters this sort of learning; its open frame, exposed cabling, and blinking lights invite students to be curious about it.”

Delivering Aid in Kenya

On Thursday, December 1, Mike Veatch, professor of mathematics and chair of the mathematics and computer science department, will be giving a talk on campus (KOSC 125 at 4:45 p.m.) about the “Spatial Distribution of  Aid Recipients in Kenya.”

In it he’ll explore how GiveDirect, a non-profit organization, recruits and delivers aid to residents of Kenya. The aid delivered is cash funds that are directly transferred to the recipients. The organization is able to operate with low overhead costs and has small transaction costs after recipients are identified. But recruiting recipients produces additional costs. The project studies where GiveDirect should deliver aid, and a model that was developed to minimize the recruitment costs while achieving the desired diversity and total number of locations visited will be discussed. (Former students Matt Forsstrom and Hang Yang worked with Veatch on the project.)

Voting by the Numbers

Yes, the presidential election season is upon us again, and that’s good news for assistant mathematics professor Karl-Dieter Crisman as he continues exploring several theories related to voting. In early January, he’ll be presenting a talk entitled, “Symmetry in Voting Theory: The Borda-Kemeny Spectrum and Beyond” in Boston at a special session of the American Mathematical Society joint meeting with the Mathematical Association of America, the largest annual mathematics meeting in the world. Below is an introduction of his talk (intended for nonspecialists):

“Why Math and Voting? One of the myriad applications of math is in aggregation of preferences. Economists, psychologists, and political scientists all need our tools to talk about this. In my city, we just elected new councilors-at-large, and of course, the primaries and caucuses for the next presidential race are almost upon us. So it’s always a hot topic for the public as well as undergrads. Plus, relatively elementary math yields big results.

Most American elections use one rule to aggregate our preferences – the plurality vote. If you get more first-place votes than anyone else, you win! But there are many other ways to aggregate voter preferences. This talk will discuss a surprising relation between two relatively prominent ones in voting theory circles.

(Arrow’s Theorem) There is no voting rule that satisfies all typical ideas of ‘fairness.’ However, much of the (non-mathematical) debate in voting theory revolves around whether certain axioms of fairness are really red herrings. So my talk focuses on two methods. In both, each voter lists all n candidates in her preferred order: 1.) The Borda Count: Points are assigned based on each ranking – say 0 for last, 1 for second-last, up to n − 1 for first. The candidate with the most total points wins. 2.) The Kemeny Rule: For each possible (full ranking) outcome, check for how many pairwise votes it disagrees with each voter’s ranking, and add up these disagreements. The (highest ranked candidate in the) ranking with the fewest points wins.”

Royal Probabilities

Veatch_Michael_2008_11_21_01_51_15From July 6-8, 2011, Mike Veatch, professor of mathematics, will travel to the 16th INFORMS Applied Probability Society Conference which will take place at the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH), in Stockholm, Sweden.

The conference focuses on applications of probability to stochastic systems arising in operations research, computer networks, biology and finance.

The title of Mike’s paper and talk is Approximate Linear Programming for Average Cost Markov Decision Processes.” Here’s what he says about it: “My talk has applications to scheduling manufacturing systems and telephone call centers. In principle, these complex systems can be optimized to minimize congestion, but the control problem is intractable, so we study approximations.”