05/28/2012 05:42 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Math Now -- Commencement Can Wait

I've been spending the week before commencement, while my college officials decide which students get degrees and prizes, enjoying a week of mathematics events up and down the east coast.

Wednesday morning I visited the spectacular new home of the new National Science Foundation mathematics institute at Brown University, the Institute for Computational and Experimental Research in Mathematics (ICERM). Their 11th floor lecture hall has three floor-to-ceiling glass walls overlooking Providence and the waterfront:


In the lobby of the lecture hall you can technologically eavesdrop on everything occurring inside. From this impressive lobby, Director Jill Pipher describes their recent "Day of Data":

The institute has all kinds of activities for experienced mathematicians, post-docs, graduate students, and undergraduates.

That Wednesday afternoon I spoke at the final meeting of Connect, a successful collaborative project of six southeastern Massachusetts colleges and universities to modernize mathematics curriculum. My host, Mary Moynihan of Cape Cod Community College, says, "Imagine being given six years to discuss courses with your colleagues. It's been wicked fun." Moynihan goes on to describe what delights her the most:

Statistics has become a top national curricular priority; we have to deal with lots of data and understand what we're doing.

Friday through Sunday I attended the annual Geometry and Topology Conference at Lehigh University, one of the most open and welcoming conferences I know. Everyone is invited to come and give a talk, university dorm rooms are available for $35 a night, and the organizers treat everyone as important mathematicians.

David L. Johnson, chief organizer of the conference and a past mathematical collaborator and old friend of mine, describes what makes it all worthwhile for him:

One of the speakers, Christina Sormani of the City University of New York Graduate Center and Lehman College has developed with Stefan Wenger of the University of Illinois at Chicago a new way of deciding mathematically whether two universes closely resemble each other:

Their new way of measuring similarity is called the "intrinsic flat norm."

Don Davis at Lehigh coaches an amazing American Regions Math League (AMRL) high school team which has won the national championship for the past three years. He appears in the following video with one of his team members, Matthew Kilgore, whose disability does not seem to have slowed him down.

Matthew's mother Brita calls Davis and his assistant coach Ken Monks the "most devoted coaches ever." Monks recognizes social teamwork over years of training as the key ingredient:

Monks's daughter Maria won the 2011 national Morgan Prize for undergraduate mathematics research (endowed by my mom Brennie J. Morgan).

Paul Martino, a successful entrepreneur who sponsors the ARML Lehigh Valley team to the tune of $6,000 per year, describes why:

Why shouldn't math students have the same opportunities as sports teams?