A Weekend in Salem, OR 1


When I was but a wee undergraduate at the Colorado College, one of my professors encouraged me to work on a research project with him one summer.  Over the next couple years, we wrote two papers together. That was Josh Laison, and he is now one of my friends.  I don’t think I realized until partway through grad school that Josh is only six years older than me.  He was a young visiting professor, but I was also a couple years older than my classmates.  I think my first impression of Josh involved math puns and 80s pop songs.  Inevitably, I became friends with Josh and his wife, Steph.

Josh is now a tenured professor at Willamette University, and he is one of the co-PIs for the WMC REU this year.  Now that I’m Salem for the summer, it’s fun to spend time with Josh, Steph, and their hilarious 5-year old.  One of Josh’s mathematical interests lies in games and gaming.*  One of my mathematical interests lies in describing anything I can get my hands on with polynomials.  We’ll see if the intersection of those interests leads to a project.

I’m enjoying getting a chance to talk about math with Josh, but it’s also fun to banter about the craft of teaching.  He’s got myriad great ideas for classes, and he’s got a lot of experience trying new things. I’ve picked up some great ideas, and I feel a renewed sense of courage to go back to Hamilton and try new stuff.  Sometimes even great educators take a promising idea into the classroom only to watch it fail.  When they’re up-front about it, it gives the rest of us the guts to try innovative techniques.  Sometimes they flop.  Life goes on.  Josh has also taught me a lot about working with undergraduates, both as my undergraduate research mentor and now as my colleague.  I’m trying to soak up as many lessons as I can.

When I’m not hanging out with the REU folks or Josh and family, I have plenty of time to myself.  In Salem, it’s easy to find things to do on the weekend to be out among people (but not necessarily with people).  That means that an introvert can have a nice time out and about without feeling awkward.  Farmers markets, coffee shops, bookstores, movies, reading in a park: none of these activities requires a car or other people.  It’s hard to find that in upstate New York.

A weekend feels wasted if I don’t get any work done.  So I scheduled some math and other stuff to get done on Sunday morning.  Happily, I accomplished the modest goals I set out for myself.  Tonight I’ll work a little more, and then I’ll see about an impromptu Skype date with my partner Ryan and my cats.

*Josh’s daughter is already adept at strategy games, and this can be embarrassing for me.  Luckily, she’s a (mostly) gracious winner.


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