New math school aims to meet challenges
The new School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences at Arizona State University will teach between 27,000 and 28,000 students this year, which includes nearly 500 undergraduate majors – twice as many as five years ago, according to founding director Wayne Raskind.
"The very large amount of instruction we do is a source of strength," Raskind said during a school launch ceremony Oct. 27. It's a big task, yet only half the mission of the new school in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, which was established last year by transforming the department of mathematics and statistics.
The other half of its mission is research, with the school serving as a hub and spokes going out to almost every other academic unit at the university. "In relationship to the initiatives that the university has – energy, climate, sustainability – these are things that mathematics can play a big part, and we must if we are to be successful," Raskind said.
"I can't imagine a time in history when what mathematicians do could be more important than now," ASU President Michael Crow said. "We're facing higher levels of complexity; we're taking on challenges as a society; we're asking bigger and deeper questions about our own universe, about origins."
He called on the faculty members of the new school to first and foremost "do great math." The school has more than 100 faculty members and lecturers.
Additionally, Crow said "we have a profound and deep problem: We need in our society going forward for every university student to have a base level of mathematical capability and mathematical understanding for them to have any ability to comprehend the rest of their education."
Yet, according to Crow, there is resistance in society and in the university community.
"So, what we need in this [new] school is not only fantastic mathematical expressions from faculty and students, but new pedagogical tools, new ways to teach math, new ways to advance math ... and learn how to teach across the spectra of intellect," Crow said.
"How do we find ways to figure out how to teach people in three-dimension, or multidimensional?"
Crow also talked about a society in which the general interest in mathematics and the ability to teach mathematics across the cultures has grown weaker. "Now, we have fewer and fewer people who are adequately educated," he said, and called on faculty members in the new school "to help us more broadly as a society to think of and devise ways to change [this].
"In the forming of this School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences, we don't want you to act like other math departments," Crow said. "We want you to find in this school whoever it is that you need – mathematicians, statisticians, pedagogists, philosophers, thinkers – whatever is necessary to advance this agenda. We're excited about the fact that you've taken the first step to move in this direction. It's important to the university and its evolution."
Also speaking at the ceremony were Quentin Wheeler, ASU vice president and dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and Sid Bacon, dean of natural sciences.
"[This school] represents a change of mind set, a way of viewing quantitative reasons and its role in the university," said Wheeler. "I see this school emerging as an important hub ... forming partnerships to solve the large and complex problems facing science and society."
"It seems almost like yesterday when I was standing in front of you at a department meeting, talking about becoming a school," said Bacon. "Since then, you have worked hard together to make it happen. And, I must say I can really think there is no other academic unit better suited to be transformed into a school; no other academic unit that can interface with so many other disciplines, from life sciences to physical sciences, to social and behavioral sciences, to computer science, to education, to engineering, to economics and art, and so on.
"We need to build a great school here, not only to help bring quantitative rigor to our other disciplines, but also to educate the next generations," Bacon said.
He congratulated faculty members on being an integral part of the university, and thanked staff "for making such a big difference to this university and to our students."
Raskind added some levity in the closing minutes of the ceremony. He challenged the audience with a number of math-related trivia questions: Which NBA most valuable player was a math major in college? The answer was David Robinson. Which former head of state was a math major? The answer was Ehud Barak, the former prime minister of Israel. In which famous rock song is the word "mathematician" mentioned? The answer was "Tangled up in Blue" by Bob Dylan.
Additional information about the new school is online at http://math.asu.edu/school or at (480) 965-3951.