Course on the History of Mathematics

Undergraduate Recitation Instructors

Course on the History of Mathematics

For some time there have been discussions within the Mathematics Department about the possibility of offering a course in the history of mathematics. Last spring it was decided to offer such a course in spring 1998 on an experimental basis.

The history of mathematics course will be offered as Section 01 of Math 395, Studies in Mathematics, and will be taught by Professor Simon Gindikin. The prerequisites are three semesters of calculus and Math 250. The course will count as one of the eight upper-level courses required for the mathematics major.

The New Brunswick Campus now has a club for undergraduate students interested in mathematics. Long dormant, the Mathematics Club has been revived through the efforts of Amir Shimoni, a junior majoring in math and computer science. Mr. Shimoni is the club’s president, Edan Harel is the secretary, and James Taylor is the treasurer. The club’s faculty advisor is Professor Robert Wilson.

The next meeting of the club is scheduled for Tuesday, October 28, 1997, at 8:00 PM in Room 705 of the Hill Center. Professor Stephen Greenfield will discuss graduate study in mathematics. (See also the following article.)

Additional information about the activities of the club can be obtained by sending email to Mr. Shimoni.

Advice on Graduate Schools

There will be two general meetings this fall for students interested in graduate and professional schools. (See the previous article for a program specifically about the graduate study of mathematics.)

The first meeting will take place on Monday, October 27, 1997, from 6:30 to 8:30 PM in Hickman 138. Representatives of the Rutgers offices of career services, financial aid, and graduate admissions will discuss the admissions process and financial support for graduate study.

The second meeting will be on Thursday, November 6, 1997, from 1:00 to 4:00 PM in the Rutgers Student Center. Students will have a chance to talk individually with representatives of some of the nation’s leading graduate and professional schools.

Undergraduate Recitation Instructors

This fall, four undergraduates are serving as recitation instructors in precalculus courses. These instructors are Rutgers College students Joshua Frost, Cara LaMastra, and Lynn Matuska and University College student Laurie Savitt. Each is teaching two precalculus sections.

The use of undergraduates is one way the Mathematics Department is attempting to cope with a severe shortage of recitation instructors. This shortage is the result of several factors, including the steady growth in the number of students studying mathematics, efforts by the department to improve instruction by decreasing class size, and a decline in the number of mathematics graduate students.

Continuing the trend of the last several years, enrollment in undergraduate mathematics classes is up approximately 5% over fall 1996. The total enrollment on October 10, 1997, was 8875. On September 25, 1996, it was 8432.

Enrollments grew in all areas except in 200-level courses. The 1996 entering class for the College of Engineering was somewhat smaller than normal. Thus enrollment in Math 251 now is down from the previous year, offsetting an increase in demand for Math 250.

The following table summarizes enrollments for fall 1996 and fall 1997:

| Fall 1997 | Fall 1996 |

Noncredit | 1487 | 1384 |

Liberal Arts | 329 | 319 |

Precalculus | 2080 | 1889 |

Other 100-Level | 3301 | 3191 |

200-Level | 1127 | 1126 |

300- & 400-Level | 551 |
523 |

Total | 8875 | 8432 |

As mathematics enrollments have gone up and class sizes have decreased, the number of instructors in each of the department’s lower division courses has risen significantly. These instructors are typically a mix of regular faculty, visiting faculty, and part-time lecturers (PTL’s), who sometimes lack a common vision for the course. This fact raises serious questions about possible variations among sections in the selection of topics and in the standards used to evaluate student performance.

Some years ago the department had course coordinators. However, these individuals had relatively little authority and were not able to have much impact on their courses. In an effort to make sure that current students see a consistent approach in multi-section courses, the department has brought back course coordinators with new charges.

The primary function of a course coordinator is to arrange for a common final examination that is graded according to uniform standards. In addition, the course coordinator distributes review materials for the hour exams, circulates a schedule of review sessions being held by instructors in the course, and, where appropriate, develops supplemental instructional materials, such as workshop problems and computer assignments.

This semester there are four primary course coordinators:

Prof. Stephen Greenfield, Math 135, 4-credit format.

Prof. Richard Wheeden, Math 135, 5-credit format.

Prof. Roe Goodman, Math 151 and 153.

Prof. Richard Falk, Math 251.

In addition, Prof. Amy Cohen is assisting with Math 153 and Prof. Michael O’Nan is providing some coordination for Math 152. (See the article on departmental administrators.) Dr. Lewis Hirsch, the department’s Director of Basic Skills, provides coordination in basic skills courses.

There have been some changes this fall in the opportunities for honors students in calculus courses. For some time the department has had a sequence of four honors courses, Math 191, 192, 291, and 292, covering the three semesters of calculus and ordinary differential equations. This fall, Math 191 was not offered, admission standards for Math 192 and 291 were raised, and honors sections of Math 151 were created.

The department has limited resources and can offer honors experiences only to a relatively few students. The honors calculus courses are for highly motivated students with outstanding ability in mathematics. Almost all the best high school mathematics students enter college with at least one semester of advanced placement in calculus. Thus there are not many students for whom Math 191 would be appropriate.

In place of Math 191, two honors sections of Math 151 have been created, one on the Busch Campus and the other on the Douglass Campus. Honors sections of regular calculus courses are for generally bright students, such as those in college honors programs, who need calculus but who may not have the exceptional ability in mathematics expected of students in the honors calculus courses. The honors section of Math 151 running at Douglass the first honors class the department has been able to offer on the Cook/Douglass Campus in many years.

Honors sections of Math 152 have been scheduled for spring 1998 and it is hoped that there will be at least one honors section of Math 251 in fall 1998.

The Undergraduate Office made placement decisions for Math 192 and Math 291. For Math 192 the ideal candidate was someone with a 5 on the AB Advanced Placement Exam, a math SAT of at least 740, and a nearly perfect score on the Rutgers placement test. For Math 291, the criteria were a 5 on the BC exam and a math SAT of 770 or better. In some cases, application files were read to find evidence of a strong motivation for honors work in mathematics.

The William Lowell Putnam Examination is a national mathematics competition for undergraduates held each December. Prizes are awarded to individuals and to college teams. The exam, which consists of two three-hour sessions, tests ingenuity and insight rather than advanced knowledge. Thus first and second year students can perform well.

This year’s Putnam Examination will be held on Saturday, December, 6, 1997. Prof. Janos Komlos is running some review sessions for Rutgers students planning to take the test. It is too late to sign up for this year’s examination, but interested students should contact the Undergraduate Office early next fall to sign up for the 1998 competition.

This fall, two faculty members have taken new administrative assignments and one administrator has returned from leave.

Prof. Antoni Kosinski has returned as Chair after a year’s leave. Prof. Richard Falk served as Acting Chair in his absence.

Prof. Peter Landweber has assumed the position of Vice Chair for the Graduate Program.

Professor Michael O’Nan has assumed the newly created position of Associate Vice Chair for the Undergraduate Program. The details of Professor O’Nan’s duties are still being worked out. Tentatively he will be available in the Undergraduate Office in the absence of the Vice Chair, he will handle cases of suspected academic dishonesty for the department, he will provide course coordination in cases where the number of classes is too small to justify a separate coordinator, and he will serve has the department’s "ombudsperson".

Here are the telephone numbers and e-mail addresses of Mathematics Department administrators:

Chair, Antoni Kosinski, 445-2393, kosinski@math.rutgers.edu.

Undergraduate Vice Chair, Charles Sims, 445-2390, sims@math.rutgers.edu.

Graduate Director, Peter Landweber, 445-3864, landwebe@math.rutgers.edu.

Director of Basic Skills, Lewis Hirsch, 445-2288, hirsch@math.rutgers.edu.

Head Undergraduate Advisor, William Sweeney, 445-2390, wsweeney@math.rutgers.edu.