Monday, June 06, 2011

Rock stars

So a funny thing happened to me in the UNC Asheville library today...

...Let me begin by saying that the 2011 REU officially got underway today, with a few weeks' worth of graph theory condensed into a few hours in one afternoon. (Though today was the first official day of the program, I feel like we've been at it for a few days now, as for the first time since the program's inception in 2007 every one of the students arrived on the Friday preceding the official onset. Since everyone was here by Friday night, six of them joined me in taking in a baseball game on Saturday night, and by the time the now-standard Sunday cookout rolled around I felt like everyone was fast friends.) The students are doing marvelously so far: they're quick to grasp new ideas, eager to come up with solutions and examples, and making insightful observations about a number of the tricky problems I set up for them to tackle as they begin to explore graph theory and combinatorics.

But before that...

...we spent the morning taking care of bureaucratic whatnot, first getting human resources paperwork filled out (tax forms, consent to allow background checks, etc.), and then heading over to the Onecard office to get ID cards for the students, all the while taking in a cursory tour of campus. Our third stop was the library, where the students would be entered into the system so that they will receive borrowing privileges comparable to those of UNC Asheville students. This is where things got interesting.

We entered the library, and I met up with Maryanne, our contact in the library, after being directed to the reference desk by the student working the circ desk. We discussed the students' privileges for a moment before she mentioned to me, "it's kind of quiet in here because the Governor's being interviewed over there." She indicated a spot beyond the stacks to our left, near the Writing Center. By "the Governor," she meant Gov. Bev Perdue, the Governor of the state of North Carolina. I peered around the stacks and saw Gov. Perdue talking with Anne Ponder, the university's Chancellor.

Maryanne went to begin working on the students' information, and I went to let my students know (jokingly) that we'd prepared a special welcome for them. We chatted for a few minutes about the news conference going on a hundred feet away, and then I started talking about MathSciNet and other math-specific databases, when from around the corner the Chancellor and Governor appeared and began walking our way. I expected them to walk on by and exit the library while we watched quietly, but to my surprise the Governor walked right toward us.

"And I suppose you're all students here?" she asked, putting her hand out to the first of the students, shaking it. Chancellor Ponder and I explained the purpose of the program and let her know that most of the students were from out of state, and she went around to every one of them, asking from which states they hailed, and welcomed them, one and all, to North Carolina.

She then turned to me, whom the Chancellor introduced once more, with a bit more information (tenure, teaching awards, etc.), before I had a chance to say a little bit more about the REU program. She was ecstatic that we were providing a program that encourages students to pursue careers in STEM fields, and thanked me for doing all that I could to provide that encouragement. We had a delightful conversation for several minutes before she left.

I was then accosted by several representatives from the local media, who asked me about the REU and interviewed me briefly about funding for science education (the Governor is currently considering vetoing the budget package put forth by the legislature, in part out of concern for cuts in educational spending). I think I managed halfway decent answers (one of the university's senior staff complimented me on my aplomb afterward). They also managed to get a shot of my π tattoo.

Yup, my students are rock stars. Crazy day.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Patrick, you are The rock star! Your REU students probably already know how lucky they are!Beth