Building Locality

My first three years out of graduate school, when I was in visiting positions, I was moving a lot and didn’t have much extra energy to dig into the communities where I lived. I made some great friends, but we all knew that I would be leaving, and some people understandably didn’t really want to bother with me. I still had Wyoming license plates on my car, because it was easier to just leave it registered there, with my parents. In that part of my life, I got much closer to my math friends and came to identify much more with the mathematical community than any geographic community. However, one of the great perks and biggest changes of being in a long-term position is the chance that I now have to engage with and invest in my geographic communities in long-term ways. In Philadelphia, this led me to talk to people on the train, to do pre-GED tutoring at Community Learning Center, and to go to seminars at all the nearby colleges. It took me three years to feel really at home there, and then I moved again. My new home in Colorado Springs is very different, and I’m still figuring out how to get involved here. Sometime last winter I started on a personal mission of intentionally befriending the some of the awesome people I meet. I started going to all the faculty happy hours, and I joined a SWARG (Scholarly Writing and Research Group). I bought a house in town, which is a whole different kind of investment in the community. I’m still working on engaging with the local mathematical community and the non-academic world. This is harder because service to the college is a not-insubstantial part of my job now, and it’s easy to let service become my hobby and main form of “civic” engagement. I’ve been reaching out more recently, though.  In this post, I’m sharing what I did on one big day of engagement.  So welcome to my Saturday, September 29!

League of Women Voters State Annual Meeting

Zoe Frolik and me at the LWV Colorado annual meeting.

At 7 AM I picked up my student Zöe Frolik and drove to Denver. The reason for this trip began last fall, when I attended a wonderful Geometry of Redistricting workshop at the University of Wisconsin Madison. It was part of a national series organized by Moon Duchin and the Metric Geometry and Gerrymandering Group, based at Tufts University, and organized locally by Jordan Ellenberg. The workshop got me really fired up about how math can identify extreme gerrymanders and give people real tools to fight unfair redistricting. This led me to join the League of Women Voters, a non-partisan group founded in 1920 (just six months before the 19th amendment finally granted women the right to vote), which works for voter education and registration and has been involved in bringing many lawsuits challenging highly partisan districting maps across the country.

I’ve met some great people in my local league, and learned a lot about local and national issues. I also set the League up with a couple of exceptional Colorado College students, who helped them build a student section of their website, part of a big push to reach out to a younger base. One of these students, Zöe, is a Math and Political Science double major, and she has been working with me on parts of her senior project for Political Science about different ways of measuring the fairness of Colorado’s congressional and state legislative district map. The local league has been very excited about her project, and kindly invited us to attend their state meeting. Colorado has two measures related to redistricting reform on the ballot this fall, and the league is conducting an educational campaign about gerrymandering and the importance of fair redistricting. The meeting covered these measures, as well as a really inspiring training in diversity, equity, and inclusion. We had lunch with some very cool women from our local league, and then took off for the next event of the day (see below). After the meeting, Zöe wrote an article about some mathematical measures of fairness for the league’s local newsletter.

Members of the League of Women Voters of the Pikes Peak Region at the state meeting: Julie Ott, me, Zoe Frolik, Lineah Davey, Pauleta Terven, Sharon LaMothe, June Waller, and Mollie Williams.

Front Range Number Theory Day at Colorado State

Next step: North on I-25 to Fort Collins, my old grad school stomping grounds. Living in Colorado is great. I’ve moved to Colorado four times in my life, so clearly I like it a lot. I mean, my biggest complaint is that people here are maybe a little too in love with living in Colorado (you see a lot of people here wearing the Colorado flag on almost all articles of their clothing), but there’s a reason people are so rabid about the place. That said, it is not (yet) considered the center of the mathematical world. There are plenty of mathematicians in the region, but the population is spread out enough that, outside of the larger universities, it can be hard to connect with a research group in any very focused area. I thought that this wouldn’t be any problem for me, because I did go to grad school here and I have some great connections in the region. It’s been hard to carve out the time to go to seminars that are two hours away, though. Certainly it is not impossible to bridge the distance, though, and there are several people working to connect number theorists in Colorado. This summer, I took my research students to Colorado State University (CSU) to visit REU students working with Rachel Pries and Patrick Shipman there. On the day I’m describing, CSU post doc Ozlem Ejder and University of Colorado Boulder grad student (and my former CC research student) Hanson Smith organized a student-focused Front Range Number Theory Day at CSU. They invited some local speakers and some from further away to give talks that ranged from undergraduate-friendly to advanced, graduate student-focused research talks. Kate Stange gave a particularly cool talk about Apollonian circle packings. We brought a van of students from CC, and my student Sam Kottler presented on his summer work in error correcting codes with locality (hence my private joke in the title here…). Front Range Number Theory Day is planned to be a twice yearly event, and I’m really excited to keep going, bringing students, and being part of building something great where I am. I hope that I can even host it at CC sometime in the next few years.

My local roots and branches: part of my math extended family at Front Range Number Theory Day!  Front: Eric Moorhouse  and Hanson Smith,   Back: Jeff Achter, Rachel Pries, me, Zoe Frolik, Sam Kottler, Bob Kuo, and Jerrell Cockerham.

Being close to my college/grad school has made it easier to connect my math past and present. At the Front Range Number Theory Day, I got to arrange a sort of “math family” picture, with some of the people who introduced me to the math that I still love today, and students that I have gotten to pass that on to.  Eric Moorhouse was my first Abstract Algebra professor at University of Wyoming. Rachel Pries was my thesis advisor, and Jeff Achter taught me four semesters of Algebraic Geometry at CSU.  Hanson Smith and Sam Kottler were my thesis students at Colorado College.  Jerrell Cockerham worked on summer research with me this summer, and Zöe Frolik has been working on the gerrymandering project and was in my Abstract Algebra class last year.  Bob Kuo is the paraprofessional at CC this year. We haven’t worked on any algebra together, but I feel a certain kinship based on the fact that we both have driven many vans full of students to math events.


So that was one day of working to connect locally. I was tired after all this (especially after I stayed up late with some old friends in Fort Collins), but it was really worth it. My goal for this week is to bring it even closer to home—I am going to the seminar at University of Colorado Colorado Springs for the first time this week! Any thoughts on how you dig in locally? Good ideas on stuff I should do? Let me know in the comments!

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