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Mathematical Sciences

Department Overview

Mathematics and computation, because they attempt to describe the world we live in and our relationship to it, have always been critical to the evolution of civilization. The mathematical sciences—mathematics, statistics, and computer science—are structural mechanisms providing context for speculation and discovery, and are important tools for illuminating theories and implementing techniques from other disciplines. At the same time, they are art forms exhibiting aesthetic values. All these manifestations, taken together, define the mathematical sciences as an integral part of a liberal arts education at Lewis & Clark College.

At the heart of the department’s curriculum is the development of conceptual and computational intuition, sophistication in the analysis of complicated structures and, most importantly, the interplay of these two with broadly based sets of technical skills and techniques. Within the context of these goals, the Department of Mathematical Sciences offers three major; one in mathematics; one in computer science and mathematics and one in computer science, as well as two minors, one in mathematics and one in computer science. Exploring the relationship of the mathematical sciences to other areas of inquiry, new technologies, and the basic issues raised by them gives credibility to the fact that the mathematical sciences are a lively, growing, vital force in our lives.

Courses in the mathematical sciences curriculum, taken as a whole, focus on many aspects of the discipline. Some courses, such as Calculus, Linear Algebra, Differential Equations, Statistical Concepts and Methods, and Computer Graphics, develop specific skills and techniques; courses such as Discrete Mathematics, Abstract Algebra, Advanced Calculus, Theory of Computation, and Computer Architecture and Assembly Languages emphasize proof making and logic; courses such as Computer Science I, Numerical Analysis, Algorithm Design and Analysis, Combinatorics, and Probability and Statistics explore various problem-solving approaches and skills; still other courses, such as Number Theory and Geometry, explore ideas and problems that date from antiquity but continue to be at the forefront of contemporary mathematical research. Most courses touch on all these aspects, and together the department’s offerings provide content and methodology for majors in the mathematical sciences and other disciplines alike.

Entry into the curriculum is determined by placement or consultation with the department. Typically, students with a strong interest and a good background in mathematics begin their mathematics curriculum with Calculus and their computer science curriculum with Computer Science I. However, it is not uncommon for students with very strong high school backgrounds to begin in sophomore-level courses. Others might begin with Elementary Functions.

Lewis & Clark’s mathematical sciences curriculum is quite rigorous in concept but fairly traditional in content. What distinguishes our program is the close, personal interaction that takes place between students and faculty, enhanced by a student work space that is adjacent to the faculty offices. Course sizes are small, occasionally ranging from fewer than 5 students (at the upper level) to 30 students (at the introductory level). This, combined with the open-door policy of faculty, provides an accessible, one-on-one learning experience not commonly found at the undergraduate level. Advanced students may work in conjunction with faculty to complete honors theses or to pursue student-faculty research opportunities during the summer.

The College also operates a math skills center, a drop-in resource for students who need help with mathematics problems they encounter. This popular center provides opportunities for advanced students to work as math tutors and gain teaching experience. Students are also hired as graders for entry-level courses. These experiences provide an additional perspective on the mathematical sciences curriculum.

Many students from the undergraduate program in the mathematical sciences have completed graduate work at universities throughout the country. The list includes schools such as Cornell; Harvard; Johns Hopkins; University of Oregon; University of Washington; Notre Dame; Stanford; University of Colorado; University of Illinois; University of Utah; University of North Carolina; University of Chicago; University of California, Los Angeles; University of California, Irvine; University of Connecticut; and University of Wisconsin. Graduates of the department are employed as secondary school teachers, college mathematics professors, computer scientists, research and systems analysts, engineers, actuaries, statisticians, lawyers, and doctors.

Facilities and equipment

The Department of Mathematical Sciences operates two Unix computer lab/classrooms, used primarily for computer science instruction. These computers are interconnected by various networks and are also used for cluster computing and Internet research. The department also has a student study room and a small computer lab near the faculty offices to support out-of-class teaching and student-faculty interaction.

Examples of positions obtained by recent mathematical sciences graduates
  • Graduate students in mathematics, computer science or statistics Ph.D. programs
  • Professors of mathematics, University of North Carolina at Wilmington, Linfield College, Ursinus College and University of Portland
  • Peace Corps volunteers in Gabon, Namibia, Lesotho, Tanzania, Ghana
  • Operations researcher, American Airlines
  • Mathematician/analyst, Bonneville Power Administration
  • Actuary, Blue Cross and Blue Shield
  • Mathematician/analyst/cryptographer, National Security Agency
  • Director of information technology, Redback Networks
  • Associate professor of computer science, Oregon State University
  • Professor of philosophy of science, London School of Economics
  • Software engineer for a computer game company, Seattle
  • Medical Doctors

“Mathematics is very much an alive, dynamic, growing, changing field. I’m not sure that if Euclid came back to life today he would recognize what we do in mathematics. For him it was one thing. For us, it’s all the things it meant to him, but also so much more.”

Roger Nelsen
Professor of Mathematics