Math Forum Forges Forward Online

First-year students who are considering a math major (of any kind) at Harvey Mudd College will eventually take the Department of Mathematics’ class in public speaking, Math 198: Forum. It’s one of many courses that has been successfully adapted to an online format.

Forum is a required course for HMC math majors that serves as a chance for students to hone their skills in communicating mathematical ideas to both general and technical audiences. Students give a series of talks to classmates that range from personal stories about “aha” moments to technical explorations outside their mathematical comfort zone.

“Presenting over and over in front of the class also builds up our own little community where sharing mathematical ideas is natural, exciting and supportive,” says Jasper Weinburd, visiting assistant professor of mathematics and a National Science Foundation postdoctoral fellow.

During the pandemic, fall semester Forum looked a little different than usual. Zoom presentations took the place of in-person talks. Forgetting the right laptop cable for the projector was replaced with having internet connection issues. “We practically became YouTubers as well as mathematicians,” says Weinburd. “But probably the biggest difference is how consciously we’ve had to work to build community. I’m sure I don’t have to explain how difficult it is to have a natural conversation over Zoom.”

Despite the frustrations that come with trying to provide constructive and authentic feedback to peers while the internet connection is lagging, students built a Forum where they shared knowledge and reflections on mathematics through their presentations, several of which are featured below.

Thomas Fleming ‘22Speaker: Thomas Fleming ’22 (joint math/CS)

“The Cult of Computing: The Negative Impact of Computer Scientists”

Abstract: The increasing prevalence of technology poses threats to privacy, trust and truth. However, behind every facial recognition tool or platform for disinformation is a careless (or worse, malicious) developer. This video denounces what I call the “cult of computing,” the collection of all computer scientists who fail to identify the negative societal impact of their work.

Deyana Marsh ‘21Speaker: Deyana Marsh ’21 (joint math/CS)

“How Do You Impact Society? Questions to Ask Yourself”

Abstract: As you grow older and gain wisdom, you start to form your own ideas, morals and values. From personal experiences, you develop a sense of self that will drive the choices you make. In this talk, I go through how my own experiences at Harvey Mudd College shaped me as a person and helped me to understand what is important to me. I develop some questions that help me (and hopefully could help you) to understand the different aspects of the choices you make in life, whether that be in academia, industry or your personal life.

Max Holloway ‘22Speaker: Max Holloway ’22 (math)

“So What is a Fractal?”

Abstract: Fractals are perhaps the most visually appealing product of modern mathematics. Although fractal imagery is common, the fractal definition is anything but obvious. In this video, I aim to demystify this definition, and then use the definition to prove that the Sierpinski triangle is a fractal. Tune in for a trippy GIF-packed proof!