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David Akers '99

Some of my favorite memories of Tom involve watching him in action while teaching. He always displayed such an obvious respect and a genuine interest in his students from day one... Homework assignments were always graded with meticulous care; I often found that his responses to my homework answers were longer than the answers themselves! They always suggested ways to generalize my results, pointing me in new directions and opening my eyes to alternate solutions.

I remember vividly the day when he memorized the class roll for a fifty-person class, and then called out names from memory during the first class meeting. One student wondered what the trick was. Convinced that Tom was using some memory trick, the student demanded that Tom read the names in 'some other order besides alphabetic.' Tom began reading the names in convincingly random order, and reached the end of the list without hesitating. One student was left un-called upon, something that Tom realized immediately. Unshaken, he singled out this student and asked why she wasn't on the roll for the class. She responded that she was just visiting that day, and thus not actively enrolled. Some might have seen this example as a showy display of Tom's amazing memory, but to me it represented something entirely different. The point was that Tom cared enough to memorize the entire class roll. Learning everyone's name before the first class enabled him to begin immediately the process of getting to know everyone on a personal level. It's no mystery why Tom has had so many dedicated student assistants over the years; by showing an open respect for them from the beginning, he gains their respect and admiration.

On a lighter note: The summer after my Freshman year, I was working together with David Peck on an extension to Tom's mathematical demonstration software, fnord. One day while in a meeting with Tom in his office, my eyes drifted momentarily to his bookshelf, where they fell upon an unusually titled video: "Eight Boy's Bound". Stunned by my idle discovery, I commented upon it to Dave Peck after the meeting. Dave was equally disturbed and amused. He and I decided to temporarily liberate the video to determine its contents, wholly mystified as to how a child pornography video had come to live on Tom's otherwise mathematical bookshelf.

Perhaps if we had noticed the apostrophe in "Boy's," we would not have jumped to such conclusions. Upon secretly screening the video at our apartment, we discovered that the video was in fact about "Boy's surface," a mathematical surface discovered by Werner Boy in 1902. Relieved and amused, Dave and I told our story to Tom in our next meeting. Initially perplexed, Tom then roared with laughter: despite having worked on the video himself, he really hadn't imagined an alternate interpretation for the title.

Back to being serious: As I write this and think about Tom, I realize how profound an influence he has had on my life. Since I got to know him, Tom has been both an advisor and a friend to me. In 2001 Tom told me that he thought I would make a great professor, which encouraged me to apply to graduate school, where I'm now in my second year on route to a Ph.D. (To hear someone like Tom say that you would make a great teacher means more when you condsider his own teaching accomplishments!) Moreover, I owe much of my present enthusiasm for mathematics visualization to Tom. His passion and excitement are always contagious!

— David Akers
October 2003

David took Math 8 with Banchoff as a freshman. Later, he was a volunteer technical assistant on the first internet-based version of Math 8: he and Jeremy Kahn volunteered to help other people in the class with web submissions and illustrations. David's final group project (with Jeremy Kahn, Michael Matthews and Alison Tarbox) on polytopes was Banchoff's first one that incorporated Java applets. His honors thesis was on "g(z) a tool for visualizing complex analysis," one of the best ever senior theses under Banchoff's direction. He worked in the summer with David Peck, and David Jelinek on software for differential geometry and linear algebra.

After leaving Brown, David worked for several years as a project director at Silicon Graphics (SGI). He is now a second year Ph.D. student in Computer Science at Stanford, with research interests falling at the intersection of computer graphics, education, and human-computer interaction. He recently published a scientific illustration paper, "Conveying Shape and Features with Image-Based Relighting."

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Created: 11 Oct 2003
Last modified: Oct 26, 2003 9:54:13 PM
Comments to: dpvc@union.edu
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