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Ryan Roark '05

The task of writing a short remembrance of the classes and summer work I have done with Prof. Banchoff is not an easy one—for, as I am certain most of his students know, so many things are exceptional about Prof. Banchoff that it is quite impossible to know where to start or how to limit oneself to a few paragraphs!

First of all, Prof. Banchoff is truly one-of-a-kind as a professor—as, now that I am in my fourth year of college, becomes more and more apparent to me every day. The two classes I took with Prof. Banchoff my freshman year (calculus and linear algebra) shaped my career here in many ways. It was clear immediately that he was an amazing teacher, not only because he had learned all the students' names prior to the first class, but because of his eye-opening approach to calculus and—what is perhaps most striking to me—his genuine interest in the connections between math and other disciplines. I entered his class having had quite a bit of multivariable calculus, but little appreciation for geometry. Prof. Banchoff's treatment of calculus, with his wonderfully illuminating demos, made all of the material seem new, taught me to visualize surfaces to an extent I had not considered possible, and made me want further to explore geometry, which had formerly held so little interest for me.

His dedication to his students is unparalleled: he used the online format of his course as a means of interacting with students while they were doing assignments, rather than the sparse and minimally enlightening marks most of us are used to receiving on regular problem sets. Needless to say, this meant he knew exactly how much individual students understood and how to help them understand better. His exams, too, were actively instructive and satisfying.

When I worked as a summer worker for Prof. Banchoff after my freshman and sophomore years, he created a fun and relaxed environment for the students while leading us through our various projects and always encouraging us to tackle new fields and concepts. Sometimes he gave us geometry problems to consider. On more than one occasion we helped build (or watched in awe as he built) models the size of his desk.

In particular, my projects included organizing and re-formatting the labs for Differential Geometry, creating demos to go along with these labs, converting part of Chern's text to prepare for publication, putting Beyond the Third Dimension online with some extra discussion questions and links to animated demos, putting The Fourth Dimension Simply Explained online, doing research for the Henry Parker Manning biography, and preparing an informal translation of Voltaire's Micromegas. Prof. Banchoff has always been extremely supportive of my academic interests outside of math, and several of these projects (particularly the last two) encouraged me to explore interdisciplinary bridges between math and my interests in literature and language.

While I have learned much from Prof. Banchoff in his classes and in the summer work, it is in his role as an advisor that he has made the greatest impression on me. During my first summer working for him, I was accepted as a transfer student to Harvard and, with very much uncertainty, decided to leave Brown for Harvard. I will never forget Prof. Banchoff's support and advice in this incident. I was of course nervous to tell him I was leaving in the fall, since his classes and his kindness as a mentor were some of the things that made me most reluctant to leave Brown. He (very wisely) did not seem to think the transferring a good decision for me, given my varied interests. However, he gave me the advice never to go into a situation expecting it to fail (because at that point I was already starting to imagine my return to Brown!) and therefore, of his own initiative, went through the entirety of Harvard's course offerings in the math department with me, writing down detailed suggestions—which courses to take and in what order, which professors to choose for these courses, which should not be taken concurrently, etc. Then, also of his own initiative, he called the Brown registrar to make sure students have no trouble returning to Brown after transferring out. Finally, he predicted, "You'll be back." (He was right.)

The combination of his ability to confer his excitement about geometry onto his students (just ask anyone who has ever unwittingly broached the subject of the fourth dimension to me) and his lively interest in his students' work, both in his class and in other classes, makes Prof. Banchoff an exceptional person. Ê

— Ryan Roark
October 2003

Ryan currently is in herfourth year at Brown, participating in a five-year A.B./Sc.B. program. She plans to concentrate in math, comparative literature (translation), and molecular biology. In the future, She hopes to earn a Ph.D. in biochemistry and work in cancer research.

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Created: 11 Oct 2003
Last modified: 06 Nov 2003 08:17:04
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