2008 Distinguished Teaching Award
Dr. George Cochran
I grew up in northeastern Oklahoma in a little town called Wagoner, which had two elementary schools, one junior high, and one high school. After graduating in 1977, I went the University of Oklahoma in Norman where I became a math major in my junior year and decided to go to graduate school in math during my senior year. I received a bachelor’s degree in math from the Univ. of Oklahoma in 1981, a master’s degree in math from the Univ. of California – Berkeley in 1983, and a Ph.D. in math from the Univ. of Michigan – Ann Arbor in 1989. I wrote my dissertation on random Blaschke products under the direction of Allen Shields, who died of cancer two months after I defended the thesis. During this time I also got married and had a baby, and I played too much bridge.
LSU-Baton Rouge hired me as an assistant professor of mathematics immediately upon my graduation with a Ph.D. in 1989, and I’ve been here ever since. I shifted my research focus from spaces of analytic functions to white noise analysis and worked with the probability group here. I also became involved in consulting projects for the gambling industry in which I calculate optimal playing strategies for new games. The mathematics required in this varies with the game, but typically uses discrete-time stochastic control theory, fractional dynamic programming and occasionally some aspects of game theory. I find this fascinating and a lot of fun, and I still spend a fair amount of time in it.
I have taught a huge variety of courses during the 28 years that I’ve been in charge of a classroom, ranging from small graduate seminar courses and the standard graduate courses in measure theory and probability, through upper-division courses in real and complex analysis, linear algebra and stochastic processes, through sophomore “bridge” courses, through too many calculi, to courses in college algebra and ones titled “The Nature of Mathematics.” I’ve lectured in trigonometry to classes with 700 students sitting in an auditorium with 1000 seats. All of these experiences have been wonderful, and I treasure my memories from each of them.
In my second year at LSU, on my own initiative, I revived a long-moribund undergraduate math club to try to establish more of a community among our undergraduate majors. I served as faculty sponsor of the club for the next decade. I became the department’s undergraduate adviser just after being tenured, which later expanded to being the chair of a committee of advisers. For the past four years I have been the department’s Associate Chair for instruction, with responsibility for the undergraduate program, scheduling and teaching assignments, complaints and grade appeals, cheating cases, and a whole host of other mostly bureaucratic exercises in frustration. I have found that this job has interesting problems, people-problems, which enliven my day. One of these, the problem of assessing the quality of instruction, is something I plan to discuss in my lecture at our sectional meeting.
A long time ago I was browsing a newsletter on the MAA section’s website and noticed that Steve Ligh at Southeastern had organized a regional “Student Team Competition.” I thought this would be a great way to get some LSU math majors together and have a common experience outside of the classroom. When I let Steve know of my plans to bring some students to the competition in its second year, he called me and asked if I could submit a couple of problems. Thus I got put on the MAA Student Team Competition committee, where I’ve been ever since. I chaired the committee for a while. My opinion is that the undergraduate activities at the sectional meeting – the competition, the Integration Bee and the student paper session – are among the most important and valuable activities that the section does, and I hope that they continue to thrive.
I have two hobbies: croquet and backgammon. I am currently the national champion for 9-wicket croquet in the U.S. Croquet Association and I have a -1.5 handicap in the 6-wicket version of U.S. croquet.