The Mathematical Association of America
Maryland-District of Columbia-Virginia Section

Stories from Section Members

This page contains a few stories related to the section. If you have any you would like to share, please contact the webmaster at

Recollections from the November 1984 MD-DC-VA Section Meeting by Caren Diefenderfer
Getting involved with the MAA by Bud Brown
A Story by Roland Minton

Recollections from the November 1984 MD-DC-VA Section Meeting at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD by Caren Diefenderfer

The MD-DC-VA section of the MAA met at the Naval Academy on November 4-5, 1984. This may have been the first two-day meeting for our section. Howard Penn was the local coordinator. Jerry Porter, Herb Wilf, and Doris Schattschneider were invited speakers. I sat next to Herb Wilf at the Friday night dinner, before the banquet talk, and recall that Herb said "How can I be in Annapolis if I'm sitting between a Diefenderfer and a Schattschneider?"

An interesting event occurred after the meeting. Various people have given me their version of this incident. Let me begin with the story from Doris Schattschneider's point of view. This was conveyed to me via email on March 11, 2007.

"About the incident at the MAA regional meeting at the Naval Academy, I don't have records that go that far back, but I do remember some of the details (not including the exact date, or the guilty parties!).

After that meeting I was to be driven to Washington, D.C. by some folks attending from DC, but those who brought me to the meeting (from the airport, likely) had my luggage in the trunk of their car. At the conclusion of the meeting, when I went to the parking lot to have my luggage transferred to the car to take me to DC, the car was gone – they had left without telling me, and forgot they had my luggage. They were driving south (to Georgia, I think), [Editorial comment – THEY WERE DRIVING WEST TO HARRISONBURG, VA.] and the highway patrol was notified in an attempt to stop them, but to no avail. (Remind folks that this was before cell phones!) They didn't discover my luggage until they arrived at their destination, and then put it on a Greyhound bus to D.C., to arrive the next day. Meanwhile, I was driven to DC, where I was to meet with Cornelius Roosevelt (the grandson of Teddy Roosevelt, and an Escher collector) and go to dinner with him at the Jockey Club. I was staying with a friend who was aghast that I had no silk dress to wear to dinner – I went with the same wool plaid suit that I'd worn to the MAA meeting.

Luckily, Roosevelt could have cared less, and I simply held my head high as we passed by tables with women in cocktail dresses and even ball gowns, and went to a private dining room. I got back my luggage the next day at the Greyhound terminal (quite a contrast to the Jockey Club!), and then later flew home. Some meetings you never forget (even though I have neither recollection of my talk nor any other talk at the meeting.)"

Jon Scott, Ben Fusaro, Howard Penn and I met at Café du Monde to talk about section history ideas when JMM was in New Orleans in January 2007. Howard remembered this same incident from the 1984 Naval Academy meeting. His point of view was quite different than Doris'. When Howard told us this story his focus was on the fact that Doris insisted that he call the highway patrol and ask them to find and stop the car. He knew that Bill Sanders was the driver and Bob Hanson was the passenger and that they were heading to Harrisonburg. No one knew what type of car they were driving. Howard did call the highway patrol and asked them to look for a dark, 4-door sedan with Virginia plates with a male driver and one male passenger. I guess that the highway patrol found this request to be a strange one and Howard managed not to laugh while Doris was listening.

It was not until 2013 that I heard Bob Hanson's version of the story. He and Bill Sanders volunteered to take Doris Schattschneider's luggage from the hotel to the meeting location on Saturday morning. Unfortunately, they left the meeting and started their drive home to Harrisonburg, VA without returning these belongings to Doris. They drove from Annapolis, through DC and on to Harrisonburg before they realized that they still had Doris' luggage in their car. According to Bob, "The authorities got in touch with Bill when he arrived at home." Bob talks about this in the video that I took when we had our Spring 2013 Meeting at James Madison University.

That fall 1984 Naval Academy meeting was memorable for additional reasons. Howard Penn arranged to take interested section members on a "cruise" on the Chesapeake Bay on a yard patrol craft. It was a lovely idea and we had a group of 20-30, I think. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a cold, cloudy afternoon and we huddled together to stay warm.

Howard also had some beautiful "MD-DC-VA Section meeting" signs for the occasion. Not only did they help everyone find the location of the meeting, he agreed to allow me to take them home, because the following meeting (Spring 1985) was on the Hollins campus. I passed them off to the folks who were hosting the Fall 1985 meeting. I'm not sure how long they served us well. Thank you, Howard, for all you did to make our meetings enjoyable and memorable.

Getting involved with the MAA by Bud Brown

Many of us in the MAA are given student memberships as undergraduates, or graduate students, or high-school students. Here is a member with quite a different story. You had a talent and a taste for mathematics, went through school and somehow or other ended up with a Ph.D. in mathematics with a dissertation in number theory and a tenure-track job as a college professor at a university that was "on the way up." This was in the day when research mathematicians talked about teaching behind closed doors — if they talked about teaching at all. Although you always enjoyed teaching, research was your big thing, so you subscribed to the Journal of Number Theory, published like mad, joined a scholarly organization, and attended professional meetings focusing on research in general or in number theory. Of course, your university subscribed to quite a number of research journals, and to the reviewing journals Mathematical Reviews and Zentralblatt. Your department also took an interesting magazine devoted to expository mathematics called the American Mathematical Monthly. Somewhere along the way, you were tenured and promoted. You received your professional organization's official magazine, and went to meetings — and things began to change.

Meetings devoted to your specialty were, and still are, highly enjoyable. However, you noticed that the business meetings of your professional society were becoming less mathematical and more political, more contentious, and a whole lot less enjoyable. Also, for whatever reason, the articles appearing in that official magazine were hard to read and were not particularly well written. It was as if the writers had all heard your major professor's advice ("You should write your mathematics as if you wanted someone to read it") and had all decided to do the opposite. Those big meetings weren't fun anymore. What to do?

Just about this time, your department recruited a new full professor, a prominent young researcher named David Roselle who had been one of your teachers in graduate school, had written a letter of recommendation for your current job, and who just happened to be involved with the MAA at the national level. The two of you chatted about the situation, and he suggested that you might want to join the MAA ("You meet the nicest people there"), one of the benefits being your own copy of the Monthly. So you change professional organizations and become an MAA member.

Of course, one of the first things you discovered is that the Monthly was and still is a wonderful source of problems, especially useful for the weekly undergraduate problem session that had been running in your department for several years. You immediately get involved in that problem session. And for the next 24 years, your involvement in the MAA consists of reading the Monthly and answering a call by one of the terrific Monthly editors to review problem submissions and edit solution sets. Oh yes, and you attend a grand total of one section meeting. At that meeting, you meet the legendary Herta Freitag, attend an invited address by the prominent number theorist Carl Pomerance, and are introduced to a young graduate student named Art Benjamin. One section meeting in 24 years. Pitiful. But again, things began to change.

You are promoted to full professor, and about that time, two things happen. The first is that you realize that in number theory, you are never going to be Gauss. The second is that you teach an undergraduate course in number theory that does not go well. In fact, it is a complete disaster. Your student evaluations contain many creative descriptions about how awful a teacher you were — and they were right. So you take the evaluations home and burn them in the fireplace.

But you can't burn the words.

You can't burn the words, so you resolve to do something about it. You receive and heed plenty of sound advice from several outstanding teachers on your campus. You get your ego out of the classroom. You put your students and the subject matter at the center of each class. You put into practice many of the ideas that are presented at MAA workshops — although you did not know it at the time. You put into practice many of the ideas that are presented to Project NExT Fellows — although at that time, Project NExT was years in the future. You get involved on your campus with a calculus-readiness program called the Emerging Scholars Program (ESP) that is modeled after Uri Treisman's collaborative workshops at Berkeley and at the University of Texas. You mentor graduate students and young faculty colleagues in teaching. You take on the enjoyable task of helping colleagues prepare dossiers for possible teaching awards.

And then in January of 1999, your department head tells you to go to the spring meeting of the MD/DC/VA Section, which is your MAA section, because (as he puts it) the people there are interested in our ESP student-success program and want to give us some money. At the meeting, you discover that your department head had brought you there under false pretences, and that you were really there to receive your section's teaching award.

You are rendered totally speechless.

And then you think to yourself that if these folks have done this for you, the very least that you can do is go to their meetings and get involved in their section, which is of course your section. So you do, and the only section meeting you miss from that day down to this is one that takes place the day after you have cataract surgery.

Around this time, you go to a Joint Math Meeting in Baltimore to give a talk about getting students involved in undergraduate research. You see a long-time friend and number theory colleague named Underwood Dudley, who tells you that he has been named editor of the College Math Journal and invites you to submit some expository articles. So you write up two pieces for the CMJ and they are published.

Because of those two articles, you end up at MathFest in 2000 (at UCLA) and 2001 (at Madison), where you meet Frank Farris, editor of Math Magazine. Frank suggests that you might want to write an expository article for Math Mag, and so you do. You go to MathFest in 2003, where you meet and are able to personally thank one of the referees of that article, the great number theorist and combinatorialist Richard Guy. You give a talk at a meeting of the Northeastern Section in 2004 and have a conversation with one of the other speakers — none other than Art Benjamin. The result of this chat is that the two of you organize an Invited Paper Session called Gems of Number Theory for MathFest 2005 in Albuquerque. It turns out to be a roaring success. The MAA asks the two of you to put together a collection of articles on number theory that would be accessible to students who have had, or who are taking, a first course in number theory. The two of you do just that, and the MAA publishes that collection under the title Biscuits of Number Theory. Apparently, lots of people like it.

Meanwhile, back in the MD/DC/VA section, you join the section's teaching committee, then you chair it, then you are named the section's Program Chair, and then you are elected section Governor. During this time, the section begins holding its own version of Math Jeopardy at the spring section meetings, and the organizers ask you to be Alex Trebek.

So, 24 years as a mostly-inactive MAA member have been followed by thirteen years of being quite involved with the MAA at both the section and the national level. And the question one might ask is: Why?

There are many reasons why, but the main reason why is quite simple: as Dave Roselle said almost 40 years ago, "You meet the nicest people there!"

A Story by Roland Minton

I have a book autographed by Benoit Mandelbrot. My dad was a PhD statistician and my son was on a fast track to a doctorate in math, so I suggested that an inscription of "To three iterations of Dr. Minton" would be appreciated. Mandelbrot looked at me for a second, opened up the book and wrote "To Drs Minton 1, 2, 3, and on to infinity."

I wanted to write about the role of the MAA Section in the lives of Drs Minton 1, 2, and 3. My dad, Paul Minton, was a 50-year MAA member (I just passed 30, my son Greg has 6 or so years in). He and I went to a section meeting together after he retired, and it was a pleasure to be with him and have him in the audience at the short talk I gave. I remember a long conversation with his (and everybody's) friend Sister Helen Christensen.

Greg and I went to a section meeting when he was in 10th grade, and I will always be grateful for the fantastic attention Greg received there. We ran into Bud Brown in the hotel, and Bud talked about the performance of Greg and his high school math frenemy Brian Rice, who had both placed top ten in the Virginia Tech Math Competition. At the meeting, Greg's favorite talk was not mine (10th grade, right?) but John Osoinach's on the lying oracle. John spent a lot of time with Greg after the talk going over some details and potential extensions, and recruiting Greg to participate in the HSC Problem of the Fortnight competition (which he did). A big issue in Greg's life at the time was whether to graduate from high school a year early. I was nervous about it for various reasons, but we had a long talk with Jon Scott at the book display about pros and cons. Jon's advice, of course, was sound and well reasoned and very helpful to us. Greg, by the way, did graduate a year early and ended up at Harvey Mudd with Brian Rice; but that's a different long story.

I met Bob Hanson at the Joint Meetings in Phoenix the following year. Greg and I gave a talk together (a little gimmicky, but how could a dad resist?). After the talk a nice gentleman came up and introduced himself and said we had made the section proud. This, of course, made my day.

Organizations often talk about a sense of community and family. I hope that my story is a nice witness that our section actually achieves this. Bud and John and Jon and Bob and many others in the section have had a tremendous impact on me and Jan and Greg. We thank everyone in our MAA family.

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