Dr. Dan Biebighauser, associate professor of mathematics, leaves an impression on all of his students. They will never forget his quirky humor, passion for mathematics and, of course, his true love: the number “51.”
Where are you from? What is your degree in?
I’m originally from the Twin Cities. I graduated from Concordia in 2002, got my Ph.D. from Vanderbilt, and then came back here to teach in 2006. My area of mathematics is graph theory, which is the study of networks. My own research focuses on what we can theoretically figure out about a network based on pictures of it, but my work with students has been more about the applications of graph theory to real networks.
What are your passions outside of work?
Though sometimes my daily priorities don’t reflect this, nothing is more important to me than my Christian faith. I have really enjoyed teaching Sunday school and working with the seventh- through 12th-graders at my church. It’s easiest to connect my faith to my work with Habitat for Humanity, and less so in a math classroom, but I pray for my students often and hope that they see that I love them at least as much as I love my subject material.
My family is really important to me as well, and stories about my kids seem to creep into my classes pretty frequently, too!
Tell us about your journey to Concordia to teach.
I always wanted to teach math at either the high school or college level. During my first year as a student here, I had a random conversation with my advisor, Jim Forde, in one of the hallways of Hvidsten. I had been leaning toward teaching at the high school level, but he encouraged me to at least consider going on to graduate school. I look back at that unscheduled conversation, not even in the math and science building, as one of the turning points of my life. It emphasizes the close connections we have between staff and students here at Concordia, and how what might seem like a simple moment to one person can be a very powerful experience for someone else.
I ended up following in Jim’s footsteps by going to graduate school at Vanderbilt. I stayed in close contact with the faculty members in Concordia’s math department, and they let me know when a job opening came up to replace Jim. When Concordia hired me, I took Jim’s office and even still have his old phone number! I was very fortunate to find my dream position right away.
What do your classes primarily focus on?
One of the core classes I teach is Exploring Mathematics. I love working with students who are not math majors, and after a semester of exploration-style mathematics with some applications, many of them have changed their perspective on math and their own abilities. For our majors, I teach upper-level classes in abstract algebra and geometry. I’ve also recently started teaching a class in our Credo Honors Program, looking at networks from an interdisciplinary applied perspective, and that’s been really fun.
What do you love about teaching at Concordia? What Concordia values do you appreciate?
I love how wonderful our students are – how they work hard, ask great questions, and are involved in and passionate about so many things. I love being at a school where I can get to know them well, and that they can see me as a real person, too. I appreciate that this is a place where important conversations about faith and life are allowed and encouraged.
How does Concordia allow you to be passionate about your work?
Concordia is a place where I can live out my calling from God as a teacher and mentor for my students. We have the access and proximity to our students to watch and help them grow, and I enjoy learning so much from them as well. I also love being a part of the many traditions at Concordia that bring us together.
What has been your favorite memory made thus far at Concordia?
This is a hard question, because my memory is a little iffy, and I’ve had a lot of great experiences here. I think I’ve felt most supported by Concordia when the community got behind my push to have Joe Buck say something special about the number 51, my favorite number, during Super Bowl 51. (He didn’t, even though he had plenty of chances – the game even went into overtime!) It was really fun to have students I didn’t even know come talk to me about my favorite number.
How does your work best serve Concordia’s mission to Become Responsibly Engaged in the World?
Obviously, our math classes ensure that our students have at least a basic knowledge of how to make and evaluate logical arguments, and how to handle quantitative data – skills that remain at least as valuable now as ever. I’ve also enjoyed helping be the hands and feet of Christ as we build houses through Habitat for Humanity.
Where else are you involved on campus?
I helped found the Math Club when I was a student here, and I’ve been the advisor for that club ever since I’ve been back as a faculty member. I’m also the advisor for Habitat for Humanity. Concordia has one of the largest Habitat campus chapters in the country. Each year, we send out 75-100 students on Habitat trips during spring break, as well as working locally in Fargo-Moorhead and the region. Every other year, we have an international Habitat trip, too. It has been so amazing to work with dedicated students on these projects outside of the classroom.
What do you love about the Fargo-Moorhead community?
I love living just a couple of blocks from campus. I walk to work every day and love the flexibility to come back for athletic, music and other events. My kids basically treat the campus like their own park – it’s been really fun to raise them in this environment. And Moorhead has the best Dairy Queen in the world.
Can you describe the significance of “51”?
Fifty-one is my favorite number. It’s the smallest number that feels like a prime number, only divisible by one and itself, but it’s actually also 3 times 17. It’s been amazing for me to see how many students remember my favorite number. I get emails all the time from alumni who saw the number 51 somewhere and thought of me! Just a couple of weeks ago, at the Fargo-Moorhead Holiday Lights Parade, a high school student that I had met once earlier this year recognized me, said hello, and then yelled, “51!” as his float kept going. It’s a significant number with an influence that continues to grow as time goes by.
Can you tell us about one of your favorite memories during your time at Concordia as a student?
When I was a sophomore, there was a first-year girl that I liked but didn’t know how to tell her that I liked her. I ended up deciding to write her a card on the day that she learned about derivatives in Calculus I. In the card, I went on and on about how wonderful derivatives are, and I hoped that, by reading between the lines, she’d decide to start dating me. It didn’t work at all.
Years later, when I was a senior and she was a junior, we were both math tutors. I knew that it’d be tougher to start dating after I had graduated, so one night, in one of the tutoring rooms (Ivers 214), I asked her a little more directly about dating. She said she’d need to think about it (which is not quite the response I was looking for). But a week later, in that same room, we decided that dating would be a good idea.
I came back to campus for Homecoming after I graduated, when Amanda was a senior and, after the Harvest Ball, we walked by Ivers. I had borrowed a key to the building and a key to Ivers 214, and I proposed to her in that classroom. It was one of the ugliest places on campus, but it was special to us!
That room doesn’t exist anymore in our new Integrated Science Center, but, don’t worry, I took the sign to Ivers 214 before the room was demolished.
And Amanda still has that derivatives card.
Why are you excited about the Integrated Science Center? What does it allow you to do in your classrooms that were not as possible before?
I love the study and social spaces that our students have, and how they’re so close to our offices and other learning spaces. I enjoy getting out of my office for lunch every day and having conversations with colleagues and students. For more things that I’m excited about, you can see the blog post I wrote with 51 reasons why I love the ISC.
Danyel Moe '17 is a content specialist at Concordia.