Dr. Douglas Anderson
Chair/Professor of Mathematics
Please tell us about your background.
I come from rural stock. My maternal grandfather was orphaned early and grew up on an uncle’s farm, later becoming a small-town barber. My paternal grandfather was a farmer 10 miles from the closest town. We always lived in small towns as I grew up, in Wisconsin, Illinois, and Minnesota. I graduated from Sleepy Eye High School, attended Augustana in South Dakota, majoring in mathematics, and also ran cross country, and indoor and outdoor track. I taught English conversation in Tokyo and Nagoya, Japan, for 2.5 years in the early 1990s through the ELCA’s J3 program, then completed my doctorate in mathematics at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
What was it like to teach English in Japan even though you had a degree in mathematics?
Japan was booming in the 1980s and early 1990s, and demand for English conversation skills was high. I was assigned to Nagoya Gakuin, a boys middle school, and to teach English also at Kibo Kyokai, which is Hope Lutheran Church in Nagoya. I had classes six days a week, including at the school during the day and at the church at night. All they wanted was a native English speaker, so they didn’t care about my degree in mathematics. I did, however, teach math to some exchange students from Australia and New Zealand that were at Nagoya Gakuin, and I helped a Japanese technical researcher prepare to serve as a moderator in English at an international conference. The Japanese people were very friendly, the food was great, and the Japanese language is fascinating to study and speak.
What inspired your interest in math?
I have always loved doing math and solving math problems. I have always been fascinated by the abstract notation and the rules of its manipulation. When I realized I could get paid to teach and research mathematics full time, I made it my goal to become a college mathematics professor, even though no one in my family had ever done that.
Anderson at Kinkakuji (The Temple of the Golden Pavilion) in Kyoto, Japan
Have you always wanted to be an educator?
I loved tutoring my fellow students in math while in college and many of the women in my family growing up were teachers. I am very organized and I want things to make sense, characteristics that appeal to many students trying to learn mathematics. Through the experience of teaching in Japan, I learned that I wanted to teach as a career, just not English conversation.
How long have you been at Concordia and what brought you to teach here?
I have been at Concordia since 1997. I didn’t have any family or friend connections up here. The job market, even in Ph.D.-level mathematics, was very tough in the mid-1990s, with Chinese mathematicians trying to stay in the U.S. and many Eastern European mathematicians coming over to the U.S. after the fall of the Soviet Union. I applied for more than 90 positions and Concordia was the only school to make me an offer, a two-year sabbatical replacement position. After two years, there was a tenure-track opening at Concordia and I was hired for that in 1999.
What courses do you teach? Do you have a favorite and, if so, why?
I love teaching calculus, whether Calc I single-variable calculus, Calc II integration techniques and series convergence, or Calc III multivariable and vector calculus. These courses are also related to my research area, which is a type of discrete calculus. I also love teaching precalculus to get students ready for calculus.
Anderson with one of his main co-authors, Masakazu Onitsuka of Okayama University of Science, at Kiyomizu Temple in Kyoto, Japan
What do you love about your job?
I love teaching and researching mathematics as a career, and the interaction with undergraduates at Concordia that that affords. I also love learning, especially through travel and new experiences. Concordia students are heavily involved in many activities and I really enjoy being a faculty adviser for some of these endeavors. I have been the faculty adviser for the Cycling Club, biking from Moorhead to Duluth a couple of times during fall break. I have been on 10 Habitat for Humanity trips with students and led 11 Math May Seminars to places like Egypt, Greece, Italy, Switzerland, France, and England. My sabbatical was split between a semester at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, and a semester at United International College in Zhuhai, China. My job also has opened up international collaboration opportunities. I have co-authored papers with mathematicians from 12 different countries and one of my main research partners right now is from Japan.
What do you see in your students?
I see in my students a desire to learn more about the world and become responsible influencers. They want to be technically savvy good communicators. They work hard and try to add new knowledge to what they have experienced in life. Most rewarding of all, I see a dawning realization in my students that they are better at math than they think.
What sets mathematics apart at Concordia?
The mathematics department loves mathematics for its own sake and also for how it is used in the world. The use of mathematics and data affects everyone, and we are enthusiastic about sharing this with our students. We care about the other activities our students are involved in, and we keep in touch and remember them by name long after they graduate. We strive to create a Cobber mathematics family that humanizes some of the abstract aspects of the discipline. We are very good at placing our majors in a variety of fields, from industry and business world jobs such as actuarial science, statistical programming analyst, financial analyst, data scientist, to a strong tradition of training middle school and high school mathematics teachers, to preparing students for graduate work in the mathematical sciences.
What undergraduate opportunities do students have in the math department?
Our students serve as mathematics tutors and graders for our introductory courses. We take our students to several undergraduate math conferences every year, such as the conference for women in mathematics at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the Pi Mu Epsilon conference. Several of our students have studied abroad at the Budapest Semester in Mathematics in Hungary. Frequently, we are seeing students leverage their knowledge in mathematics, data analytics, and computer science into internships with companies, over the summer and now even during the school year, as the demand for articulate workers in the mathematical sciences continues to remain strong. Some students also do research with our math faculty, again in the summer or during the school year, and some students are able to turn projects they do in a course into a longer-term investigation. In classes like Math 335, students work directly with clients to solve scheduling problems. We also have a Math Club and an Analytics Club, led by students who organize fun and educational gatherings, and a Math Picnic every fall to kick off the school year.
Could you talk a little bit about your research in layman’s terms?
Calculus is a tool to quantify the rate of change of one thing with respect to something else, such as change in position over time. If we have an equation that represents these rates of change, I study whether a solution to the equation is stable, that is, if we start close to that solution, do we stay close? Also, if we find a function that is almost but not quite a solution, is there an actual solution nearby and, if so, how close is it?
Why do you feel that being a math major is valuable in today’s society?
Studying mathematics can enhance anyone’s technical reasoning skills and problem-solving ability. Mathematical tools allow us to quantify knowledge, identify trends, summarize findings, and make more accurate predictions. Many jobs in industry, finance, health care, and the public and private sector need college graduates that have these skills. Plus, mathematics can be beautiful in an aesthetic sense, and it has a deep and ancient history spanning all cultures, religions, and peoples, making mathematics a great human achievement worth appreciating, preserving, and extending.
Do you have any advice for students considering Concordia?
Concordia is a student-centered home for the whole person. Bring your intellect and your experience, then grow into thoughtful and informed influencers, responsible to the needs and potential of society, by taking advantage of all that Concordia offers. We are ready to grow with you when you join us, so let us get to work together.
What are your hobbies outside of work?
I am an avid nonfiction reader and I love cycling. Every year, I join a bike ride around North Dakota in early August for a week and I enjoy the Headwaters 100, which is one day of biking 100 miles through Itasca State Park and around that area of Minnesota.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Roll Cobbs or, for the calculus insiders, Rolle Cobbs.
Published January 2023