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Utah Professor and new Mills club cultivate love of math through doodles

Dr. Robert Easton, an assistant professor at University of Utah, explains how doodling can be mathematical. (Nicole Vermeer)

“This is such good attendance for a Friday at four. Do they know this is a math talk?” asked  Dr. Robert Easton, a mathematics professor at the University of Utah, as a group of fifty college students laughed and joked among themselves. The group was not there for a concert, a party or a dance. They had gathered in the Natural Sciences building that afternoon for math – “The Mathematics of Doodling,” as the lecture was titled.

Easton’s lecture was intended to attract more than just math minds, which is why the Mills College Möbius Band invited the professor to speak. Möbius Band is one of the college’s newest clubs, and is already a chapter of the Mathematics Association of Women in Math. Through events with speakers like Easton, the group hopes to help others see some of the appeal and benefits of math.

“Math teaches you how to do things. It helps you learn to think,” said Emily Meike, the Mobius Band president.

Yet the club’s main focus is to show that math can be just as enjoyable as it is practical.

“Math is beautiful and creative, and people don’t usually think about that,” said Maia Averett, Möbius Band’s Mills faculty advisor and a professor of mathematics. “We want to spread the beauty
of math.”

One of the chief ways Mobius Bands hopes to spread mathematical affection and concern at Mills is by exposing students to the math they don’t get to see in the classroom.

“My goal as president is to introduce people to other kinds of math,” Meike said. “Calculus is not even scratching the surface of what math is.”

Club members decided to invite Easton to speak on doodling because people rarely see it as a form of math.

Mills students pay close attention to Easten. (Nicole Vermeer)

“Everyone likes to doodle, and people do it without thinking,” Meike said.

Easton played to the fact that doodling comes naturally to most by making his talk just as accessible and interactive as drawing in the margins of a notebook. Easton gave each student a packet with pages of prompts for doodles. The students were then shown how to mathematically derive the area and perimeter of a seemingly random doodle.

“I randomly observe something, string it together and create something sweet,” Easton said of his doodling process.

Averett hopes that, after seeing similarities, students will approach other forms of math with the same confidence and interest.

“There is a critical mass for math at Mills. People are starting to realize that it can be fun and creative,” Averett said. “Math is on the rise.”

Averett’s vision may already be coming true.

“I have never seen a group this enthusiastic,” Easton said at the end of his presentation, along with some last words of advice – “Let your curiosity draw you in.”