Jon White
Associate Professor of Mathematical Sciences

Education
B.A., Coe College
M.S., University of Iowa
Ph.D., University of Oklahoma

What research or projects are you currently working on with Coe students?
We have a great little research program going in the math department. We work in the area of Combinatorial Game Theory, which roughly means games where there's no element of chance - including things like Tic-Tac-Toe, Peg Solitaire, Connect 4, Checkers, Chess, and Go. It's a great field for undergraduate research, because students don't need to wait through years of classes and reading before they can dig into genuine, original research of their very own. We've had at least a couple of students presenting their work at regional conferences the last couple of years, and I'm having a lot of fun with it.

What is your most memorable moment in dealing with a Coe student?
Actually, my most memorable moment in dealing with Coe students came in dealing with a non-Coe student. A few years ago I was teaching in a class which included a student named Brett who was actually earning a degree at another institution, but needed a particular class to graduate which he couldn't get into at that other school. The classroom happened to be at the far end of campus, two blocks from my office, so Brett and I often ended up walking back across campus and chatting on our way to my office and his car. Through the semester he kept going on about how different Coe students were from the students at his own school, but how he couldn't describe exactly what the difference was.

Most of the way through the semester, one class period was devoted to reviewing for an exam that was coming up. We got off on a tangent because of an interesting question one of the students asked, and I warned the class that though the answer to the question was very interesting, it didn't involve anything that would be covered on the exam. They still enthusiastically wanted to talk about it, and we spent most of the hour following up on it. After class, and after I'd handled a couple of individual questions from other students, I saw that Brett was waiting for me to walk up to the other end of campus, and he seemed really excited about something. We started walking, and Brett said "I figured it out finally, I know exactly what it is that makes Coe students different from students at [name of other institution omitted]!" I looked at him expectantly, and he went on "At Coe, the students actually want to learn! They're not just doing it because they have to, they want to learn."

Who is playing on your iPod?
I'm not a fan of iPods, but I'm turning into a web radio junkie. I love the variety. I listen to several different college radio stations, but most of all to Indie 103.1 out of LA -- there's just something fascinating to me about getting a micro-detailed daily surf condition report.

What do you do outside of class?
I've managed to arrange one of those cozy situations where my academic research and my hobbies overlap. I'm fascinated by games of all sorts, from disc golf to various board games. It's great when things you do for work are also things you do for fun.

What is your favorite thing about Coe?
I love that Coe is such a strong school, but without any hint of elitism. The students work hard and get everything possible out of their education here, but without any arrogance about it. I get lots of comments on that from prospective students and from their parents - about how when they visit certain other schools there's a stuffiness, or a strong sense of privilege. Coe just doesn't radiate that air of entitlement or snobbishness at all, which is ironic since it has more objective reasons to hold itself in high regard than many places.

What advice would you give a prospective student?
The trick when picking a school is that all colleges say many of the same good things about themselves. What you have to do is cut through the propaganda: sure they say their students have research options, but how many actually get to participate? And everyplace boasts about close faculty/student ties, but talk to actual students to find out if that's real.