A CLOSE ENCOUNTER WITH MATHEMATICS FACULTY

Professor Kwang-nan Chow

Encounter With K.C.

In this issue we meet with Professor Kwang-nan Chow. Mei Kwan Lee has done the following interview with professor Chow. Thanks to both Kwang-nan and Mei for their time. If you would like to interview a faculty member or learn more about a fa culty member in this column please let us know. Mei is an undergraduate student in mathematics. Best wishes on her continued academic success.

ML:
Would you explain why you become a mathematician? When and how did you become interested in mathematics? How many years have you been studying mathematics?

KC:
I first became really interested in mathematics when I was a high school senior. During my senior year, I paid more attention to my studies, because I thought of my future more that year. I discovered that I was very interested in math, and ended up doing quite well in math. In college I was a Psychology major in my freshman year. The following year I switched to math. So I studied three years of math in college and four years in graduate school pursuing my Ph.D. degree. Between college and graduate school, I served in the military for a year (it was required in Taiwan), and I worked as a teaching assistant in a university for the Math Dept for another year. During the time in the military, I was an instructor teaching precalculus in a cadet school. So essentially, I was still dealing with math. I have been studying math practically all my life.

ML:
Why did you become Mathematics Professor at CSUN? How long have you been teaching at CSUN? Did you teach anywhere else beside CSUN?

KC:
I have always wanted to be a college professor since I was very young. I thought the life of a college professor was one of the best and so it was very natural for me to pursue college teaching after I got my Ph.D. degree. I started teachi ng here in 1970. Except for a year of sabbatical, during which I taught at the National Central University in Taiwan, I have taught at CSUN all these years. Prior to CSUN as a graduate student, I had some opportunities teaching undergraduates.

ML:
Why did you choose to stay in the United States and not return to Taiwan after receiving your Ph.D. degree?

KC:
At the time when I got my Ph.D. degree, Taiwan was still a developing country. There were many more meaningful jobs in United States than in Taiwan for professional people like me. United States is a wonderful country. I find the place very accommodating, and people very nice. Overall speaking, United States is a young country and has lots of energy.

ML:
What's your favorite class to teach?

KC:
There are many. My favorite class is any class in which students are enthusiastic. One of the very interesting classes I had recently was Math 103 (Business Math). Normally I would not consider it a very interesting class to teach. But tha t semester was an extraordinary semester for the kind of students I got in Math 103. Almost all the students in the class were so 'Gung-ho' about learning math. So there had been a tremendous spirit and that made teaching fun. Whatever you did, they respo nded; you helped them, they appreciated; you pushed them, they worked harder. So it was a very rewarding experience for me. Generally speaking I am an analyst. I enjoy teaching most of the Analysis Classes, which include Math 150AB/250 (Elementary Calculu s), 450AB (Advanced Calculus), 455/655 (Complex Analyses) and 650 (Real Analysis). Some of the algebra classes, like Math 326, 364, 462, etc. are also my favorites. I taught Math 340 (Probability) and 440A (statistics) some time ago. I liked them very muc h. I think any course can be enjoyable if you can communicate well and get responses from the students. For instance, Math 262 (Linear Algebra) has a very interesting content. It is very a difficult course, however, to teach because, being the first cours e in abstract math for our students, it is very hard for them. Occasionally I got a class of good students in Math 262, and Math 262 could become a very interesting course to teach in that circumstance.

ML:
What's your favorite Math subject? And what's your hardest Math subject?

KC:
Well, put it this way. To me all Math subjects are hard. On the other hand, Math is always interesting. In any subject, there are hard problems and there are relatively easy problems. If you are doing research, sometimes you are up and som etimes you are down, like a roller coaster ride. You have a good time when you are making progress. But from time to time, you run into problems. So doing research is not always smooth sailing. You get satisfaction when you are able to overcome certain hu rdles. As an analyst my favorite Math subject is analysis. I spent more time in this area than in any other areas. In particular, I spent most of my time in an area, called Harmonic Analysis which encompasses many branches of analysis. It puts Real Variab les, Complex Variables, Functional Analysis, Fourier Analysis, etc. to work together. Frequently in Harmonic Analysis it is eye-opening to see that Complex Variables are used to solve Real Variables problems with Functional Analysis techniques.

ML:
What is your most exciting moment happened throughout your teaching career?

KC:
Let me talk about some of the 'interesting' moments, instead. Professionally speaking whenever you got some results done, or you were able to write a paper and saw it published, it would be a happy moment. For quite few times, I organized math seminars on special topics by getting faculties together. Some years ago, I helped devise and institute a Student Advising Program in the math department, which served math majors well. Later on , I was charged to revive the Math Minor Program. When I presented my ideas to the department, it was favorably received. For a number of years I led teams of our math students to visit practically all high schools in the San Fernando-Simi-Conejo Valleys. Students in our teams talked to their students, class by class, about the importance of taking as many math courses as possible while still in high school, so that they could be better prepared for college. That endeavor was appreciated by all these high school math teachers and many of their students. More recently, I was able to convince our Department Chair and the Dean of the School to invite a high-calibered research mathematician from China every other semester to teach on CSUN campus. The cost was low because only basic salaries were involved. It was a bargain program for us. It lasted about four years until it was forced to be canceled by the severe budget crisis in California. For one year I was the Director of CSUN's China Institute. The Institute promotes academic exchanges between CSUN and univer sities in China. For instance, Dr. William Karush of this department, now retired, gave a month-long seminar in China, and had his Math Dictionary translated into Chinese and published there. As the director, I was required by my job to deal with many dep artments, schools, and offices on and off campus. One of the events the Institute put out, in conjunction with the Radio-TV-Film Department, in that year was a Film Festival featuring Women in Chinese Films. People in movie academies from both China and t he U.S. were on campus for the occasion.

ML:
What's in your opinion the future of Mathematics for the next ten years? Would computer take over mathematics for example?

KC:
The future of mathematics is like the future of any other area of knowledge. The future is always there and it is always bright. There will always be things to study because when one question is resolved, the answer invariably leads to mor e questions in different directions. Computer will not take over mathematics. The two are complementary to each other. Computer needs math to exist. For example, the study of Computer Algorithm, development of Languages and Design of Computers all involve a lot of math. On the other hand to mathematicians, computer is a wonderful tool.

ML:
What are your other interests beside math?

KC:
I like playing tennis and table tennis, going on camping trips with my family, photographing, ballroom dancing with my wife, etc. I don't play bridge or chess games, because I don't like sitting down too long. I enjoy good company, good fo od, and good conversations.

ML:
Are you involved in any of the math journal review?

KC:
Yes, I am a reviewer for the Mathematical Review based in the United States. I am also a reviewer for the Zentralblatt für Matematik based in Germany. Because of my bilingual capability, lately I was given many papers written in Chinese to review.

ML:
What do you consider your most important achievement in mathematics?

KC:
I'll answer this question when I reach retirement (just kidding). In doing research, I have had some papers which answered certain questions. To myself, more importantly my achievements, if they can be called achievements at all, are in te aching. I hope that I have been a reasonably good communicator. I was able to communicate well with my students most of the time. I hope that I have injected an interest in many of them in learning math. They were always moments of satisfaction when forme r students of mine came back to tell me what they had been doing and how much they enjoyed my classes and how much they had learned from me.

ML:
Do you have any good advice for math graduates? What do you see the future of math majors?

KC:
In the immediate future, there will be few demand of researchers. Right now the job market for college teaching is very bad. At this point math graduates may want to look for future in industries, businesses, secondary teaching, etc. A fri end of mine working in health insurance industry said recently that they were still hiring math majors. In fact, math graduates do not have to look for math related work. For example, a mechanical engineering graduate I know of is now a very successful bu siness consultant. No matter what your major is, college education gives you a mind to think independently. When you encounter a problem, you can devise your own way to have the problem resolved. As math majors, you have had good training in logic and com mon sense, and you are capable of handling all situations in your life. With this kind of training, you can be anything you want, and you don't have to work as a mathematician.

Reload this page!

Back to the main page!