With award-winning math prof, students conquer infinity (and beyond)

Can you prove the square root of three is irrational?

Gettysburg College math Prof. Bela Bajnok’s students can, and for some of them the process has changed their lives.

Bela Bajnok“I don’t exactly like math, but I’m okay at it,” Emma Norbrothen said during her first year at Gettysburg. Fast-forward to her sophomore year, and her entire outlook has changed. “I took Introduction to Abstract Math with Bela Bajnok, and he turned everything I knew about math inside out and upside down. It was in his class that I learned to love math,” said Norbrothen, who is now a Ph.D. student in the department of mathematics at North Carolina State University.

“As both an advisor and professor, Bela’s passion for math is contagious,” said Megan Knauss ’09, who works in information technology for The Vanguard Group. “He helped me understand my strength in math and encouraged me to study abroad and attend the Budapest Semesters in Mathematics” where she studied unfamiliar, advanced concepts in Hungary. “Not only was this one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, it also showed me how well the courses at Gettysburg, especially the ones Bela taught, prepared me to understand necessary concepts and succeed.”

“Bela is extremely innovative and successful in his teaching,” said Prof. Darren Glass, chair of the math department. “Two of the most popular courses offered by our department were developed and are commonly taught by him: Abstract Mathematics and Introduction to Mathematical Research.” These courses attract a variety of students, from those not planning a career in math to math majors interested in conducting extensive research. However, many students who begin the semester not planning to major in math change their minds after taking one of Bajnok’s courses.

Bela BajnokAnd for that reason, and numerous others, the Eastern Pennsylvania and Delaware (EPaDel) section of the Mathematical Association of America (MMA) presented Bajnok with the 2012 James P. Crawford EPaDel Teaching Award. “This is no small potatoes,” said Joseph Grzybowski, professor of chemistry at Gettysburg College. Based on peer nominations, the annual award recognizes a distinguished teacher in the EPaDel section. Bajnok will also be the section’s official nominee for the MAA’s national Deborah and Franklin Tepper Haimo Award for Distinguished College or University Teaching of Mathematics. “I am deeply honored to have received the award, and I am very grateful to all my colleagues and students who recommended me,” said Bajnok. “It is great to be recognized for something I truly value. While my teaching philosophy has evolved during my nearly three decades of teaching in higher education, my fundamental aim has always been the same: to help my students reach their full potential in mathematics.”

Bajnok has taught at Gettysburg College since 1993 and has held the endowed Alumni Professor of Mathematics chair for the last five years. He has published on topics that include spherical designs and codes, the Boolean lattice, approximation theory, and network reliability. A native of Hungary, Bajnok enjoys spending time in the mountains, discussing books and films, and exploring.

Founded in 1832, Gettysburg College is a highly selective four-year residential college of liberal arts and sciences with a strong academic tradition. Alumni include Rhodes Scholars, a Nobel laureate, and other distinguished scholars. The college enrolls 2,600 undergraduate students and is located on a 200-acre campus adjacent to the Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania.

Contact: Tracey Dukert, assistant director of news content, 717.337.652