Math and democracy: How Prof. Campbell Hetrick aligns her work for the state of Pennsylvania to her teachings at Gettysburg

Gettysburg College Mathematics Prof. Beth Campbell Hetrick is passionate about the intersection between mathematics and voting—an important, yet at times, under-discussed relationship in politics that she teaches her students.

Beyond the classroom, Campbell Hetrick is living what she teaches, working closely with redistricting experts on Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf’s Redistricting Advisory Council, which she was invited to serve on in September. This council established a set of guiding principles for determining if a map is gerrymandered or equally balanced, which Wolf then used to evaluate the map forwarded by the Pennsylvania General Assembly.

“It’s been terrific, and for me as a math professor, it’s been a fantastic opportunity to really tap into the ways in which math is used all around us,” said Campbell Hetrick.

Seeing the value in facilitating discussions with students on the ever-timely topic of redistricting, in 2018, Campbell Hetrick launched a First-Year Seminar titled Mathematics of Voting: Counting the Vote and Making Your Vote Count.

Through this course, students explored some of the topics and issues related to voting and elections, looking at them through a mathematical lens—predicting, analyzing, and quantifying. Campbell Hetrick has also provided students with many opportunities to discuss current events about voting and ballot initiatives in her classroom, such as the role of the Electoral College in the 2020 presidential election.

“When it comes to absentee ballots, Pennsylvania’s past sweeping reform in 2019 right before [the COVID-19 pandemic] is still a news question, [and] North Carolina is also in the news a lot for gerrymandering and redistricting issues and court challenges,” she said, noting just some of many real-life examples she and her students considered.

In the last three years, her students have also participated in Pennsylvania’s state-wide and non-partisan Draw the Lines competition, which encourages individuals across the state to draw their own Congressional district map—highlighting the importance of drawing fair lines, mitigating the unfairness of gerrymandering, and improving democracy.

students participating in a competition
Students participate in the Draw the Lines PA legislative mapping competition at Gettysburg College in 2019

Since 2018, Gettysburg students have earned recognition for their submissions, and the College has received an engagement award from Draw the Lines for its continued participation. In fall 2019, Carter Hanson ’23 won second place in the west higher education division and was a semifinalist in the Pennsylvania Senate Map competition. Matt Granito ’22 was a statewide runner-up in the higher education division in spring 2019, and most recently, Aiden Ludka ’24 won second place in the west higher education division in 2021.

For Ludka, this valuable learning experience was eye-opening, one that he will carry with him for many years to come. He learned that issues in the social sciences are complex and require critiquing and observing options from all angles.

“My favorite part of the competition was probably creating the map itself,” said Ludka, who approached it like a puzzle, knowing it was relevant to elections across the state. “Creating districts within a state is really important work.”

Learn more about the lasting value of First-Year Seminars at Gettysburg College.

By Ericka Gardner ’22
Photos by Miranda Harple
Posted: 02/01/22