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"I know I'm a geek,” says Professor Steve Lemery, but he can't help it. It began with a pencil in the fifth grade. "When I was in elementary school, I won a pencil prize for reciting prime numbers up to 100. I've been a math geek ever since."

He also realizes that people like him (yes, "geeks") often prefer to be on their own, and he helps get his students past that. "I have my students work in small groups, specifically to avoid falling into the natural isolation tendency of the discipline. I have them go to the board often to explain things, basically making informal presentations. Eventually, some do honors presentations in math."

He mentions that he had a couple of foreign students — one from Asia and one from a country that used to be in the Soviet Union — who "began as shy and geeky, isolated, and by the time we finished with them they were speaking in class, involved in clubs, doing things like helping out at Homecoming events. Some really high-achieving high school students can go to almost any college or university and succeed. Many of our students come here and thrive, whereas they would not do as well at other schools."

If you ask an Averett student who Lemery is, the likely answer will be, "The Skittles Prof." See, he does this thing with Skittles or M&Ms …

"We use candy with letters on one side. Shake 'em up and pour them out, then eat [Yes!] the ones with a letter showing. Repeat the process with the ones remaining, and just keep doing it. Plot all the numbers, and the data form a curving diminishing pattern. With modern calculators, you can plug in the data points and get the equation that describes the phenomenon."

He explains that the Skittles procedure has many applications. You can do a similar thing, for instance, with the numbers for people who have had this year's cold. Plot all of it, and you have a mathematical analysis for use in epidemiology. Plus, you've had a good bit of candy.


Master of Science, mathematics, University of Arizona

Bachelor of Arts, mathematics, Southern Illinois University