Ray Levy is an educator from the coast of North Carolina.
As a math modeler, I am interested improving systems. Modelers optimize for some objective subject to constraints. In practice, this requires listening, attending to individual and collective needs, critically examining assumptions and data, employing tools ethically and effectively, communicating, and building consensus. My goal is to empower people to use mathematical modeling and data science tools and improve our world.
I was fortunate to attend a parent-founded, child-centered elementary school in NC. Many of the former students from this school are now educators.
I was part of the fourth graduating class of the NC School of Science and Mathematics, the first public boarding school in the US. I enjoy giving back by sharing workshops at the Teaching Contemporary Mathematics conference.
After graduating from Oberlin College with degrees in English and Mathematics, I worked for Learning Disabilities Services (now called the Learning Center) at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC). This job opened my eyes to what students can do when they are provided with appropriate support.
Middle and High School Teaching
For about a decade, I taught Middle and Upper School at Carolina Friends School in Durham NC and served as the Upper School Dean. Interestingly, this school had been the model for my elementary school, so it felt like coming home. During summers at Duke University Talent Identification Program, I served as a TA, an instructor and then as coordinator of the mathematics program. I consulted for SAS Institute on educational software design, and for the Durham Public Schools delivering educational technology professional development. To support this work I completed an MA in Educational Media and Instructional Design from UNC Chapel Hill.
Memories of an undergraduate capstone experience in Operations Research at NASA organized by Bruce Pollack-Johnson (then at Oberlin, now at Villanova) kept tickling my fancy to learn more mathematics. So a decade after undergrad, I entered NC State University to obtain an MS and PhD in Applied Mathematics. I appreciated the strong connections with governmental and industrial mathematics.
My research focus was fluid mechanics, specifically models of motion for thin liquid films of viscous fluids (think oil) and surfactants (think soap), which requires a coupled system of fourth-order nonlinear parabolic-hyperbolic partial differential equations (think cool math). My family encouraged me and for four years tolerated my almost complete absence of brain space for anything but mathematics.
My advisor at NC State, Michael Shearer, was a constant source of encouragement. Michael’s humble nature and inclination to support the careers of others means his groundbreaking insights with respect to models and applications of undercompressive shocks may never properly be recognized. So let this be a spot of recognition! Michael and my Duke University postdoc mentor Tom Witelski both supported travel to England to participate in the traditions of applied maths and industrial study groups.
At Harvey Mudd College, during the on-campus teaching portion of the interview, making a joke about very large chickens eating velociraptors in a predator-prey model may have landed me the job (according to Art Benjamin). I taught in the Harvey Mudd College mathematics department for 12 years, eventually serving the college as Associate Dean for Faculty Development, and initiating a multi-institution Department Chairs Workshop for the Claremont Colleges. During this time I co-wrote a Partial Differential Equations text for Princeton Press with Michael Shearer.
At Mudd, I co-taught the first-year writing course (WRIT 001) with a member of almost every other Department in the college (Peter Saeta, physics; Dan Stoebel, biology; Wendy Menefee-Libey, writing; Pat Little, engineering; Colleen Lewis, computer science; Kathy Van Heuvelen, chemistry) and I taught photography and fluid mechanics with Ken Fandell from the department of humanities, social sciences and the arts. I will always treasure the opportunity to learn about teaching in other disciplines from these folks. I also enjoyed serving as a faculty mentor for mathematics in the HMC Clinic (industrial education) Program.
My research at Harvey Mudd bifurcated into fluid mechanics and scholarship of teaching and learning. My fluids research collaborations continued to focus on thin films, with forays into underwater robotics and a study of whale flukeprints.
I ran a fluid lab with wet experiments and computational modeling each summer in collaboration with my favorite physicist, Karen Daniels from NC State University. Pomona College mathematician and Edge program leader Ami Radunskaya learned that as of 2019, out of over 500 NSF Focused Research Group awards, ours was one of only four that had been awarded to people from liberal arts colleges. Let’s figure out how to improve that number!
Service to the Profession
While at Harvey Mudd College, I served as Vice President for Education for the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics. In this role I was able to work with the fabulous Michelle Montgomery and her team that runs the M3 Challenge. Out of a series of NSF Modeling Across the Disciplines workshops envisioned by SIAM Ed VP Peter Turner, four new initiatives were born:
- Guidelines for Assessment and Instruction in Math Modeling Education (GAIMME)
- SIAM Activity Group on Applied Mathematics Education
- NSF-funded IMMERSION program (NSF-1441024) for PK-6 teacher professional development in mathematical modeling. Pomona Unified School District has adopted this project. Teacher leaders from the district are now running the PUSD Math Modeling Summer Institute
- Math Modeling Hub online community and resources
After Cornell mathematician Tara Holm and I met at a Transforming Post-secondary Education in Mathematics (TPSE) meeting, we began working with Fadil Santosa to form the BIG Math Network, which brings together the mathematical societies to focus on careers in the mathematical sciences. Rick Laugesen joined to coauthor our first book, the BIG Jobs Guide, which is now available with a companion interview card game from AMS and SIAM.
As Deputy Executive Director of the Mathematical Association of America in Washington, DC, my portfolio includes the MAA’s robust set of sponsored programs (link coming to our meet the programs page!) and our American Mathematics Competitions (MAA AMC) program. All of these efforts serve the MAA mission to advance the understanding of mathematics and its impact on our world. In particular, we empower people to connect with mathematics by supporting teaching and learning practices that provide access to mathematics.
Service to the Community