Image of the Old Music Hall

The mathematics program at St. Olaf is nationally recognized for innovative and effective teaching, for scholarship, and for service to the profession. We see mathematics as interesting, important, useful, and appropriate for students with a wide variety of interests. Welcome to our mathematical community.

What's Happening in St. Olaf Math?

Watch this spot for news of colloquia and other weekly events.

November 11, 2008
  • Title: The Full Monty Hall
  • Speaker: Brian Hayes
  • Time: 4:00 pm
  • Place: RNS 310: Note the unusual time and place!

About the talk: The title alludes not to a once-popular move, but rather to the famous three-door puzzle on the TV show Let's Make a Deal: Players were invited to choose from among three doors, one of which hides a car and the other two goats. The host, Monty Hall, would then reveal one of the goats and invite the player to switch doors. Should the player switch? What do you think? Why? The matter became a hot topic of popular debate in the 1990s, sometimes pitting professionals against each other. For more on the Monty Hall problem, see
The talk itself will focus less on the now-well-understood Monty Hall problem and more on how we persuade ourselves and others that mathematical results are true, and what can happen when persuasion fails.

About the presenter: Brian Hayes is an author, essayist, and columnist for American Scientist; a collection of his essays, titled Group Theory in the Bedroom, and Other Mathematical Diversions was published in April.

November 4, 2008
  • Title: Mathematics of Elections
  • Speaker: Kay Smith
  • Time: 1:30 (treats at 1:15)
  • Place: SC 188

About the talk: On Election Day most elections in the United States involving three or more candidates will use the plurality method to determine the winner - the person with the most votes wins, even if this is less than half of all votes cast. What other methods can be used? What are the advantages and disadvantages of these methods? Is there a best method? Come to the talk to find out how mathematics can help answer these questions. (The only mathematical prerequisite is the ability to count.)

About the presenter: Kay Smith has taught mathematics at St. Olaf since 1980. She received her B.S. in from Bucknell University and her Ph.D. from Yale University. Since her formal education in math paid little attention to applications, she has enjoyed learning about the uses of math in a wide range of fields during her thirty years of teaching. She is known around the MSCS Department for her interest in chocolate as well as mathematics.

Every Week!

1. Math Problem Solving Group Day, Time, Room still to be determined

The Math Problem Solving Group meets weekly to work on a variety of problems, often with a central theme, and to discuss problem-solving strategies. Additionally, students can use the meetings to prepare for the MAA North Central Section Team Contest, the Putnam Exam, the Konhauser Problemfest, the COMAP modeling contest, and other math competitions. This is an excellent exercise for students pursuing careers in math education and for students contemplating graduate mathematical study.

Interested students should contact Prof. Gower ( by Friday, September 19. Please indicate which night(s) of the week are best for you and any nights that absolutely do not work for you. Please try to be as flexible as possible with scheduling.

2. Weekly MSCS Game Night, Wednesdays 6:45 P.M. Science Center 188

All game enthusiasts are welcome to come to SC 188 on Wednesday nights at 6:45 PM to play a variety of mathematical and other board games. Past games have included Hawaiian checkers, and Settlers of Catan, to name a few. Goodies will be served.

Why you should be there:

  • Lots of Fun
  • Meet new friends
  • Improve your reasoning skills

3. GRE Review Sessions

If you are planning to take the GRE Mathematics Subject test this year, now is the time to review. This fall, Professors Gower and Ufferman will be holding evening review sessions for the GRE math subject test. If you are interested in attending the sessions, please email Eric Ufferman ( by Friday, September 12th. Please indicate which night(s) of the week are best for you, any nights that absolutely do not work, and which date you are taking the test. Please try to be as flexible as possible with scheduling.