Jim Baucom

Senior Engineer

Nike

Was there a math teacher, project or lesson that made a big impact on you while in school? What got you interested in math?

I decided on Engineering early on and math was a requirement.

I find the interested in math an interesting question, since I was never purely interested in math for math’s sake. Once I found out that parts of mathematics could actually be used for something besides proofs and rote memorizing, it became alive.

I would say that my high school geometry teacher, who was a gruff ex-marine, gave us story problems and actually uses for geometry.

What did you enjoy most about math while in school?

I enjoyed actual application to solve real problems.

#3 – Describe some of the ways in which you use math to do your job. Which math skills are most important to your job?

Most of my engineering calculations are derived from calculus or differential equations, and are usually tables or algebraic equations. You do need to know the math to understand what the simplified equations do. You also need to know the math to understand FEA (Finite Element Analysis) or other simulations.

I can’t say I have had to use much vector calculus lately, but it was useful recently interpreting test data to validate whether the sensors were coding correctly.

#4 - What could teachers have done to make math more enjoyable/useful for you while in school?

The best teachers are able to give direct application of math. Also, they give hints of future knowledge that students will use for the topic they are learning.

My best high school teacher had worked with Werner Von Braun on the J2 engine on the Saturn V Apollo program. I asked him about why engineers needed all to take years of math, and he said to do that. “That” being go to the moon and return. They did that with slide rules & no calculators.

#5 – If you had the power, how would you change the way math is taught at school?

I have no need for learning mathematical proofs. Logic is great, but proofs aren’t useful. I’m not sure about rote memorization either. Most of us use reference books, files, or programs to do our jobs.