The Intrinsic Beauty of Math, Travel and Knitted Ties
If you happen to wander down the Mathematics Department hallway while walking through the Ken Olsen Science Center, you’ll find an office tucked between labs and classrooms where Dr. Richard Stout adjusts his knitted ties and prepares for his Concepts of Mathematics class.
Dr. Stout grew up in New Jersey with his parents and twin sister, who, ironically, dislikes math. After majoring in mathematics at Wheaton College, he went to graduate school at the Pennsylvania State University for about a year. But, he says, “the draft was looming” for the Vietnam War at that point.
He served with the U.S. Army in Vietnam for two years and upon returning, he finished his degree, met his wife (Martha), began teaching math at a small college in Pennsylvania, and joined the Association of Christians in the Mathematical Sciences (ACMS). A few years later, when Dr. Stout and his wife were restless for change, he received a letter in his mailbox from someone at Gordon whom he had met through an ACMS conference. The letter said there was a vacancy and asked him if he would be interested in applying.
This marks Dr. Stout’s thirty-sixth year at Gordon, and he says the campus has changed a lot since his first days. “Oh dear,” he says. “There are a lot of changes. The landscape, the campus has changed a lot, and that’s good.” The A. J. Gordon Memorial Chapel and Ken Olsen Science Center weren’t yet built. The Barrington Center for the Arts was the Rhodes Gymnasium. Phillips Music Center was the Prince Chapel. And “The Hill” residence halls didn’t exist.
“It was a smaller campus,” Dr. Stout says. “I watched the campus grow up. . . . [Back then] it was a much different campus, different community, a much smaller community. . . . It felt a little more like a family. Naturally it’s bigger now. . . . The academic expectations on faculty have improved and been increased and that’s probably good.”
Dr. Stout teaches a variety of classes including Calculus, several upper-level classes, and also some education classes including Concepts of Mathematics, which he says has become his “niche” in classes for non-math-majors.
Concerning mathematics at Gordon Dr. Stout says, “There’s an intrinsic beauty to it.” He is still an active member of ACMS and enjoys the group’s discussions about the philosophical foundation issues in Christian mathematics and how beautiful the subject is.
Dr. Stout says the big question in math is whether mathematicians invent or discover what they do. “There are lots of implications, Christian and philosophical implications, that people don’t understand,” he says. “When I first started teaching math in a Christian setting, I read a book about integrating faith and learning. It said in math there are no connections, but I’ve come to think that’s entirely wrong. There are some deep connections between the structure math seeks to uncover and the creation that God has given.”
Another big question students have concerning Dr. Stout is the mystery behind his knitted ties. They want to know where they come from. Dr. Stout says, “I look at that as being out of fashion, but I wear them anyway. They’re ties that I acquired over the years. I joke and say I made them myself, but my wife bought them, mostly for Christmas presents. I’m not a slave to fashion. I don’t spend much time worrying about that.”
In his first 10 years at Gordon, Dr. Stout helped lead the European Seminar. “Students traveled in Europe for eight weeks. Faculty were involved, and that was great. It was an opportunity to get away in the summer to spend some time in Europe. We went everywhere!”
While the program ended in the ’90s, it hasn’t halted Dr. Stout’s love for travel. In his free time, he continues to see the world. He’s gone on cruises, nature travel and safaris. He’s been to Alaska to watch grizzly bears, watched whales off Baja California and birds in Costa Rica and Peru. The future looks exciting for Dr. Stout, as he has a lot of travel plans. South Africa and New Zealand are on his list, and this summer the Stouts are taking a two-week cruise to Alaska with one of his heroes, humorist Garrison Keillor.
This upcoming cruise reminded him of good memories on another cruise he took 10 years ago to Scandinavia with the Carlbergs, a former Gordon presidential family. He says, “I appreciate meeting colleagues that have been good people over the years. I appreciate the number of students who have come through and grown over the years. I’ve grown to admire their faith commitment—their commitment to be people of God. It’s nice to have memories of so many of them.”