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Inside Scoop
Math wiz

Meet math professor Jeff Oaks,

chair of UIndy’s Department of Mathematics & Computer Science.

At UIndy:

Since 1992. Teaches Real Analysis Math (abstract calculus); Problem-Solving Math; and independent study in topology (you’ll have to just Google that one!).

Classroom claim to fame:

Leaping from floor to desk on one leg. “I was teaching calculus one day and my students looked like they were falling asleep. I don’t know why—calculus is a fun subject! So to wake them up, I jumped up on the table and they all gasped.”

(Also known to stand in the chalk tray and solve a math equation while edging along the board.)

Hobbies:

Cycling. And collecting railroad tie date nails. “The year is stamped on the head of each nail, and the shape and design of the nail can tell the finder which train line used it. Students like to hear stories about it because it’s not an ordinary thing to hear about a guy on the tracks yanking nails out of ties. In fact, it’s really weird. And it’s not something that helps your social life when you’re in college.” Dr. Oaks, who was already fluent in Italian and has since learned Arabic, also studies medieval Arabic mathematics—and yes, he does that for fun.

Favorite number:

“I don’t have that kind of relationship with numbers—they are all my children.” But when pressed, he picks 1,729, the favorite number of renowned Indian mathematician Ramanujan.

Marvels of memorization:

Dr. Oaks knows the value of pi—to 115 places. He also memorized the Coleridge poem “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” on a trip to Italy.

Screen gem:

Dr. Oaks appeared on TV’s “Across Indiana” in 1996 (and again in 2010) on a humorous segment about railroad nails. He also stars in a commercial for UIndy with Tom Zupancic, Class of ’78, the Indianapolis Colts’ senior vice president of sales and marketing.

Why give math a chance?

“I want students to walk away with an understanding that math is kind of interesting if you give it a chance. And I want them to understand that math profs aren’t all stuffy nerds. I also want them to be entertained. “Why? Because I want them to learn math. And if they have a good college experience at the same time, that’s even better.”