A mathematician who specializes in abstract algebra—and pizza making—is the newest member of Randolph’s mathematics department faculty.
In his first semester at Randolph this fall, math professor Michael Penn is teaching Calculus 1 and Linear Algebra and Differential Equations courses. He previously worked as a visiting professor at the University of Tennessee Chattanooga, Bowdoin College, and Colorado College.
“I’ve always wanted to have my career at a small liberal arts college,” Penn said. “So when I went on the job market, I applied to all the small liberal arts colleges I could find. Randolph got my attention and seemed really nice in terms of geography and its reputation. The students are really motivated as well.”
Penn earned his B.S. degree from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, his M.A. from Indiana University, and his Ph.D. from the State University of New York at Albany. Along the way he completed and published extensive research on vertex operator algebras, an algebraic version of what physicists study in string theory. Now he is eager to share what he knows and engage with Randolph students in the classroom.
“I like to have an active classroom,” he said. “I like to have students working together in groups solving math problems as much as possible, instead of me lecturing the whole time. I’d also like to do some research with students if possible, and I’d like to be involved in some of the national and international math competitions Randolph has participated in.”
Penn moved to Lynchburg with his wife and two children in August, and the entire family enjoys rock climbing and hiking the many nearby trails. One of Penn’s other hobbies is making pizza from scratch. He makes his own dough and recently ordered an outdoor pizza oven that can heat up to 900 degrees and cook an entire pizza in under two minutes.
“One day I just decided I wanted to make a really good pizza, and the rest is history,” Penn said. “I’m pretty excited to perfect my pizza-making skills.”