COSAM » News » Articles » 2017 » January » Alumni Spotlight: Tina H. Straley, mathematics ’71, reflects on her time as a graduate student, her successful career in mathematics, and her enduring love for Auburn

Alumni Spotlight: Tina H. Straley, mathematics ’71, reflects on her time as a graduate student, her successful career in mathematics, and her enduring love for Auburn

Published: 01/20/2017

By: Lindsay Penny

I chose to attend Auburn for graduate school because of the strong reputation of the mathematics faculty, and because the Graduate School chose me to receive a National Science Foundation Traineeship that covered all academic costs and a stipend for living expenses.  Auburn was highly recommended by a professor at Georgia State University where I received both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in mathematics. The NSF award allowed me to concentrate totally on my studies with no other work responsibilities. All of these factors made Auburn my decided choice.

I was not entirely sure what field in mathematics to pursue, but when Professor Charles ‘Curt’ Lindner joined the mathematics faculty the second year I was there, I was enthralled by him as a teacher and by his fields of specialization, combinatorics and universal algebra. In a seminar he conducted, we started working on current research papers from the beginning of the term. I was soon able to greatly extend a very recent result and amazingly, I wrote a dissertation and graduated with a doctorate degree after my third year in graduate school. 

From Auburn I joined the faculty of Kennesaw Junior College in Georgia, which had opened less than 10 years before as a two-year college, for a one-year appointment. By the time I arrived, the college was planning for its baccalaureate status. My temporary position became a tenure track position the next year, and I was part of a small cadre of faculty in mathematics who were given the opportunity to build a department, design a major, and create the entire offerings of a mathematics department in a four-year college. Kennesaw grew rapidly, and I grew professionally along with it. I was on the faculty for a span of 27 years, during which time Kennesaw went from a two-year college of 2,000 students, to Kennesaw State College to Kennesaw State University with 15,000 students (now over 30,000). Along the way, I progressed through the academic ranks to professor, served as department chair, and then as associate vice president for scholarship and dean of graduate studies. Also during that span of time, I spent a year as visiting research associate at Emory University, and two years as a program officer in undergraduate education at the National Science Foundation. 

In 2000, I started a new phase of my career as Executive Director of the Mathematical Association of America (MAA). This is the professional society in which I was most active, serving on committees, as chair of the Southeastern Section, and as editor of a book series. I moved from one institution where I was very dedicated, to another, this time with a national focus. I was in that position for 12 years and greatly enjoyed working for the betterment of mathematics education and the advance of mathematics as a discipline on a national scale, and I was under the spell of the Washington, D.C., an experience called "Potomac fever." The position allowed me to focus on mathematics, primarily the undergraduate program, work with colleagues across the country, and be involved in programs and policies of the federal government through work with congressional committees and representatives of the Executive Branch of government. On the strictly fun side, I attended black tie dinners in amazing D.C. locations, including the State Department, the Smithsonian, and others equally as elegant. 

I am now mostly retired but continue to work in the field of undergraduate mathematics education as a consultant to the Educational Advancement Foundation, a private foundation based in Austin, Texas. The focus of the foundation is the advancement of inquiry-based learning in mathematics. The founder was inspired as a student by Professor R. L. Moore at the University of Texas. He is the same Moore for whom the Moore Method is named and was practiced at Auburn by his students when I was a graduate student there. I feel that I have come full circle professionally. 

I have had a very rewarding career, and I have thoroughly enjoyed every aspect of it.  I am very fortunate to have combined so many experiences within my career in mathematics and to have held positions for which relatively few have the opportunity. Auburn gave me a great start. As was the tradition at Auburn, I came to love and combine my interests in mathematics and my interest in teaching. Over the years, I have had the occasion to work with members of the Auburn University Department of Mathematics and Statistics through MAA and NSF, and that is gratifying.

I have very happy memories of my time at Auburn. I had great friends among the graduate students and the faculty. In those days, and surely still, the department faculty and graduate students took Auburn football very seriously, and we took the after game party just as seriously. The faculty put on the party, but the graduate students had to take care of the cooking pit for barbecued briskets, chickens and whatever else people put in there to slow cook for 24 hours. I was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., and brought up in South Florida, and the Auburn culture was new to me. Every Thursday, I stood in line at the Meats Lab to get premium cuts of meat on graduate student finances. I may have been the sole customer for tongue, which cost $1 for a whole tongue! I learned the joys of Southern cooking and, especially, how to make fried green tomatoes. I smile when I think about how much I enjoyed my time in Auburn. 

A few years ago, I attended a meeting of the Southeastern Section of the MAA held at Auburn. My closest friend from graduate school days and I drove around the ‘Loveliest Village on the Plains’ and found some of our old haunts. In particular, we went to the houses we rented back then. Mine, part of a duplex, now has air conditioning and a dishwasher! But, I am sure it costs more than the $93 a month we paid in the early 70s.

I have fond memories of Auburn, and I will always appreciate my time spent there.  I thank the department and the university for preparing me for the opportunities that have come my way.

War Eagle!

-Tina H. Straley

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