By Shawn Kim || Staff Writer
Professor Nimershiem is an Associate Professor of Mathematics at F&M. She is teaching two sections of the Connections 2 Course “Shape of Space” this semester.
I got the chance this week to sit down with my Calculus III professor from last semester, Professor Barbara Nimershiem. Though I thoroughly enjoyed Calculus III because of how interesting and applicable it was, without Professor Nimershiem, who has such a zeal for what she teaches, it would not have been the same.
In this interview, Professor Nimershiem talks about what brought her to teach mathematics, the classes she is teaching this semester, and her hobbies.
How long have you been teaching at Franklin and Marshall College?
26 years. I started in 1992.
What are some of the courses you are teaching now?
I’m teaching 2 sections of the Connections 2 course, “Shape of Space”. It’s actually the first time I’m teaching this topic as a connections course. It’s about understanding possible shapes of our universe and how scientists may one day figure out the shape of the universe. The first part of the course is setting up that question of what the shape is because people don’t really think of our universe of having a shape. To do that we study 2-Dimensional universes first then shapes for 3D universes.
What brought you into mathematics?
In college I wanted to teach kindergarten, but because I went to a college that didn’t have any education courses, I wasn’t certified for kindergarten, so I taught math instead. I taught high school math for a couple of years, which involved a lot of documenting state standards- whether students could add/subtract/multiply/divide fractions, decimals, and percents. And I noticed that teaching kindergarten would also involve that, and I didn’t want to spend my life checking off state standards, so I tried math graduate school, and ultimately found myself at F&M.
Of the courses you taught, which ones have been the most interesting to you?
That’s a difficult question. I’ve been lucky to teach a lot of courses involving geometry, shape and visualization. But I’ve definitely enjoyed teaching Calculus III, Topology, Geometry, Shape of Space, and Symmetry.
What is one thing you like about the F&M (more regarding the academics)?
Students are very interested in learning things. I like the academic commitment at F&M, the commitment to expanding their intellectual life rather than working for a grade. The student body has changed since I first came here, and the college’s talent strategy has lead to a more inclusive and more diverse student body. A lot of students here want to be defined by more than their grades, and it’s evident.
What can F&M improve on?
I wish that students and professors were not as crunched for time- not as pressured by time. It prevents people from doing what they really want to do. Some of the more difficult situations I’ve been in have involved academic dishonesty, which can come from a time pressure to do things by certain deadlines.
What excites you about mathematics?
It’s beautiful. I really like to spend time thinking about things, and I get paid to sit around and think and draw beautiful pictures.
How else are you involved with the community at F&M?
Well, I’m a Posse mentor. The Posse foundation recruits a group of students to come to campus together and support each other for the four years they are here. Posse partners with colleges to give this group of students leadership scholarships. One of the goals of the program is for the demographics of the leadership of the country to reflect the demographics of the country. I get to be a part of that as the mentor for Posse 4 Miami. Also, as part of my service to the College, I serve as the Secretary to the Faculty, so I take minutes at faculty meetings. In the past, I’ve been on other committees such as the Committee on Academic Status and the Student Conduct Committee.
What are some of your hobbies?
I like to ride my bicycle. I also like to cook food from my husband’s (Professor Wendell Ressler, who is also in the Math Department) garden. Last night we had eggplant parmesan subs for dinner- eggplants which we grew in the garden. I also like to sew but I don’t get to do it as often.
You said you like to bike…What’s the most difficult bike trail you’ve been on?
Well, my husband and I go on weeklong bike trips almost every summer. We’ve biked across Pennsylvania and have biked from here to Cape May. We’ve also been on a big loop starting in Lancaster and going through Annapolis and Harper’s Ferry. Last year, we biked the New Madrid Fault Line along the Mississippi. I’ve ridden my bike in Nova Scotia and a lot of different states, including Maine and Florida. I’ve even biked very close to some of my student’s houses. I’ve done a bunch of centuries, which are 100 mile rides. I once rode 102 miles, probably the longest ride I’ve ever done.
Who is your role model?
My mother. She was also a math teacher. She struggled with aging too early because of Parkinson’s disease. Yet she did it with dignity; she inspires me.
Franklin and Marshall is privileged to have a professor like Professor Nimershiem. The topics involved in courses such as Topology, Calculus III, and Shape of Space are not topics that can be easily grasped, yet Professor Nimershiem makes it so that they are intriguing and understandable. I always recommend taking any class that Professor Nimershiem teaches because of the fervor that she brings to every class.
First-year Shawn Kim is a Staff Writer. His email is email@example.com.