Munching the Numbers

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Debra Schleef’s students got a sweet assignment this fall. And, if you don’t think learning about univariate statistics sounds sweet, think again. Chocolate changes everything. “I’m pumped to get started on this,” said senior sociology major Lauren Boyle, who tore into a bag of M&M’s in a late-morning lab in Monroe 114. Each October Schleef, professor of sociology, turns her Quantitative Research Methods and Analysis course into the tastier “Candy Lab.” M&M’s add color to the curriculum and whet students’ appetites for concepts, like random probability sampling, that might otherwise seem tedious. Working in pairs, Boyle and her classmates ripped open bags of the button-shaped morsels and set aside 50 pieces. Schleef let them slurp up the extras – with one caveat. “Randomly eat them,” she said. “Don’t eat only one color, or you’ll ruin the results.” They counted the green, red, yellow, brown, orange, and blue M&M’s in their bags, while Schleef drew … [Read more...]

Mathematical Predictions

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What if there was a better way to track and predict the spread of worldwide epidemics like H1N1 flu and HIV before they happened? At the University of Mary Washington, Casey Howren ‘14 answered this question when she developed a computer program that uses mathematical formulas to predict the progress of global epidemics. Meeting on a daily basis with her mentor, Mathematics Professor Leo Lee, to help guide her research, the mathematics and sociology double major looked at the current ways that the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization track epidemics, and she realized that she could improve the process. Right now, those organizations track epidemics as they are happening. They follow how quickly epidemics spread in real time and then predict how they will continue in the future. Howren’s algorithm-based computer program takes this process a step further by predicting how an epidemic will spread from the first infected person before it ever happens. In … [Read more...]

There’s No Place Like Home

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Leslie Martin has honed in on housing and homelessness in the Fredericksburg area community. And so are students taking the freshman class seminar taught by the assistant professor of sociology. The students work at a local homeless shelter, assist with community dinners and tutor through programs around Fredericksburg. This integral community involvement helps shed light on area housing issues that undergraduates tackle in Martin’s seminar, “No Place Like Home: Housing and Society.” Martin leads discussions on housing and homelessness, using examples from her ongoing research on the rhetoric of homeless service providers. One such discussion in her urban sociology class focused on how the presence of homeless people in the downtown area impact local businesses. The timely issue illustrates how communities address inequality and poverty, Martin said. Martin, who has served on affordable housing and homelessness task forces, sees a connection between how agencies and … [Read more...]