July Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Sarah Stovall

Editor's Note: This is the sixth in a series of spotlights on mathematics and statistics faculty. Dr. Stovall joined us in Fall 2000.

Do you have a hobby or collect something? How did you get into that?

I have a pretty nice Hot Wheels collection that I started when my kids were young. I found pretty quickly that I was much more interested in keeping them pristine and unopened than my kids were. My favorite hobby though, is birding. I participate each year in the Pineywoods Audubon Society Christmas Bird Count (all day birding with species count, regardless of weather). The beautiful thing about birding is that I can do it anytime I am outside (or in Walmart, but mostly there are only House Sparrows in the store).

Tell us about an adventure you had, or would like to have.

We went on a family tent-camping trip at Thirty-Mile Campground near Creede, Colorado at the headwaters of the Rio Grande. We caught trout in the Rio Grande Reservoir, cooked them on our campfire and ate them with our hands. Best fish I've ever tasted!

What was one of your biggest successes or failures?

I'll give both. I don't know if this describes a big failure, but it is one that I have not lived down. I baked a cake when I was about 9 years old, and omitted the eggs. I am reminded of this omission at every family gathering, in spite of the fact that I have now baked several delicious cakes, with eggs.

My biggest success/accomplishment is one that I am still working on, a joint venture with my husband. We are parenting our three kids, and have been delighted to see them turn in to kind, reasonable, curious, interesting, articulate people that are a pleasure to be around.

What kind of music, books, movies, sports, games, cars, etc. (pick one or more) do you like? Is there any particular reason?

I like many types of music, but some favorite artists are Robert Earl Keen, Jimmy Buffet, Merle Haggard, Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, and a new artist with old-soul style, Kacey Musgraves. The Dixie Chicks write the best music for driving with the car windows rolled down and scream-singing. I like most of the country artists because they remind me of growing up with my sister's choice of music on the radio (we shared a room), and the classic rock reminds me of truck music playing when I was tagging along with my brothers.

My favorite car is the Mini-Cooper, and one day, I *will* have one.

What do you study? How did you get into that? Are there any real-world applications of your area of study?

After my master's work at UT on elliptic curves, my thesis advisor there suggested that I work with Dr. Peter Stiller at A&M on some work he had done with elliptic surfaces for my doctoral work. I enjoyed tackling the problem, even though I don't know of any real-world applications for it. I'm not saying there aren't any though! It took more than 350 years for Fermat's Little Theorem to be used as the basis for RSA encryption, an early version of encryption that keeps your credit card number and other information secure in online transactions.

What projects (academic or otherwise) are you currently working on?

Dr. Roy Joe Harris and I have been working on an extension of Dr. Harris's thesis work in complex analysis for the past couple of years. Graduate student Chad Huckaby developed some very interesting pieces in his master's thesis last year for which he just received the William R. Johnson Outstanding Thesis Award.

What is the closest you have ever come to dying?

I don't think I was actually very close to dying at all, but I thought I was. My brothers made a zip-line over a ditch (it seemed so deep when I was 5) at my childhood home. On my first try, I got scared mid-zip and let go, falling at the highest part. The fall knocked the wind out of me, and being unfamiliar with the sensation, I was convinced that I was going to die. I didn't. My brothers have never let me live that one down, either.

What did you do to put yourself through school, or what weird job have you held?

I might reclassify this job as unique instead of weird. I registered cattle for the International Braford Association. The work was very interesting because I learned about selective breeding and other very practical concerns of cattle ranchers.

What was the best piece of advice you were ever given?

It is better to be more than you appear to be than less than you say you are.

The thing that really makes you cool and unique is something that I would never have thought to list here. What is it?

I've met Andrew Wiles, the mathematician that proved Fermat's Last Theorem. He said that his goal is to "learn new mathematics at a rate greater than that at which I forget it." That's something that I think all of us in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics strive for.

Why Study Math at SFA?

Math&Stats Graduate Student Chance Bradford on "Why I Study Math at SFA"

About Us

The Department of Mathematics and Statistics is a friendly and supportive place for our students. Our faculty are committed to excellence and continual improvement in teaching and advising students through our challenging curriculum:

Our math clubs are very active in hosting math talks and participating in conferences, fundraisers, and social activities.

We offer one of the leading certification programs in the state in mathematics teaching. The department proudly produces qualified teachers at all levels.

We offer dual-credit courses to local and rural schools and make visits to speak about mathematics and statistics.

Why study mathematics?

Mathematics is perhaps the most intellectually challenging and practical major you can choose. Some major in math for the enjoyment and beauty of the subject. Others major in math for its practicality and applicability to the sciences, engineering, finance, and even the social sciences. Mathematics develops rigorous analytical thinking skills that are prized in all fields of human endeavor.

Programs offered at SFA

  • Bachelor of Science in Mathematics
  • Bachelor of Science in Mathematics with Secondary Teacher Certification
  • Minor in Mathematics
  • Minor in Applied Statistics
  • Master of Science in Mathematical Sciences with focus in
    • Mathematics
    • Statistics
  • Master of Science in School Mathematics Teaching with focus in
    • Middle-Level Teaching
    • Secondary Teaching

Mission Statement

The purpose of the Department of Mathematics and Statistics is to attract and retain the best available scholars who actively pursue knowledge of mathematics, statistics, and/or mathematics education and who skillfully communicate their knowledge of the subject to their students, colleagues, and the community as a whole.

Specific roles of the Department are:

  1. To provide a sound curriculum for students who wish to pursue a career in mathematics or statistics in business and industry;
  2. To provide service courses for students who are majoring in some other department, but who need mathematics or statistics as a tool or to satisfy general degree requirements;
  3. To offer preparation to those who are planning to pursue a graduate degree;
  4. To prepare teachers for positions in colleges, universities, and public or private schools.