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  St. Edward's University

Lucian Endowment
Lucian Symposium Lucian Professor

The Lucian Professorship is named after Brother Lucian Blersch, C.S.C., who was Professor of Engineering at St. Edward's from 1938 until his retirement in 1971. He died in 1986. The endowment given in his name has provided support for purchases of science equipment for students in the Natural Sciences and continues to do so. In addition, a Natural Sciences professor is designated as Lucian Professor, and receives some support from the endowment for their research endeavors. Currently, the Lucian Professor also organizes a seminar which brings a noted scientist to campus and which highlights research in an area of the Natural Sciences.

The first designated Lucian Professor was Brother Daniel Lynch, C.S.C., a prominent biologist who taught and conducted research at St. Edward's from 1954 until his retirement in 1996, and who was Professor Emeritus of Biology at the time of his death in 1997.

2005 Lucian Professor

Allan Hook earned his B.Sc. in Biology from the University of Maine where he became enamored with insects. From Maine, Dr. Hook went to work with a specialist on solitary wasps at the University of Georgia, earning an M.Sc. in Entomology. He then went on to study under the world's foremost wasp biologist at Colorado State University focusing his doctoral research on the evolution of nest sharing in solitary wasps with field done in Australia, Big Bend and in the Lower Rio Grande Valley in Texas. He then spent three years as a Lecturer in Zoology at UT-Austin before accepting a position in Biology in St. Edward's Univers- ity in 1988. He is a fellow in the Texas Academy of Science.

Al's research focuses on the behavior and biodiversity of solitary wasps in Texas and in the Neotropics, having spent two sabbaticals working primarily in Trinidad, West Indies.

His longstanding interest in entomology has led to three species having been named for him.

2000 Lucian Professor

The Accidental Theorist
by Stacia Hernstrom

Professor of mathematics Jean McKemie works
on geometric function theory during a slow
moment at the farmers market in Georgetown
this June.

On Thursday afternoons during the summer, St. Edward’s Professor of Mathematics Jean McKemie sells tomatoes. She packs cartons of the ripe, red fruits from her Dale, Texas, farm and drives to the Georgetown farmers’ market
to peddle her perishable wares. Unlike many of her fellow vendors, though, McKemie relishes the slow days.

On slow days, she can concentrate on the piles of scratch paper she has
brought with her to the market. “I get to a point in my work where I need some uninterrupted time,” she said. “I’ll sit there on the courthouse lawn and work on my problem, and that gives me a couple of hours to work.”

McKemie studies geometric function theory. “Imagine you have an airplane
that you’re designing,” she explained. “What shape should your wing surface be to minimize friction? If you don’t have a particularly nice shape to work with, like an awkward airplane wing, you might apply one of the functions I study, and it transforms the entire geometry of the problem. You take the awkward geometry, transform it to the easy geometry, solve the problem and then carry your answer back.”

McKemie makes her work sound simple, but the types of problems she tackles can take years to solve. Once she solves a problem, she has no idea how or when other researchers might use it. “I solve problems because they interest me,” she said simply.

As a graduate student, McKemie toyed with working in a more applied field but realized that theory was what she enjoyed most. After earning a dual bachelor’s degree in math and physics, she worked at a research laboratory studying underwater acoustics and earned her master’s degree in mechanical engineering. “I spent a long time trying to end up in the applied world, but it just didn’t fit,” said McKemie, who went on to earn her doctorate in mathematics.

Teaching her students to enjoy theory is often as difficult as solving a problem. “When students get to college, they’re convinced that there is a method of solution for every problem and that they just haven’t taken the right course yet where a teacher is going to stand up and say, ‘Here’s how you do it,’ ” she said. “There are a huge number of questions that people don’t know the answers to. There’s a constant battle with research students to think, ‘If I were really good I could solve this instantly.’ I tell my students, ‘Everybody feels like this. You’ve been working for two months and you can’t do it. I’ve had this one I’ve been working on for four years, and I can’t solve it.’ A lot of my job as a teacher is cheerleading.”

As the university’s Lucian Blersch Professor, McKemie cheerleads out of the classroom, too. Since taking the job two years ago, she has worked with library staff to gain access to an online database of mathematics journals so that students have the best resources available. She has established research stipends with Lucian funds for students conducting summer research. Each spring, she organizes an annual symposium on campus that brings in a renowned scholar in the natural sciences.

Like Brother Daniel Lynch, CSC, the university’s first Lucian professor, McKemie actively cares about her students and their education. “I think mathematicians at every level get frustrated along the way,” she said. “The most rewarding part is just to see my students make progress.”

 
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Updated: 08/26/2011
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