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December 07, 2023

Spotlight on Dr. Jack Burkart, Faculty in Mathematics

By Emily Berge-Thielmann

Dr. Jack BurkartDr. Jack Burkart, faculty in Mathematics, is new to Simon’s Rock, but is quickly finding himself at home. While applying for faculty work, Burkart found himself looking for schools that valued both teaching and mentoring at the same level of research. As Burkart’s first semester at Simon’s Rock wraps up, he shares, “Simon’s Rock students are so motivated and passionate, so it was a very easy sell for me.”

Originally from the Midwest, Dr. Burkart received his Bachelor’s degree in Math at the University of Notre Dame. Initially, he wanted to pursue engineering, but his intro to engineering classes didn’t feel the right fit. After a friend pointed out that Burkart should “just change his major!” he examined how much enjoyment he found in his math courses — and, following the friend’s wise advice, Burkart changed his major the very next day. This was the right fit, as Burkart went on to receive his PhD at Stony Brook University on Long Island, then took a postdoc position in his home state at the University of Wisconsin-Madison for two years, with a one-semester break where I took a fellowship at the Math Science Research Institute (now SLMath). Burkart shares that it was a “great honor” to work at the flagship university of his home state. He adds that with 50,000 students, “it’s quite different from Simon’s Rock.”

Now, at Simon’s Rock, Burkart is currently teaching three classes. “In my Intro to Proofs mod II course, we are learning the foundations of how mathematicians formally make arguments. It’s a very relaxed atmosphere since we focus more on style than covering a laundry list of topics. I enjoy the change of pace of the class,” explains Burkart. 

“In my Linear Algebra class, we cover the mathematics that sprouts out of studying systems of linear equations which show up everywhere in economics, physics, biology, just to name a few. I like linear algebra because while there are many computational components, it’s very conceptual and shows how many different topics can be interconnected,” shares Burkart. His third and final class is a Discrete Math course for the Computer Science department. This is Burkart’s first time teaching this specific class, with which he’s having fun. “Most of the topics were familiar to me, but I’ve picked up some new topics, and the challenge of designing a new course has been fun. We have a lot of good discussions in class for Discrete Math, so I’m optimistic it’s going alright!”

Burkart shares that his favorite thing about teaching Simon’s Rock students is “that most of them are interested in different learning modalities.” With such a change of pace from a large university to Simon's Rock, Burkart adds that he previously “mostly just lectured for 50 or 75 minutes and assigned homework and exams, like any math class you'd imagine.” He adds: “At Simon’s Rock, I feel more empowered to use projects, labs, and other assessments outside of traditional ones. The students seize the opportunity to learn things independently and with some guidance, and I think it allows them to have more stake in what they are learning. I’m looking forward to trying more ideas out!”

With so many big changes, what’s next for Jack Burkart? Winter break! He cheerfully shares that “the semester is trying for faculty, too!” Beyond a well-deserved break, he's looking forward to teaching a J-Term class for Bard Academy for the first time. This January class will be on game theory, which Burkat has taught to Academy-age students on a smaller scale. “I think that will be a fun change of pace, and I look forward to meeting the academy students!” he shares. “In the spring, I look forward to teaching Vector Calculus. It’s a beautiful and classical topic with a lot of geometry that combines everything the students have learned in the curriculum so far. Finally, I am giving a talk in early April in Milwaukee where I’ll meet with some collaborators. The school year is usually very busy with teaching, so it’s nice to have some dedicated time to getting research projects written up and finalized.”

When asked what else he’d like to share with the Simon’s Rock community, Burkart added that he really enjoys playing fantasy football and soccer, and, of course, elegantly ties it back to his work in mathematics. “There’s actually quite a bit of mathematical reasoning involved! I find that it combines my interest in sports, competitive games, and math in a perfect way. In my free time, I write strategy articles, and last year I won the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA) award for Soccer Writer of the Year. It’s not a life-changing honor in the grand scheme of things, but it’s still one I’m very proud of.”