Meet the Professor: Sybil Prince Nelson One of Washington and Lee's new faculty members for 2020-21 is mathematics professor Sybil Prince Nelson, a 2001 graduate of W&L.
“As a student here at Washington and Lee, I decided there and then that I wanted to show people just how beautiful math really is and how connected it is to our lives.”
Sybil Prince Nelson joined Washington and Lee University this year as an assistant professor of mathematics. She is a 2001 graduate of Washington and Lee University, and her research is focused on creating tree-based models for classifying and predicting outcomes from complex data. This Winter Term, she is teaching Math 310: Mathematical Statistics as well as DS 395: Statistics and Medicine – How a Vaccine is Born.
Nelson was recently a guest on After Class: The W&L Lifelong Learning Podcast in an episode titled “When You’re a Statistical Improbability: Thinking Creatively about Life and the Mathematics Within It.” In the episode, Nelson and host Ruth Candler discuss Nelson’s path through W&L as a math and music major; her current careers as a statistician, author and professor; and why she dubbed herself a “statistic improbability.”
We asked Professor Nelson a few more questions about herself.
Q: Why do you teach?
Growing up, I always hated math. I was good at it for some reason, but I didn’t enjoy it. I was always picked to be on the math competition team every year and I reluctantly joined because, hey, it would look good on my resume. It wasn’t until I got to Washington and Lee as a student that I really fell in love with it. The Mathematics Department at W&L made me see mathematics in a completely new light. As Professor Paul Bourdon told me one day, “Mathematics is man’s way of understanding the world around us.” And what do we see around us? Beauty! It is everywhere, and so is math. I felt it was so sad that there were little boys and girls out there like me who hated mathematics or were avoiding it because it was “too hard.” As a student here at Washington and Lee, I decided there and then that I wanted to show people just how beautiful math really is and how connected it is to our lives. Now my dream has not only come true, but I am able to fulfill it at my beloved alma mater.
Q: Why study your subject at W&L?
I teach mathematics and statistics. My subjects are so connected and pertinent to what is happening in the world today. All of the research going into monitoring, diagnosing and treating COVID-19 is based in statistics. If you want to understand what is happening in the world around you, you want to take my classes.
Q: What would be your dream course to teach?
When I was a student at Washington and Lee, I double majored in mathematics and music. I would love to teach a course that develops the correlation between those two seemingly completely different subjects. I want to show people the beauty of mathematics and the mathematical symmetry of music.
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