Paul Fonstad, Ph.D.

“Being a math major is about so much more than just getting the right answers. It is about learning how to ask the right questions when confronted with a new problem. It is about discovering how to combine logic and creativity seamlessly to overcome obstacles. And it is about not only developing a thirst for knowledge, but also a willingness to explore the deep, complex, wild, and beautiful universe that is Mathematics.”

Title

Assistant professor of mathematics

Educational Background

  • Ph.D., University of Wisconson-Milwaukee – Milwaukee, MN
  • M.A., University of Wisconson-Milwaukee – Milwaukee, MN
  • B.A., Winona State University  – Winona, MN

Year joined Franklin

2012

Expertise

My doctoral work was concentrated on geometric group theory, which is a subset of topology. Currently, my main topics of interest mostly relate to an area known as recreational mathematics. Within this realm, I have studied the discrete and continuous motions of a jumping car on a plane and assisted student research into non-transitive swim meets. I have also used my expertise in writing the 2016 ICTM Algebra II exam, co-writing the 2016 ICMC exam, contributing problems for Math Day 2012-2015, writing puzzle and warm-up problems for both the Indiana MAA sectional meeting and Math Day, and creating as well as hosting “So You Think You Know Math?”, a mathematics game show both for high school students as well as undergraduates.

I am also greatly interested in the study of math pedagogy. I am constantly looking for new ways to innovate in the classroom across all levels. This passion has led me to experiment with teaching computer coding with Code.org to our elementary education majors, utilizing inquiry-based learning for teaching Topics in Geometry, and creating instructional videos for use in our math for non-math major’s course. I am constantly assessing and reviewing both my methods and current trends in the field, and I am always interested in finding better ways to reach my students.

What math research opportunities are available at Franklin College?

Too many to list! Each and every faculty member in the Franklin College Math and Computing department is happy to guide students through individual research projects on their topics of expertise. As mentioned above, I have helped a student with research on non-transitive tournaments, and next semester I will be overseeing a project on the Rubik’s cube. Other professors have aided students in research projects on time series analysis, Ramsey numbers, Fibonacci numbers in music theory, the mathematics behind the 15 Puzzle, and many other projects. Beyond Franklin College, students who participate in independent research projects during their sophomore or junior years set themselves up well to apply to participate in summer REUs (research experiences for undergraduates) at other institutions. Past and current students have participated in REUs at places like Grand Valley State and Purdue University.

What courses and experiences make the Franklin College Math Program stand out?

From the start of your first semester through graduation, our math program is designed to engage you in understanding how to think mathematically, not only in the classroom but beyond. Incoming freshman take our MAT 140: Introduction to the Mathematical Sciences course, where we examine how math at college goes beyond what you’ve experienced through high school by exploring such topics as ciphers, infinity, mathematical modeling, and proofs. Each semester, our students go on Shadow Days to companies like Beckman-Coulter, Caterpillar, and Cummins to see how the skills we develop within the classroom apply outside it. All applied and quantitative analysis majors get an internship experience, while pure majors do independent research that they present their findings for. Our MAT 471 senior seminar experiences help tie everything together, giving students time to reflect on the meaning of mathematics, how math has shaped history (and vice versa), and showcase the skills they have developed at Franklin College by problem solving in teams as well sharing mathematical concepts through both writing and speaking. The result of this is unique approach is that Franklin College graduates with math degrees are uniquely positioned with a broad understanding of mathematics and how it can be applied to any situation on the job, in graduate school, and beyond.

Selected Professional Accomplishments

Honors and Positions

Student Activities Coordinator for the Indiana MAA, 2016 to present
All Star Teacher Award, 2014
Co-Adviser to the Franklin College Mathematics and Computing Club, 2013 to present
Member of Franklin College’s Alpha Honors Society, 2012 to present

Selected Presentations

“A Hour of Code with Code.org” Blue River Career Programs, 2015
“Jumping Cars: A Game of Discrete, Dense and Continuous Mentions on a Plane” Indiana MAA Fall Sectional Meeting, 2015
“Using Board Games and Gamification for Immersion” Gen Con Trade Day, 2015
“Helping Elementary Education Majors Become ‘The Mathematician Behind the Math’” Indiana Section MAA Fall Meeting, 2013
“The Tower of Hanoi” Franklin College Math Day 2012

What Students Say

“There are many things that make coming to Franklin College great, but the greatest of all is the relationship that one can build with their professors. Professor Fonstad was one of my first mathematics professors and helped inspire me to pursue my passion for mathematics. I am very thankful for the time and energy that Professor Fonstad has invested into my educational experience at Franklin College.” – Justin Armbruster ’16
“Dr. Fonstad’s classes are great examples of hands-on learning and one-on-one teaching. He makes himself available after classes for students to come and get extra help if needed, and he makes learning fun and engaging. He takes life experiences and connects it to the material he is teaching.”– Ashley Myers ’16

In My Spare Time…

Beyond mathematics, I am an avid board game and card game player. During Winter Term, I have taught a course on understanding the rise and fall of the Soviet Union via board games, which I have presented on at Gen Con Trade Day. Some of my current favorites include Dominion, Power Grid, Magic: The Gathering, Settlers of Catan, and 1989: Dawn of Freedom, just to name a few. As an undergraduate I was also a music major, and though I currently do not play my trumpet, I do sing as a cantor at St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church.