I came to Beloit last Sunday noon (September the 9:th). I drove up from Clinton, IA, an industrial town. I had spent the first few days to get accustomed to the new time zone and prepare for the college visits – and also seeing Iowa – which I have for a long time been curious about how it looks. It looks like Österlen (south-east Sweden) but blown up by a factor of 10 or perhaps 20! I had hoped to see the Mississippi along the way, but I just saw the great river as I crossed it on an iron bridge leaving Iowa entering Illinois the next day. It was a nice drive and a beautiful countryside in warm and sunny weather. But I was nervous – there was no turning back now – in an hour or so I would meet Paul Campbell. The crazy project to visit Liberal Arts colleges I had conceived over two years earlier was going to instantiate: from idea to reality. My mouth was dry and my voice sounded strange. But I took some comfort from just having read Sartre – I had put myself into this situation on my own choice – and the first step is always the steepest. The comfort of existentialism!
Anyway – as most often is the case when you worry beforehand – everything went well. I called Paul from the little town of Rockton on the Rock River just south of Beloit and we decided to meet outside the college guesthouse. Paul helped me get checked in and I got a room with a kitchen and a bedroom – all very cozy – and it would be home for the week. We then went to a heritage day at the Beckham Mill – a restored frontier mill which had one of those hot bulb engines that used to sit in fishing boats and which make a very characteristic sound. Then dinner at Paul’s house in the evening. The discussions turned to schools and education and I tried to explain what it’s like in Sweden – something that is always very difficult if you want to avoid stereotypes – I hope I succeeded. Well, that’s how it started and the mathematics discussions will be reported elsewhere on these pages.
On Tuesday night, Bruce Atwood took me to the Anderson Japanese Garden in nearby Rockford. Just off the highway you wouldn’t imagine there is a big park-like Japanese garden in the mid-west. There was a three-piece country-rock-jazz band playing & food and drink. A nice evening. Strangely enough there were also Carl Milles statues in the park!
I went to classes, had discussions related to the questions and goals of my project and actually took it quite leisurely – read articles, wrote some and tried to organize my thoughts, et cetera – it was a good week. A perfect start to the project – couldn’t have been better. I can recommend the downtown café Nikki’s and the nice restaurant Little Bistro if you pass through Beloit.
On Friday I gave a colloquium talk for faculty and students. Here’s a pdf of the presentation I used: Can a humanistic approach to engineering mathematics be effective when time is short? After that I went to Barrington outside Chicago to visit Jean, a dear friend from the good old times in Kentishtown, London.