Meet Elizabeth Wilcox, an assistant professor of mathematics who ranks teaching first, finds research both demanding and fun, and prepares to host a large regional math symposium.

Q. How did you learn about a math faculty position here?
A. I went to Binghamton University for my doctorate in mathematics. We have a professional organization, the Mathematics Association of America, with a local section that's really very active. Some of the conferences had Oswego faculty, and one conference was here and I attended it. We have job ads, postings -- the position here seemed really interesting. I started here in the fall of 2013. I'm in middle of my fourth year.

Q. Why did you accept the Oswego job?
A. I grew up east of Albany, in Schodack. My dad loved to fish, and we would come to Oswego to go fishing in Lake Ontario. It was a big family thing. So I grew up knowing about the town and the area. When I was looking for a job, I wasn't JUST looking for a job, I was looking for a place. The area as well as the type of school really drew my interest. I accepted a position here because when I came for an interview, the department really impressed me with how focused it is on providing quality teaching. That really made a big impression -- teaching is important to me -- so I wanted to be at a place that valued how I taught my students.

Q. Rolling back a bit, how did you wind up in math as a career?
A. I thought I was going to double major in biology and chemistry in (Carleton) college, and I was going to go to medical school. It ended up where the only thing I could major in and graduate on time was math. I had put myself in this position because I had taken so many math classes. But I didn't make the connection that I took all of them because I liked math. I started in graduate school in epidemiology. I realized in grad school that it wasn’t medicine, it wasn’t even science that I wanted to study; I wanted to study math and I wanted to teach math.

Q. It's commonly understood there aren't a lot of women in math.
A. I went to the University of Vermont for my master's degree in mathematics. I had known there were not a lot of women in math and I had known this was a social problem. I was in a crop of five at Vermont, and I was the only woman. Fortunately, the men who were studying math with me were all very nice and respectful. It's the sort of thing you kind of get used to, and you learn how to handle situations. I am a member of the Association for Women in Math. I love that more and more women are going into math and into STEM. The greater the diversity, the better our perspective will be. There will be more and more ideas and approaches.

Q. What do you think of SUNY Oswego students?
A. I think Oswego students are really good people. I tell this to our job candidates all the time. When a faculty member spends time with a student, the students are really so appreciative. It's just really pleasant. They're not all great at work habits, but they are good people. You can improve work habits, but you can't make somebody a pleasant person when they weren't one before. They enjoy spending time with faculty members. By and large, they really want to learn. They appreciate the opportunity to improve their career options.

Q. Do you work with students on research?
A. I'm the department's Quest representative. I also work with students on capstone projects, independent studies and on the Faculty-Student Challenge Grants. It's a really good experience for students. They get really excited to find out what math research is like.

Q. What are your own research interests?
A. My primary focus is teaching. Our research is what we consider fun. It's hard work, but it's fascinating and fun. I think research helps put us in the minds of students. They think faculty never struggle with math problems, but, yes, we struggle with math problems! It's just different kinds of math problems. I study group theory. It's in the broader field of algebra. Group theory has its origins in the study of symmetry. So when you're talking about a basic shape, like a triangle or a square, or a more complex shape, like a molecule or a Rubik's Cube, it has symmetry. Group theorists think about symmetry a bit differently from most people, who observe the lines of symmetry and rotational symmetry. Group theorists think about an action. What can I do to keep the special properties of the shape the same? We can think about actions that maintain the special properties of a square or molecule, or we can abstract that to think of the special properties of a network. We can sort of step away from shape and go toward concept.

Q. What is the beauty of math to you? What's at the essence of your love for math?
A. I think of math as art. The beauty of crafting a proof -- it's an argument that is irrefutable, and if it's well written, it's like a Monet. I really like art, and math is like art to me.

Q. I hear you're organizing a math conference at the college at the end of March?
A. The Math Association of America is divided regionally into sections; we are in the Seaway Section. We are hosting the section's conference -- by the way, it is the seventh anniversary of the conference I came to here as a graduate student. I really think we can do a great job hosting the conference. We have a banquet speaker who's going to tell about the mathematics George Washington studied and learned -- in particular, some of the math Washington needed in order to become a surveyor. Another presentation is about gravitational waves in space. We also have a math magic show. And one of our students, Kenny Roffo, is hosting a Rubik's Cube Rewind. These are fun things to help people enjoy the math.

Q. What else do you do on campus or professionally?
A. I love going to graduations. Lately I've been participating as a marshal. It's a lot of fun. I help organize the Science Today Lecture series. I'm very active at the national level with the MAA and every year I help organize a conference for my research group, the Zassenhaus Groups and Friends Conference. I'm on the steering committee.

Q. What do you like to do off the job?
A. I got a pair of cross-country skis, and last night I tried it for the first time. It was a lot of fun. I fell big time -- couldn't get back up. (Laughs.) I like hiking, walking, swimming, canoeing. I love gardening. I'm also a knitter. Knitting is very mathy, it turns out. I don't think many people realize how mathy it is. By coincidence, I purchased the home of a former math professor, very close to campus. I sometimes walk to work or snowshoe to work.

Q. What can you tell us about your family?
A. My parents live in Florida. I have two brothers who still live in the Albany area. I have a niece and some nephews.

Q. What is something about you that only those close to you know?
A. I was in a play! I was in a play at a national conference for the 2015 MathFest, a celebration of the MAA's 100th anniversary. I played a stay-at-home mother (married to) a very scatter-brained, math-minded husband. When children are young and you're on your own a lot, it gets stressful, and I got to yell and freak out!