Archive for March, 2009

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Erik Demaine

March 23, 2009

Erik Demaine, named “one of the most brilliant scientists in America” by Popular Science magazine, is a rising star in the area of theoretical computer science – specifically computational geometry, data structures, and algorithms. As a child, he had an unconventional educational background of homeschooling on the road followed by entering college at an early age. However, he shies away from the term “genius,” explaining “I didn’t show any sign of being particularly smart or anything, [except that I had] an unusually long attention span.”

Erik was born on February 28, 1981, in Halifax, Nova Scotia. His parents divorced when he was young, so Erik was raised by his father, a sculptor and glassblower whose only degree was from high school. Together, father and son traveled to art shows around Canada and the United States where they sold crafts to support their journey. Erik’s father instructed him for as little as an hour each day from a homeschool manual, leaving Erik free to pursue his own interests and spend time reading in local libraries.

Describing formal school as “just an excuse to meet kids and hang out with them,” Erik says, “I learned to read early, but it never was as interesting to me as personal experience. I didn’t read textbooks as an undergrad. My father, Martin Demaine, had home-schooled me until I went to university. He was against the whole school thing, [and] wanted to be engaged in my education. Also, my father wanted to travel, so around Grade 2 we started traveling around North America, Canada, and the United States. I got to see a lot of different cultures, meet lots of different kinds of people, different backgrounds, different ages.”

At a young age, Erik became intensely interested in computer games and computer programming. Erik wrote his first computer program at age seven, a text-based “Choose Your Own Adventure”-style game. When Erik’s ambitions began to outpace his knowledge, his father enrolled him in math and computer science classes at Dalhousie University in their hometown of Halifax, and dad attended class alongside his son. Although Erik was only twelve years old, he aced his courses and recalls “my fellow students were great and treated me like anyone else.”

Erik earned his bachelor’s degree at age 14, then he went to the University of Waterloo for his master’s degree in math (1996) followed by a Ph.D. (2001). He joined the MIT faculty as an Assistant Professor of Computer Science that same year. At age 20, he was the youngest professor ever hired by the renowned university. “I primarily came because it’s the top place for computer science, but now I realize I like the culture here,” he said of MIT. “People are excited about projects and love to jump in on them.”

Dr. Erik Demaine is best known for his work involving algorithms and computational geometry in which he gets to combine art, science, and play. He proved mathematically that it is possible to create any conceivable straight-sided shape by folding a piece of paper and making a single scissor cut. This launched the specialty field of computational origami, an interdisciplinary endeavor on the boundary of computer science and mathematics. Dr. Demaine is particularly interested in abstract geometry problems related to folding and bending that have practical applications in fields as diverse as manufacturing (sheet metal fabrication) and biology (protein-folding).

In 2003, Dr. Demaine became one of the youngest people ever selected for the prestigious MacArthur Fellowship, commonly called “the genius grant.” The award cited him as a “computational geometer tackling and solving difficult problems related to folding and bending-moving readily between the theoretical and the playful, with a keen eye to revealing the former in the latter.” The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation awards the grants to “recognize the importance of individual creativity in society by finding people who are creative in their field… and will go on to do great things …to enable recipients to exercise their own creative instincts for the benefit of society at large.”

In 2008, Carnegie Mellon University, in cooperation with the Tokyo University of Technology (TUT), awarded the second annual Katayanagi Prize in Computer Science to Dr. Demaine. The Katayanagi Prizes “honor the best and brightest in the field of computer science,” said Carnegie Mellon President Jared L. Cohon. “Computer science plays a critical role everywhere in the world today, but its greatest researchers and practitioners often go unsung.” TUT President Hideo Aiso added, “I have been very much interested in Dr. Demaine’s research in the emerging field of origami mathematics, since origami is a part of Japanese traditional art and culture.”

Martin Demaine is now a technical instructor and artist in residence at the MIT Glass Lab. Erik and his father continue to work closely together, having collaborated on 43 papers over the years. “[My dad’s] background is in visual arts, so he’s been my art influence,” says Erik. “Then I got him interested in algorithms and computer science. Lately we’ve been trying to combine these two.”

Although his appreciation for the beauty and joy of mathematics may seem a little geeky, Erik is actually quite down to earth with his sand-blond ponytail and fuzzy beard, jeans, t-shirt, and hiking books. He likes to defy what’s popular: “I used to not eat chocolate because it was too popular – therefore it couldn’t be good!” However, he is fond of beef jerky. “Whenever I eat it, I have this image of being in an adventure,” he explains. Erik’s hobbies include: puzzles, game theory, origami, knot tying, string figures, glassblowing, juggling, card tricks, improvisational comedy/theater, and programming. Visit his website at http://erikdemaine.org/

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Ave Maria University

March 23, 2009

Ave Maria University

Ave Maria University Welcomes Homeschoolers

Ave Maria is a private liberal arts university in the Roman Catholic tradition, located in southwest Florida. It was founded in 2003 with a donation of $250 million by Tom Monaghan, Catholic philanthropist and retired owner of Domino’s Pizza. The Barron Collier family donated the land 17 miles east of Naples for the campus. Monaghan said “We wanted to build a major Catholic university in the southern part of the United States with the highest standards.” The university moved to its permanent campus, situated in the master-planned community of Ave Maria on land that was previously used for farming, in August 2007.

The centerpiece of the campus and the town is the Ave Maria Oratory, which is a large gothic-inspired structure that serves as the parish church and university chapel. Several more master-planned communities are under construction or planned in the immediate surrounding area. Managed wetlands lie north and west of the campus. Wildlife preservation and restoration projects have also been instituted on the site, to preserve a degree of its natural state.

Ave Maria is the first major Roman Catholic university to be established in over 40 years. Ave Maria University intends to integrate the truths of the faith with the social, cultural, economic, and political developments in society. Two hundred or more years ago, these societal practices included slavery and child labor. Fifty or more years ago, those practices included Marxism, Nazism, and Freudianism. Today they include abortion, fetal research, cloning, same-sex marriage, moral relativism, and world terrorism. It is the graduates of Ave Maria University who will become the Catholic intellectuals needed to bring the truths of the faith to bear on these issues.

Ave Maria University currently offers ten undergraduate degrees: Biology, Classics and Early Christian Literature, Economics, History, Literature, Mathematics, Music with a concentration in Sacred Music, Philosophy, Politics, and Theology. Graduate programs include M.A. and Ph.D. studies in Theology and a Master of Theological Studies for non-traditional students. Special programs include Pre-Law, Pre-Medicine, Business Certificate, and high school dual enrollment. The university also offers an undergraduate program which prepares men for the seminary, paralleled by a religious discernment program for women. Undergraduate students must complete all courses in the core curriculum, with more than ten required courses, including a full year of Latin, courses in philosophy, theology, literature, science, math, history and political science.

Ave Maria University has a study abroad program in two locations: the alpine village of Gaming, Austria, about an hour’s drive from Vienna, and also at their Latin-American satellite campus in San Marcos, Nicaragua. Classes are in English. To be eligible for the program, students must have spent at least one semester at Ave Maria University, be in good academic standing, and have no major infractions on their student life record. According to Ave Maria’s student handbook, “major infractions” include theft, the possession, use or distribution of illegal drugs or drug paraphernalia, underage alcohol consumption, firearm possession, feeding alligators and other wildlife and “public advocacy of ideas or actions blatantly contrary to the teachings of the Catholic Church or the mission of Ave Maria University.”

Ave Maria dormitories are organized into small, same-gender communities. Quiet hours (9-9 on weekdays, 11-10 on weekends) are enforced by residence assistants and adjusted by residence directors. Members of the opposite sex are not permitted in the dorm rooms and must be escorted through the halls. Chapels are located in each of the three dorms. Members of the clergy, who live on campus, assist in maintaining spiritual life. Televisions are only permitted in common areas, though students are allowed to use their computers to play videos in the dorms and common rooms. Social life on campus includes intramural sports, drama productions, talent shows, excursions, dances, and many other events. Students are encouraged to organize and participate in social and recreational activities. Men and women are encouraged to dress modestly and to avoid suggestive or revealing attire.

Current total enrollment at Ave Maria University is approximately 600 students. A university spokesman states, “nearly 30% of our students homeschooled through high school. Many of our most successful students come from a home education background. Homeschool students have the same application process and the same opportunity to receive scholarships and financial aid as any applicant.” The 2008-2009 tuition was $16,350, with a total cost of $24,500. Over 80% of the school’s students receive financial aid.

11th & 12th Grade Homeschoolers Are Invited to Attend the Ave Maria University Open House on April 3-5, 2009. Come experience first-hand the excellent academics, dynamic spiritual life, and many extracurricular opportunities at Ave Maria! During the Open House, visitors will have a chance to stay overnight in the dorms and participate in information sessions and social events. There is no charge to attend an Open House at Ave Maria University, and all meals are provided. Accepted students will receive a $200 travel reimbursement to visit Ave Maria. To request more information about Ave Maria’s open house, application process, high school summer programs, or homeschool initiatives, please contact the Office of Home School Advancement at 239-280-1656. Register now for the Open House at http://www.avemaria.edu/forms/homeschoolopenhousereservation.

To learn more about Ave Maria University and to apply online, please visit http://www.avemaria.edu