Barry McNamara  |   Published April 12, 2018

New faculty profile

Trevor Richards a believer in the beauty of mathematics
MONMOUTH, Ill. – Monmouth College professor Trevor Richards has an interesting analogy for solving higher-level mathematical problems, and it goes back to the math puzzles his father asked him to solve as a child.

“All through my childhood, I viewed mathematics as a knot to untie – a very complicated knot,” said Richards, who joined Monmouth’s faculty last fall after serving as a visiting assistant professor at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Va. “You pull a little bit on it here, loosen it a bit and make progress, but maybe get stuck again. Then you pull on it somewhere else and go about loosening that.”

Seeing mathematics in that way is an important part of what he tries to do in the classroom.

“Beyond the base clarity of transmission of material, my No. 1 goal when I teach is to draw students into the development of mathematics,” said Richards. “I view mathematics as an organic structure that grows in a sensible way. I don’t want students to view math as opaque formulas they follow mechanistically. I try to combat that by drawing them into the development phase.”

Richards said his typical class sessions include about 15 minutes of lecture including “a robust back and forth” with the students to develop methods to solve the problem.Then the students come to the whiteboard to work the problem.

While Richards’s love of mathematics goes back as long as he can remember, he definitely recalls the year when he decided to teach it. He was a junior high student in Lansing, Mich.

“I had a really inspiring teacher in seventh grade,” he said. “He had a really engaging approach for bringing out the remarkable and wondrous aspects of mathematics. Since then, I knew I wanted to teach.”

Richards thought at first he’d become a high school teacher, but he found success in graduate school at the University of Florida, where he also completed his undergraduate degree. “Attracted by the research aspects,” he decided to become a college professor, instead.

Richards’s research interest is the “topological and measure-theoretic properties of level sets of functions.”

“My approach to research is really aesthetic,” he said, referencing a statement by systems theorist Buckminster Fuller: “When I am working on a problem, I never think about beauty, but when I have finished, if the solution is not beautiful, I know it is wrong.”

“My research problems have aesthetic elements,” said Richards, who said he used to joke in graduate school about solving the “cartoon version” of a problem, even using crayons. Although he rarely uses crayons today, he said he still enjoys “drawing pictures and finding intuitive answers, which leads me to more rigorous answers.”

At Monmouth, Richards teaches the calculus sequence, leading into real analysis and complex analysis. He called the real analysis class “a first step into my own current field of research – it was my favorite class when I took it as an undergraduate.”

When not teaching or solving his own research problems, Richards enjoys solving problems on a chess board. He has a board in his office and enjoys the challenge of battling department colleague Mike Sostarecz. He also grew to love frisbee golf and ultimate frisbee during his time at the University of Florida and has played a few rounds at the disc golf course at Monmouth Park.
Back to News & Events

Did you know?

  • <aside class="factoid-item"><div class="factoid-item-text"><p> Monmouth College is proudly test optional. Applicants may choose whether or to submit SAT or ACT scores for admission and scholarship consideration. </p></div><div class="factoid-item-links"><ul><li class="lw_related_page"><a href="/admission/apply/test-optional/" target="_blank">Test Optional</a></li></ul></div></aside>
  • <aside class="factoid-item"><div class="factoid-item-text"><p> While we have the Wells Theater on campus, the Theatre department also uses the block-box auditorium Fusion Theatre downtown Monmouth.</p></div><div class="factoid-item-links"><ul><li class="lw_related_page"><a href="/academics/theatre/" target="_blank">Theatre</a></li></ul></div></aside>
  • <aside class="factoid-item"><div class="factoid-item-text"><p> Monmouth College covers the cost for all current students to get a U.S. passport. Unlock access to over 198 different countries! We’ll even help with the paperwork :)</p></div><div class="factoid-item-links"><ul><li class="lw_related_page"><a href="/academics/study-abroad/" target="_blank">Study Abroad</a></li></ul></div></aside>
  • <aside class="factoid-item"><div class="factoid-item-text"><p> Monmouth College offers unique academic minors in Global Public Health and Global Food Security for students who want to use their education to address global challenges. </p></div><div class="factoid-item-links"><ul><li class="lw_related_page"><a href="/academics/global-public-health/" target="_blank">Global Public Health</a></li><li class="lw_related_page"><a href="/academics/global-food-security/" target="_blank">Global Food Security</a></li></ul></div></aside>
  • <aside class="factoid-item"><div class="factoid-item-text"><p> 98% of Monmouth graduates were employed or enrolled in graduate school within six months of graduation.</p></div><div class="factoid-item-links"><ul><li class="lw_related_page"><a href="/wackerle-center/career-services/" target="_blank">Career Services</a></li></ul></div></aside>
  • <aside class="factoid-item"><div class="factoid-item-text"><p> Monmouth College has an educational garden and 6.7 acre farm. Students grow and harvest fruits and vegetables to sell at the local farmer’s market. </p></div><div class="factoid-item-links"><ul><li class="lw_related_urls"><a href="" target="_blank">Garden & Farm</a></li></ul></div></aside>
  • <aside class="factoid-item"><div class="factoid-item-text"><p> 99% of Monmouth students received some type of scholarship or financial assistance.</p></div><div class="factoid-item-links"><ul><li class="lw_related_page"><a href="/offices/student-financial-planning/types-of-aid/scholarships/" target="_blank">Scholarships</a></li></ul></div></aside>
  • <aside class="factoid-item"><div class="factoid-item-text"><p> Monmouth College offers several international trips each year during 2-week Scots Terms in January and May. Recently students have traveled to Botswana, Greece, Scotland, Japan, and more. </p></div><div class="factoid-item-links"><ul><li class="lw_related_urls"><a href="" target="_blank">Scots Term</a></li></ul></div></aside>
  • <aside class="factoid-item"><div class="factoid-item-text"><p> Monmouth College has an active Pipe & Drum Band. Each year on Scholar’s Day in April the bagpipers wake students up at 6:00 a.m. by playing in the residence halls!</p></div><div class="factoid-item-links"><ul><li class="lw_related_page"><a href="/academics/music/pipe-band/" target="_blank">Pipe Band</a></li></ul></div></aside>
  • <aside class="factoid-item"><div class="factoid-item-text"><p> We’re no stranger to winning. Last year the Fighting Scots won Midwest Conference championships in Football, Women’s Soccer, Women’s Basketball and Men’s Track and Field. </p></div><div class="factoid-item-links"><ul><li class="lw_related_urls"><a href="" target="_blank">Fighting Scots</a></li></ul></div></aside>
  • <aside class="factoid-item"><div class="factoid-item-text"><p> We offer a certified Peace Corps Preparation program that gives Peace Corps bound graduates a leg up in the application process.</p></div><div class="factoid-item-links"><ul><li class="lw_related_page"><a href="/academics/peace-corps-prep/" target="_blank">Peace Corps Prep</a></li></ul></div></aside>
  • <aside class="factoid-item"><div class="factoid-item-text"><p><strong>Monmouth College is the birthplace of the women’s fraternity movement. Pi Beta Phi, the first such collegiate women’s organization, was founded at Monmouth in 1867. It was followed three years later by Kappa Kappa Gamma. The two pioneering organizations today boast a total of 275 active chapters nationwide.</strong></p></div><div class="factoid-item-links"><ul><li class="lw_related_page"><a href="/student-life/sororities-fraternities/" target="_blank">Sororities & Fraternities</a></li></ul></div></aside>