Faculty Spotlight: Rod Switzer

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“Even though we are in Colorado, we still haven’t legalized dividing by 0.” Professor Rod Switzer brings humor into his lectures from every possible angle (no pun intended). This is one of the reasons why most students have enjoyed taking his classes. He is able to make students laugh and smile during his job as lecturer at Colorado School of Mines.

Since his early childhood, Switzer has been interested in numbers and mathematics. “I’d love looking at the statistics on the back of baseball cards and tried to calculate the numbers,” Switzer said. He knew he was going to be a math major from the get-go and continued his interest in math all the way through high school and into college, where he received his B.A. in Mathematics at the University of Minnesota-Morris in 1984. Two years later, after graduating from Colorado State University with a M.S. in Mathematics, he decided to pursue being an actuary. An actuary is a business professional who deals with the financial impact of risk and uncertainty in a business. After 4 years of studying to become an actuary, he began working as an actuary for the Great West Life while completing his actuarial exams. He eventually became a financial actuary working around 401K. Unfortunately, the company moved his office over to California and Switzer decided it probably wasn’t a good idea to move there as well. That’s when his teaching career began.

He applied to become a math professor at Colorado School of Mines and has been working here for 10 years. He has taught Calculus 1,2,3, Probability and Statistics, Differential Equations, and Linear Algebra. However, he currently only teaches Calculus 3 and Probability and Statistics. “The nice thing about mathematics is that there are many real-world examples.” Switzer thinks being a mathematician has many benefits. “Learning math is like learning the tools to solve puzzles and later on, your subject degree.” Also, he recommends taking Probability and Statistics because there are “lots of bogus” in the world and he wants to be able to help students understand the good from the bad in politics.

Switzer loves teaching at Mines because of the “enthusiasm of the students” and the diligence that is exemplified by his coworkers and students on campus. Switzer gives advice to students around campus- explore STEM subjects and don’t procrastinate. “If you have an interest in mathematics, engineering, or related hard sciences, now is the time to explore it. STEM subjects tend to be best mastered in college, where you have teachers and classmates to help you work through difficult problems.” In this way, if you are struggling, you can ask the professor for help, use AMS learning center (math tutoring in Stratton Hall) to your advantage, or work out problems with another student in class. There are many resources at Mines that can help you succeed. All of these can only help you if you don’t procrastinate. Switzer suggests, “work before fun.”

But while Switzer is heavily involved in his academic career, he enjoys his free time hiking with his wife and dog, playing softball, and running. Switzer ran the Boston Marathon in 2009 and 2011. He actually also qualified to run for the 2013 Boston Marathon, which was the year that the bombings took place, and fortunately declined to run. In addition to running, he also is a “music nut”. He has tons of CD’s, cassettes, and even 8 tracks. Switzer also plays the keyboard and drums in his band, Patch. “A few years ago my band Patch recorded a song whose melody was based on the Fibonacci sequence,” Switzer remarked. Just recently, he installed a recording studio in his basement.

Switzer is currently the club advisor for the Actuary club. He says if any students are interested in joining and/or want to pursue the actuarial field, they should contact him by email, which can be found in the math department page under Mines[a] Applied Mathematics homepage.


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