Secret lives of our profs

Rachel Young

(Ni Nguyen)

Young: Tell me about how you came to Lawrence and got interested in mathematics.
Krebsbach: Well, I’m from Berlin, Wisconsin. I came to Lawrence twice. I came as a student and graduated from Lawrence, and then I came back after I got my Ph.D. to teach. So that was my first incarnation, and now this is my eighth year on the faculty, so I guess I’ve been here 12 years altogether. I came to Lawrence in the first place because I was a pretty strong math student. I wanted to major in math, and I applied to several schools, and Lawrence was my first choice, mainly because it was an academically rigorous school, but also because it had the conservatory of music. While I wasn’t planning on doing a Bachelor of Music or making it a major, I had done a lot of performing in high school: playing trumpet in band, taking lessons and singing, and I wanted to continue that on the side. When I got here, I started in the math program, which eventually turned into computer science. At that time, there wasn’t even a computer science designation in the catalogue, it was just “Computer Studies,” and there were only a few classes to take. But they were building a bigger program. David Cook, Jim Evans and my predecessor here, Tom Naps, designed the math and computer science interdisciplinary major. It was approved while I was a junior, and so I was still able to complete that in four years. I also ended up adding [a B.A. music major]. In that way, it’s fitting that I came back here to teach because I was the first math/computer science major to graduate from Lawrence. I was intending to do math, and the reason I wanted to do math is [that] my dream job while I was in high school was to go and be the head statistician for the Milwaukee Brewers, since that’s what I did for fun as a kid, keep baseball statistics. However, I wound up doing my Ph.D. at the University of Minnesota in computer science. Then, I taught for a couple of years at Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania at a tenure track job, but I was lured back to the Twin Cities because they were forming a research group in artificial intelligence at Honeywell in Minneapolis. There were some big names in the field there then, and they wanted me to come and do research. For the next seven years, I got to do a lot of research and publish a lot with those guys. However, Honeywell wound up getting sold to another company, and it became a less attractive place to be for a research scientist. Slowly, my group began to go to other places, and that was when Tom Naps decided to move on from Lawrence. He’s now a professor at UW-Oshkosh in the computer science department, instead of doing math/computer science [as an interdisciplinary area]. It was tempting to just come back and check it out, especially because of what was going on at Honeywell. The timing turned out to be great. I’m actually chairing the math department this year, which is really ironic, because if you’d said to me after I took my Calculus II midterm, “Hey, you know, I know you didn’t have a great exam, but some day you’re going to be chairing this department,” I would have been like, “Are you kidding? I’m not even going to be a math major next week!”
Young: Why is Lawrence’s quantitative requirement important?
Krebsbach: Well, even from the music side of things, I think it applies. I went through all of those theory courses, and no, it’s not like you’re computing square roots of the notes or something, but the rigorous kind of thought and logical approach to things [that are found in quantitative classes] can help you think about music as well. I think part of being an educated person is being able to think about things logically – not necessarily [being able to] analyze a huge data set, but just [being able to] to make sense of a statistic in a newspaper and know if it’s right to use it to make an informed decision. I also think that if you asked any student who has taken a course in our department, [they would tell you that] that’s the part we really emphasize. It’s not really that ten years from now you’re going to know how to compute a certain kind of interval, but that you have some practice, and gain some facility with thinking about things precisely. On the computer science side, I think one of the biggest benefits of taking a computer science class is figuring out what computer science is. I think one of the biggest misunderstandings about computer science that people have is that computer science is about the technology of computers and how they work. Computer science as a science, however, doesn’t really have that much to do with computers, but rather with computing. It’s an idea of procedures and algorithms that compute things that is at the heart of computer science as a science. It’s quite a bit different from information technology, which is usually about the latest and greatest computer technology. I think in this department, we have an understanding that math is a big part of computer science, and I think students realize that even though maybe computer science isn’t what they thought it was when they take a class, they find it interesting and they want to find out more.
Young: What do you like to do outside of math and computer science?
Krebsbach: Well, I have a 5-year-old son, Ben. We’re first time parents, and he’s our only child. He’s into building things; he makes many inventions every day that are made out of Legos and tape and sandpaper. We play games of Uno Spin, and so whatever he’s into I’m sort of automatically into. You don’t really plan that, but it sort of just happens. It’s a big job that doesn’t feel like a job. I like to golf when I can. Professors Sanerib and Stoneking and I get out to golf together. I don’t get out as much as I’d like to, but maybe I will as Ben gets older. Ben is taking piano lessons now at the Lawrence Academy of Music, and so I’ve wanted to get back into [piano] too. I’ve been working with him on his lessons, and I’ve also been working on piano again myself. I’m also a big reader – I always have a dozen or more books going at the same time. I’ve never been very good about reading one all the way through. It usually depends on what I’m feeling like reading that night. I like traveling – we try to go to the U.K. every year since both my son and wife are dual citizens. At this point in my life, what I do is mostly driven by my