Cal State Fullerton News California State University, Fullerton
Public Affairs
800 N. State College Blvd. Fullerton, CA 92632
657-278-2414 Fax 657-278-5226



from Dateline (February 5, 2004)

It All Adds Up for Veteran Mathematics Chair
by Dave Reid

Jim Friel, chair and professor of mathematics, is a busy man. He zips to work often on his bright yellow motorcycle, avoiding traffic jams and the challenges of finding a parking space on campus. At work, the longtime department chair zips along an academic path lined with significant numbers.

A faculty member since 1973 and chair since 1980, Friel is the longest serving math chair within the California State University and one of the longest serving department leaders on campus. Friel reports with pride that Fullerton has the largest math department in the CSU, and one of the largest programs in number of students taking classes. Last fall, approximately 7,300 students were enrolled in a math course, including all entering freshmen, students needing remediation, about 300 math majors and 60 graduate students. The department has 32 full-time faculty members and about 68 part-time instructors.


Q: What are some of the significant changes you’ve seen?

When I first became chair, there was a big debate whether math education should be part of the Mathematics Department. Because of my background as a member of departments where math education was part of the department, that seemed logical to me.

We did absorb the math education group into our department. I was a swing vote on that issue. It was clearly one of the best moves we’ve ever made. They’re an extremely productive group and, without question, one of the strengths of our department. We now have one of the strongest math education programs anywhere.


Q: Other changes?

Another major change is the calculus reform movement. Calculus hasn’t changed much in the past 200 years, but the way it is taught has. The department went through a mini-revolution incorporating the changes from this national movement in the mathematics community. Stated simply, the emphasis is more on concepts than calculations. The use of technology is an important component of that, and we’ve made use of powerful symbolic manipulation calculators. We also have students complete one project in each course and use the leading calculus book to come out of the reform movement.

Another recent significant change is the growth and strength of our undergraduate research efforts. Our students are doing some amazing things. Still another major change over the last 30 years has been the increased diversification of our student body. We’ve had some outstanding minority students over the years.


Q: What about current programs?

We have two distinct graduate programs. Both very healthy. One is applied mathematics, established during my first year as chair, and one is a master’s degree for teachers.

The teacher program is even healthier because we’ve had so many of our students come back to earn a master’s degree. They wind up teaching in the area, and now we get a number of referrals. Although it has been relatively constant over the years, the number of undergraduate majors is now going up. We have more than 300 listed math majors, which is a pretty good number.



If half of our math majors go into teaching, what careers are the others selecting?


The biggest career choice outside of teaching is industry. Some go into what used to be called the aerospace industry, while others go into the financial field.

Almost any big firm in the Los Angeles basin that uses technical people probably has a couple of Cal State Fullerton math alumni: JPL – Interstate Electronic does, naturally – Raytheon, Boeing, McDonell Douglas and TRW.

We also have graduates that are doing well in the actuarial profession. Another area is statistics – we have graduates at the City of Hope and the Census Bureau. The statistics people have opportunities at a lot of places.



Q: So there are jobs for math majors?

There are jobs, but graduates have to search them out. Probably the vast majority of our students who go on for a doctorate go into academics – but not all.

We produce a lot of high school teachers and also an amazing number of community college instructors. At Fullerton College, for example, between 12 and 14 of their math faculty members are Cal State Fullerton grads.