20 Questions: A sketch of Centre mathematics professor Alex McAllister

RELEASED: March 16, 2006

    The McAllister clan: Julie, Benjamin, Daniel, Ella and Alex.

DANVILLE, KY—1. Position/title: Associate Professor of Mathematics and Centre Scholar
2. Hometown: My birthtown is Corvallis, Oregon, but I mostly grew up in Leetown, West Virginia—a “three stop sign” town in the eastern panhandle not far from Harpers Ferry.

3. Career highlight: I’m not sure I have one in particular… I think of it more as a journey with lots of highlights…

4. Signature class: In mathematics we take turns teaching all the various courses.  I teach more calculus than anything and I continue to become more impressed with the genius of Newton and Leibniz. I also really enjoy teaching logic.

5. Recent publication/exhibition/performance: My most recent publication was as the abridgement editor for Schaum’s Easy Outlines in Logic. I'm in the middle of writing Answering Fundamental Questions: An Introduction to Mathematics with Associate Dean Bill Johnston which surveys many of the great ideas of mathematics. My most recent talk was The Other Two R’s: Reading and Writing in Mathematics Courses based on my experiences here at Centre.

6. Family details: I have a wife, three kids, and two dogs. My wife Julie has degrees in engineering and theology, and more recently has developed an interest making greeting cards and journals.  My oldest child is Benjamin; he enjoys soccer, riding bikes, and dueling with lightsabres, or whatever stick happens to be handy. My second child is Daniel; he enjoys soccer too, prefers his scooter to his bike, and is often on the other end of those lightsabre duels. My third child is Ella; she is just learning to walk, loves to smile, and knocks over a stack of blocks in a heartbeat. All three of them are left-handed. Our dogs BJ and Bridget were both strays at one time, but seem to enjoy living with us now.

7. Hobbies: I love to run and play soccer—especially pick-up soccer with Centre students on Sunday afternoons. Probably my favorite time playing soccer was in grad school with all the international math students from Europe and South America—although winning the soccer intramural championship last spring is definitely a close second! I also enjoy growing flowers, playing guitar, and an occasional woodworking project. 
8. Pets: Oops—see  #6 Family details…

9. Prized possession: Since having children I’ve become less attached to possessions in some ways—things seem to break and/or wear out much more quickly now, and things aren’t nearly so as important as the people I share my life with.  One fun possession of mine: a complete collection of 22 Lord of the Ring figures from Burger King Kids Meals!  They talk and light up and generally look cool on the table in my office.

10. Last book read: When I was high school I read Terry Brooks’ The Sword of Shannara and I’ve been hooked on reading his books ever since. Just recently he completed the High Druid of Shannara trilogy with Straken.  It’s not quite as good as the original trilogy—but still a lot of fun!
11. Memorable trip/vacation:  In 2002 my wife and I went to Ireland. It’s a beautiful country and we had a great time—especially visiting the Aran Islands and hanging out in the pubs in Doolin. In 2004, we went back with Ben and Danny. They still talk about wandering around castles, visiting churches, and the sheep that seem to be everywhere. 

12. Favorite movie:The Lord of the Rings Trilogy and My Cousin Vinny.
13. Favorite album: I’ve become a big fan of Irish and Scottish music—Danu, Kila, Lunasa, McKennitt, Runrig, and Solas are some of my favorites. If pressed to pick one album at this moment I would probably say Stamping Ground by Runrig—but we’ll see what they come up with next!

14. Favorite food: Lasagna, or is it mint chocolate chip ice cream?  I know—lasagna, with a nice salad on the side and a glass of red wine—and then the mint chip ice cream for dessert!
15. Favorite smell: I love the smell of mint, especially around running water.  When I was young, a stream ran by our house with mint growing on its banks.  The smell of mint still conjures up in me the feelings of freedom and fun from when I was seven.

16. Person you most admire: My wife, Julie.
17. Living figure you'd most like to meet: Either Jerry Mander, an author who's written some interesting books on technology and the environment, or John Michael Talbot, an amazing musician and guitarist whose music I really enjoy.
18. Historical figure you'd most like to meet: Jesus of Nazareth. My faith is very important to me and I think it would be pretty interesting to have a chat with Jesus over a cup of tea.
19. What would you be doing if you weren't teaching at Centre: Either teaching math somewhere, or fishing off the coast of Ireland.

20. Describe yourself in three words: The three great loves of my life are: faith, family, and math.


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Founded in 1819, Centre College is ranked among the U.S. News top 50 national liberal arts colleges. Centre alumni, known for their nation-leading loyalty in annual financial support, include two U.S. vice presidents and two Supreme Court justices. For more, visit http://archive.centre.edu/web/elevatorspeech/

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