Talk to weave together geometry, history

Tom Thompson, a Walla Walla University math professor, will give the school's Distinguished Faculty Lecture on Sunday.

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COLLEGE PLACE -- A former student now a longtime member of the Walla Walla University faculty, will give the school's 2009 Distinguished Faculty Lecture this weekend.

Tom Thompson, a professor of mathematics, will discuss "Shape and Dimension" Sunday at 7 p.m. at the Melvin K. West Fine Arts Center Auditorium on the Walla Walla University campus. The lecture is free and open to the public.

Thompson's lecture will draw on his interest in mathematical history, observing how familiar geometric shapes like circles, spheres and cubes have played important roles throughout written history.

Thompson began his stint at then-Walla Walla College as a chemistry major, who was finishing his last year of course work in 1968 when he decided to add a few math classes. The move was done in part for fun, in part to add a second degree program to his studies.

He left College Place to pursue medical school, "but it didn't grab me," Thompson said in a news release. Instead, Thompson continued to chase mathematics, earning a master's degree in the subject from University of Washington in 1971.

Among his job offers after graduating was a teaching position at Walla Walla University following a sudden vacancy at the school.

Nearly 40 years later, Thompson continues to teach an array of mathematics courses, including calculus, advanced calculus, and abstract algebra. His career was only briefly interrupted to complete a doctoral program at the University of California, Davis.

Thompson described landing his teaching gig as "providential."

"I knew this job was made for me," he said. "I'm starting my 39th year and I feel that I'm the luckiest person in the world. I'm doing precisely what I enjoy. I love working with the students. When I'm teaching them, I see the furrowed brows and then as I explain the concept to them, I see their faces relax and break into a smile as they begin to understand."

The Distinguished Faculty Lecturer honor was awarded to Thompson by fellow faculty members last year. Lecturers are typically chosen for their demonstrated excellence in teaching and scholarship, and involvement in governance, church and community service.

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