Jun 02, 2023  
Course Catalog 2018-2019 
Course Catalog 2018-2019 [ARCHIVED CATALOG]


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Kevin Woods, Professor and Chair
Robert Bosch, Professor
Jack Calcut, Associate Professor
Susan Colley, Andrew and Pauline Delaney Professor
Colin Dawson, Assistant Professor
Benjamin Linowitz, Assistant Professor
Christoph Marx, Assistant Professor
Lauren Thompson, Assistant Professor 
James Walsh, Professor
Jeffrey Witmer, Professor
Elizabeth Wilmer, Professor
Robert Young, James F. Clark Professor 

Mathematics is both a technical and cultural field of study.  The Department’s curriculum has several objectives: (1) to introduce students to a central area of human thought; (2) to prepare students for graduate study in pure or applied mathematics, or in related fields, including statistics and operations research; (3) to support students studying fields that use mathematics, such as the physical, biological, social and information sciences; and (4) to provide liberal arts students with an introduction to the kinds of mathematical and quantitative thinking important in the contemporary world.

Students with any questions about course selection are strongly urged to consult the Department Chair or any member of the Mathematics Department. 

Advanced Placement.

Students who have taken a College Board Advanced Placement Program examination in Calculus, or an International Baccalaureate examination in Mathematics (Higher Level) will receive credit as follows:

  • Students scoring 4 or 5 on the BC Advanced Placement examination, or a 6 or 7 on the IB Mathematics HL, receive credit for two full academic courses, equivalent to MATH 133 and 134.
  • Students scoring 3 on the BC Advanced Placement examination with an AB sub-score of 4 or 5 receive credit for one full academic course, equivalent to MATH 133.
  • Students scoring 4 or 5 on the AB Advanced Placement examination, or a 5 on the IB Mathematics HL, receive credit for one full academic course, equivalent to MATH 133.

The Department discourages students from repeating courses for which they could have received credit for work prior to Oberlin.  Students who repeat coursework will have to relinquish AP or IB credit.

Students who have taken Calculus or more advanced mathematics for credit at another college or university should consult with the Registrar’s office and the Department Chair about transfer of credit and appropriate course placement.

Students who have studied advanced mathematics under any other circumstances should also consult with the Department Chair about course placement.

Initial Placement and Course Sequence Suggestions.

Potential CS majors should work towards taking MATH 220, Physics majors towards taking MATH 231, and Mathematics majors towards taking both MATH 220 and MATH 231, in either order (followed by MATH 232). Any math professor is happy to talk to you about your options. If potentially majoring in a social or biological science, you may find a STAT class more directly relevant to your major.

MATH 131: Calculus Ia (Fall only) or MATH 133: Calculus I (Fall or Spring). You must have instructor consent to register for these classes. MATH 133 is the standard one-semester course, while the sequence MATH 131/132 integrates precalculus topics with the same calculus content over two semesters. To determine which is right for you, you must take a Calculus Readiness Test, which covers precalculus topics. To take this test, log into blackboard.oberlin.edu, click the “Courses” tab at the top, look for the “Placement Tests” box, and follow the links. After taking the test, you must contact the instructor of the section you would like consent for. 

MATH 134: Calculus II (Fall or Spring). No placement exam or consent is required. This class is appropriate if you have credit for MATH 133 (or MATH 131/132). It is also appropriate if you’ve had Calculus in high school and are already comfortable with the Calculus I curriculum. 

MATH 220: Discrete Mathematics or MATH 231: Multivariable Calculus (Fall or Spring). No placement exam or consent is required. These classes are appropriate if you have credit for MATH 134 or if you are already comfortable with the Calculus I/II curriculum. MATH 220 is also suitable for students with MATH 133 credit who feel ready for a challenging math course. It covers a variety of topics, including an introduction to mathematical proofs. MATH 231 is a continuation of the Calculus sequence. Taking these courses in either order is fine, though potential Physics majors should start with MATH 231 and potential CS majors should start with MATH 220. 

STAT 113: Introduction to Statistics (Fall or Spring), STAT 114: Introduction to Biostatistics (Fall only), or STAT 205: Statistics and Modeling (Fall only). Consent is required; please contact the instructor of the section you want consent for. STAT 113 and 114 assume no prior knowledge of statistics and cover the same material, though STAT 114 emphasizes biological examples. On contacting the instructor, they will send you a link to a self-diagnostic exam to check your comfort level with algebra and numerical manipulation. If you scored a 3 or higher on the AP Statistics exam, or if you are reasonably comfortable with introductory statistics, you should instead take STAT 205. It reviews everything from the AP Statistics curriculum, before continuing to more advanced topics. This class is also appropriate if you have a very strong mathematical background, but no statistics background. 

Math classes labeled below 100 (Offerings vary). You must have instructor consent to register for these classes. They have no prerequisites and are designed to be accessible to all Oberlin students, regardless of their prior mathematical experience.


A major in mathematics consists of 9 full academic courses, which must include:

    A.  MATH 220, 231 and 232.
    B.  Four 300-level mathematics (MATH) and statistics (STAT) courses, which must include

          1.  MATH 301 and 327.
          2.  One modeling course from among MATH 318, 331, 335, 338, 342, 343, 345, or STAT 336, 337, 339.

    C.  Two additional mathematics (MATH) or statistics (STAT) courses numbered 200 or above.

Note:  One or both of the courses in item C above can be replaced by a course or courses from the following list:

     i.   (a)  Computer Science courses CSCI 150, 151, 210, 241, 275.  Only one of these courses may count towards the mathematics major.

          (b)  Computer Science courses CSCI 280, 357, 365, 383, 385.

    ii.  Physics and Astronomy courses ASTR 301, 302 and PHYS 212, 290, 310, 311, 312, 316, 340, 410, 411-12 (the module courses PHYS 411 and PHYS 412 together count as one course).

    iii.  Chemistry courses CHEM 339, 349.

    iv.  Economics courses ECON 342, 351, 353, 355.

The department frequently offers a 300-level seminar in addition to its regular offerings.  Students should check with the instructor to find out whether the seminar can be used to fulfill requirement B.2 above.   

Important Notes

Students must earn minimum grades of C- or P for all courses that apply toward the major.

We strongly recommend that all majors complete either MATH 301 or MATH 327 by the end of their fifth semester.

Students planning to pursue graduate work in mathematics, or a closely related field, need to complete more than the minimum requirements for the mathematics major.  All students interested in graduate work in mathematics should plan their major carefully with the advice of a member of the Mathematics Department.

Students interested in graduate work in pure mathematics should complete at least a second algebra course (MATH 317, 328, 329) and a second analysis course (MATH 302, 356).  Moreover, MATH 350 and MATH 353 provide introductions to fundamental areas of pure mathematics.

Students interested in graduate studies in applied mathematics have several options.  In the area of Operations Research, students should complete MATH 331 and 335.  Students with interests in probability and statistics should take MATH 335; one of STAT 205, 213 237; and two of STAT 336, 337, 339.  The courses MATH 342, 343, and 345, serve as introductions to fundamental areas of discrete applied mathematics.

The minimum requirement of 9 full courses is appropriate for students using mathematics as preparation for careers in fields such as secondary-school teaching, medicine, law, or business.  Students having related interests in chemistry, computer science, economics or physics should note that up to two courses from those listed after item C above can count towards the mathematics major.  This option supports our belief that mathematics majors should obtain substantial background in some field that uses mathematics.  Finally, interdisciplinary majors involving a coherent program of work in mathematics and a related field can be arranged through the College Individual Majors Committee to suit special student interests and needs.


A minor in mathematics consists of at least five full academic courses in mathematics (MATH) and statistics (STAT) numbered 200 and above, including at least two courses numbered 300 and above.


At the end of their junior year, students with outstanding records are invited to participate in the Mathematics Honors Program. For their senior year, honors students normally elect one full academic course of independent study each semester. This special study, which is supervised by a faculty advisor who works closely with the student, results in an Honors paper. Honors students also take a comprehensive written examination at the end of Winter Term and, at the end of the academic year, an oral examination on the material in their Honors paper. These examinations are conducted by an outside examiner. More detailed information on the Honors Program is available from the Department.

Winter Term

Most members of the Mathematics Department will be participating in Winter Term 2018 and are available to sponsor projects.  Normally, Winter Term projects do not entail the learning of material taught in any of our regularly offered courses.

Mathematical interests in the department include abstract algebra, algebraic geometry, combinatorics, cryptography, dynamical systems, mathematics and computation, differential equations, differential geometry, history of mathematics, mathematics education, non-Euclidean geometry, number theory, operations research, probability, real and complex analysis, topology, and statistics.

Avocational interests of Department members which could form the basis for a  Winter Term project include electronic composition and synthesis of music, games of strategy, and juggling. For further information regarding these possibilities, inquire in the Mathematics Department office.

John D. Baum Memorial Prize in Mathematics

Established by the Mathematics Department, this $200 prize is awarded annually to the Oberlin College student who has achieved the highest score on the William Lowell Putnam Mathematical Competition.

Rebecca Cary Orr Memorial Prize in Mathematics

Established by the family and friends of Rebecca Cary Orr, this $3000 prize is awarded annually by the Mathematics Department on the basis of scholastic achievement and promise for future professional accomplishment.

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