Discovery of lost document provides link to past, present and future of mathematics

Posted: Friday, 09 December 2011

TROY – Vitaly Voloshin was about seven years old, and living in Moldova in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics at the height of the Cold War when someone at then-Troy State College left behind something of importance.

What that "someone" left behind would be lost in the classroom's lectern for the next 50 years, only to resurface in October after a class, appropriately, in advanced discrete mathematics, taught by Dr. Voloshin.

"We started class just like every other Monday night," said Rachel Anderson, a graduate student in secondary math education from Troy. "Every class, Dr. Voloshin walks in and moves the podium to an exact spot. This time something hit the ground."

That something turned out to be the original charter document of the Square Root of C Math Club, begun under the guidance of Mr. Virgil Collins, who had returned to his undergraduate alma mater in 1946 as chairman of the Math Department after earning a master's degree from George Peabody College at Vanderbilt University and completing a stint as principal at Andalusia High School.

"An inspirational leader and teacher, Mr. Collins was respected and admired by students and faculty," said Diane Porter, an associate professor of mathematics and chair of Troy Campus department. "He was dedicated to providing quality instruction and excellence in education."

As it turned out, he so inspired the 42 students of the Math Club, they decided to name the club in his honor. A decade before his retirement in 1972, a charter was drafted with the new club electing for its symbol Mr. Collins' own unique signature: the square root of C – a play on the initials "VC."

Somehow, the unsigned, hand-drawn and lettered "Certificate of Organization" was left behind in that lectern for a half-century, until Dr. Voloshin, who achieved U.S. citizenship a year ago, examined it after his lecture with three of his students: Anderson, Ashley Currie, a graduate student in secondary math education from Louisville, and Lauren Pierce, a graduate student in secondary math education from Troy.

"The miracle is that so many professors have taught for so many years -- and in so many rooms -- from that very same podium," Dr. Voloshin said, "and only now the document was accidentally found. It was meant to be so."

Dr. Voloshin said that he had used the same lectern and same room in the Math and Science Complex for several years. He said because the document had been stuck in the podium upside down, no one had noticed it since it was left, presumably, after the club's inauguration.

"It was so neat to be there and witness the document hitting the ground," Anderson said. "You never know when you may witness something interesting."

The club, now the "pride and tradition" of the Math Department, is active and alive. Its president, Christian Randolph, a math and computer science major from Troy, recently became the first math undergraduate at TROY to deliver a research presentation to a seminar at another university. It has hosted nine seminars by students and faculty members on various math-related topics this year, some of which were presentations by students on independent research conducted under faculty guidance.

"Getting students involved in undergraduate math research and working outside of class with the faculty is one of the main goals of the Math Club," said its vice-president Mary Hammack, a math major from Homewood.

In addition to the work, Square Root of C members have enjoyed some fun events such as Sudoko and KenKen competitions, a movie night and a cookout. The club has, for the last decade, sponsored a calculus competition, and has regularly planned seminars for the department, said Dr. Ken Roblee, professor of math and the club's current sponsor.

For Dr. Voloshin, and the rest of the faculty and students of the department, discovery of the document – even unsigned – provides an important link between past, present and future.

"It is a message from the past that not only says 'check your podium first,' but also reminds us about the beauty, the power and the absolute truth of mathematics and, especially, about the people who do it," Dr. Voloshin said.

Dr. Voloshin is a professor of mathematics at TROY, with a doctorate in mathematical cybernetics from the Institute of Cybernetics at the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences and moved the United States in 2002 for visiting faculty positions at the University of Illinois and the University of Delaware before landing at TROY. In December 2010, he became a U.S. citizen as an "alien with extraordinary ability." An internationally recognized pioneer in mathematics, he has authored two textbooks on graph and hypergraph theory. His research has been supported by scientific foundations in Italy, Germany, Canada, the United States and other countries.

Vitaly Voloshin

Troy University mathematics professor Dr. Vitaly Voloshin recently discovered the original charter document for the Square Root of C Math Club, which had been stuck in a podium for about half a century. (TROY photo/Kevin Glackmeyer)


The original, hand-letter "Certificate of Organization" of Troy University's Square Root of C Math Club was recently found after having been lost in a podium for about 50 years. It was discovered by mathematics professor Dr. Vitaly Voloshin, when it fell from the podium as he moved it to begin a class lecture. (TROY photo/Kevin Glackmeyer)