Heather L. Finotti


"During the three years which I spent at Cambridge my time was wasted, as far as academical studies were concerned ... I attempted mathematics, and even went during the summer of 1828 with a private tutor ... but I got on very slowly. The work was repugnant to me, chiefly from my not being able to see any meaning in the early steps in algebra. This impatience was very foolish, and in after years I have deeply regretted that I did not proceed far enough at least to understand something of the great leading principles of mathematics, for men thus endowed seem to have an extra sense."

~Charles Darwin, 1876

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Do we need Math? 
To read some lovely quotes on both sides of this debate, including the one above, go to:
http://www.cut-the-knot.org/manifesto/need_it.shtml
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Heather Finotti (nee Lehr)

I was born and raised in Evansville, Indiana, where I developed interests in soccer, running, swimming, biking, hiking, playing the clarinet, and fell in love with being outdoors in general.  Learning was always something I loved, reading books was a big favorite in particular.  Throughout the years, I have added cooking, traveling, gardening, peacemaking, political activism, and sufism to my list of loves and hobbies..I was not particularily drawn to Mathematics growing up, though I looked for patterns all around me as a kind of secret game, and had a facility for remembering phone numbers.

In what was a surprise even to myself, I went on to get a B.S. in Mathematics, minor in Physics from Indiana University in Bloomington (and close to a minor in Sociology)...Once I began to truly understand mathematics, I was drawn in by it's beauty, and wanted to master it's logic.

And next came a Ph.D. in Applied Mathematics from the University of Texas at Austin,  where I also developed interests in Sufism and peacemaking.

After grad school, I did two years as a VIGRE post-doctoral professor at Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio, at the end of which I married my beloved Luis Finotti.   We moved on to the University of Tennessee, where I spent 3 and half years as a postdoctoral professor.   My path kept bringing me closer and closer to working on the types of environmental issues I hope to, using mathematics.  My son was born, in the meantime, and I decided I wanted to be home with him.  So that is where I have been ever since.  I am currently tutoring independently and will be teaching one course at UT in the spring of 2012.

My doctoral research was centered on studying flow in vuggy porous media (pertaining to subsurface flow such as groundwater flow in aquifers), and I am now working on understanding two-species competition with inhomogeneous resources.  The latter can help us to better understand how to manage ecosystems, and inparticular I hope to shed some light on how to better deal with invasive species.

Studying mathematics has been an incredible gift.   I have gained so much more from it than just learning how to prove theorems or work on analytical problems.  There is a clarity that you learn - a rigor of thought - that carries over into all of your life.  With care, I feel that it can truly help you live a better life in general by helping you to become better able to discern truth from untruth, and when someone's logic (including your own) isn't really logical at all.   Many problems in many people's lives boil down to believing in and living their lives from illusions about themselves and the world around them.

Research and grad school in general taught me  how much I can actually  do on my own.    I realized quickly that I had been "spoon-fed" pretty much all of my knowledge until college, which in my opinion was a great disservice.  I see now the enormous value of struggling with material on your own, making mistakes, and then learning how to find your own way through them to real understanding (as opposed to knowing how to give the right answer).   My heart saddens to think of all of the people out there who have never had this experience, because their teachers or school system wanted to make it "easy enough", and who now are sure that they can't learn things on their own and feel stuck in their lives as a consequence.  I strongly believe our society would greatly benefit from being taught how to be successful independent learners in school, in addition to what is currently emphasized.

Consequently, if there is one big scheme thing I want my students to take away from attending college,  it's learning how to become successful at learning independently (the end of educational co-dependence!).  It's amazing to me how much more exhilerating and BIG life becomes when you realize if you want to do something you can learn how, and you can do much of it independently.

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