Faculty Spotlight: Karl Petersen

The Corollaries today celebrates the one year anniversary of its relaunch in an online format. In our first “Faculty Spotlight” installment in the new format, we celebrate the contributions of Professor Karl Petersen, who steps down this summer from a long stint as our Director of Undergraduate Studies.

After graduating with an A.B. in Mathematics from Princeton University, Karl earned his M.A. and Ph.D. in Mathematics from Yale before joining the faculty here at Carolina in 1969. Working in several aspects of ergodic theory, especially those connected with analysis, probability, combinatorics, and information theory, Karl’s research was supported by federal grants for 18 years.  He has also held a variety of visiting faculty appointments internationally, including positions at the Erwin Schrödinger Institute in Vienna, multiple universities across France, and at the University of Chile. Karl says, “It’s great to get out and see colleagues in these places,” noting that such visits allow him to “get new ideas and make progress on these problems.”

Karl’s teaching at all levels and his mentoring of graduate students have both been recognized by awards from the university, including the James M. Johnston Teaching Excellence Award in 1992, and the First Doctoral Mentoring Award in 2006. He has directed 14 Ph.D. dissertations, 8 master’s projects, and 6 undergraduate honors projects, with two graduate students and two undergraduates working with him currently.

In addition to his research and teaching duties, Karl has been the long-standing Director of Undergraduate Studies in the Department, serving 2005-2013 in addition to an earlier stint in the position and time served as Associate Chair. In these roles, he has had a strongly positive impact on the continued development of the department’s course offerings, including his contributions to redesigns of Math 110 and 130, the expansion of our use of Webassign in 100- and 200-level courses, and organizing our 2012-13 pilot offering of large sections of Math 118 connected with smaller recitation sections. Karl has also played a key role in our participation with the UNC-BEST teacher training program. Meanwhile, Karl has repeatedly championed our department’s Math Help Center, helping to make sure that it gets the resources needed to continue to effectively tutor students in our courses.

Karl has been the central guiding force participating in, prioritizing, and supervising these diverse activities for our undergraduate students and for prospective Carolina students as well. At the same time, Karl is always quick to recognize and emphasize the critical roles of other people, including, for example, undergraduate student services manager Susan Stedman; Lecturers Debra Etheridge, Mark McCombs, Buffie McLaughlin, Brenda Shryock, Miranda Thomas; and Professor Sue Goodman.

As Karl notes, “Math keeps getting more popular and the sciences keep growing. It’s amazing that we can keep going to meet these demands with small, smart adjustments.”