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A Day in the Life of Dr. Chris Schwanke

Dr. Schwanke is a new addition to the Math Department at Lyon College. He traveled to South Africa for his post-doctoral research, and everyone is interested to hear what his experience was like. I spoke with him to learn more about these experiences abroad and his first impressions of life at Lyon College.

What was it like to live in South Africa?

Dr. Schwanke visited South Africa for three years for his post-doctoral research at North West University. During his postdoctoral research, his primary responsibilities were to teach combinatorics and graph theory as well as conducting research in pure mathematics. He described his journey as “the most amazing adventure I have ever been on.” He enjoyed spending time with his colleagues, and many of them are now his friends. He traveled to Cape Town, Johannesburg, Durban, and Cape Agulhas while in Africa. He also embarked on several safaris to Kruger National Park and Pilanesberg Game Reserve, explaining that “no two safaris are the same” and that they “never get old.” His adored seeing so many animals every day, especially the penguins and giraffes. He also visited the place where the Indian Ocean and Atlantic Ocean meet. He loved the food in South Africa, especially the bobote (a South African dish made with mince meat, curry, and chutney) and their steaks. He explained that the steaks there were served with “a bunch of cheese and toppings on [top]. It was so delicious, and I had never seen that in America.” He took a break from his post-doctoral research and spent roughly a semester in Bandung, a city in Indonesia. It was harder for him to communicate with others in Indonesia because not everyone spoke English. He described the experience as “very brief, but wonderful. There were so many great people.”

How is it different from here?

Most of the children in South Africa speak Afrikaans, and they often learn English as a second or third language. When Dr. Schwanke would teach a class, the children had the option to listen to him or listen to an interpreter translating his lessons through headphones. He said, “although they don’t have English as their first language, they still watch the same movies and TV shows that we do.” He goes on to explain that the scenery and architecture are also very different in South Africa.

How are you adjusting to Lyon?

“I am adjusting well. I think it’s at a healthy rate.” He says that making friends with the other staff members has been easy, and that he's adjusting to life in Batesville without issues. He is currently teaching College Algebra, Calculus 3, and Math for Liberal arts. “It’s sometimes hard to make lesson plans for teaching a new class,” he admitted. “Each person learns differently, but you go with what you have.”

Why Lyon?

He described himself as being a more teaching-oriented mathematician who always knew he wanted to teach. While interviewing for the position at Lyon, his first impression of the college was positive: “I could tell the people here were very personable. I really enjoyed my interview. When I visited, I knew this was where I was meant to be.” He received other job offers, but knew that Lyon was the place for him. Dr. Schwanke also explained that the students are his favorite part of being a Lyon professor. “I’ve got some really bright students that are an absolute pleasure to work with.”

The Highlander staff welcomes Dr. Schwanke to campus, and we hope he has a great first year. I encourage each student to make it a priority to get to know their professors--it will make a difference in the learning experience!