Tag Archives: studentlife

Add it Up: Duke and the Putnam Mathematics Competition

Post contributed by Hillary Gatlin, Records Manager

The inside front cover of the Putnam scrapbook. The right-hand page reads "Duke 1993 Putnam Champs in blue capital letters.
William Lowell Putnam scrapbook, inside front cover

The University Archives works with offices across campus to collect and preserve university history. As part of these efforts, the William Lowell Putnam Competition scrapbook, previously on display in the Department of Mathematics, has now made its way to the University Archives for preservation.

The scrapbook describes Duke undergraduates’ participation in the William Lowell Putnam Mathematics Competition. The Putnam, which began in 1938 as a competition between college and university mathematics departments, is now the premier mathematics competition for undergraduate students. In fact, it has been repeatedly described as the “NCAA tournament” of the math world. Taking place each December, undergraduates attempt to solve challenging mathematical problems over a six hour period. This is both an individual and team competition, with prizes awarded to students with the highest scores as well as to the five institutions with the highest rankings.

This scrapbook contains press releases, correspondence, programs, and photographs related to the Department of Mathematics’ participation in the Putnam Competition. In 1993, Duke University won its first Putnam, with the team of senior Jeffrey Vanderkam, junior Craig Gentry, and freshman Andrew Dittmer taking first place. Harvard University had taken the top honors for the previous eight years. While the scrapbook focuses primarily on Duke’s first victory in 1993, it also includes some material from later years, including a photograph of Duke’s second winning team in 1996, and a copy of a Board of Trustees announcement honoring five mathematics students in 2000, when the Duke University team again took first place in the Putnam.

A scrapbook page with two photos relating to the 1993 Putnam competition team. The top photo shows a display in the mathematics department about the competition. The bottom photo shows the winning team of three students and a faculty member.
Photos of the Putnam Competition team from 1993

Duke University students compete in both athletics and academics. Now the victories of these undergraduates will be preserved and shared with the larger campus community as part of the University Archives.

The William Lowell Putnam Competition scrapbook was created by Dr. David Kraines, Associate Professor Emeritus of Mathematics, who leads many of the Putnam competition teams. It was transferred to the University Archives by the Department of Mathematics in April 2019.

SLGs Have Their Roots in Woman’s College Experiment

Post contributed by Gia Cummings, University Archives student assistant

Among Duke’s countless unexplainable quirks are sleeping outside for a basketball game, the first-year meal plan, anything to do with the transportation system, and most mysteriously, Selective Living GroupsProspective students are puzzled by the concept, and Duke students stammer to conjure an explanation: it functions similar to Greek life but it’s certainly not that; it’s not a club but it’s also not a friend group; you live together, but it extends beyond that—and all of these responses leave you equally as confused. Eventually, as one transitions from wide-eyed first year to aloof sophomore, the questions fall away and the social landscape becomes comprehensible. And yet, the underlying question: ‘what is an SLG?’ slips away unanswered.

Although the definition of a Selective Living Group is concrete now, it began as a nebulous idea pioneered by some innovative students of the Woman’s College, women who wanted to extend their learning into their living space. In 1961, the Women’s Student Government Association (WSGA) Council defined the reasoning for the living situation in their “Proposal for an Experimental Dormitory”:

From the “Proposal for an Experimental Dormitory,” 1961. Woman’s College Records, box 35.

This logic parallels modern-day defense of the selected living group system, wherein living with people of diverse backgrounds and thought processes is a learning experience in and of itself. The women of the Experimental Dorm, which was housed in the Faculty Apartments (Wilson Residential Hall) beginning in the fall of 1961, had varying academic talents and interests: they organized themselves with the intentions of pursuing academic stimulation, learning for the sake of learning rather than learning for a course. The women read common books to expand their knowledge, but they also extended the experimental aspect past their studies.

Color photo of the front of Wilson Residence Hall. The three-story brick building is Georgian in style.
Wilson Residence Hall. The Experimental Dorm was housed on Wilson’s 3rd floor.

At that time, students of the Woman’s College had strict curfews and restrictions regarding their social lives and freedom, and the women of the Experimental Dorm took on an unprecedented level of self-governance. They requested self-monitoring on the tracking of their movements, along with control over the rules in their own house, and adopted a government-like structure that resembles the House Councils that each dorm currently has, with assistance from older (male) faculty members. The members organized a flexible leadership system that included rotating chairmanship and standing committees to address particular issues–including monetary ones, given that the members paid dues to be a part of this community. In this sense, and the selection process, the Experimental Dorm distinguished itself from the residential Corridors that would soon follow.

Typewritten page describing the government and organization of the Experimental Dorm.
Page from “Structures and Functions of the 1961-62 Experimental Dorm.” Woman’s College Records, box 35.

Although the vision of the Experimental Dorm prioritized “intellectual orientation”, they were intentional in not pursuing a specific academic community (like the later Corridors); in fact, the girls aimed to acquire a diverse group of interests in order to promote mental stimulation. As was recognized by these women, learning stems from exposure to new concepts and ideas; they aimed to choose members that stimulate one another. This aspect was evident in the fact that the Experimental Dorm took applications followed by interviews, attempting to select candidates who reflected a passion for learning. As the women outlined in their selection guidelines, their criteria specifically stated that they did “not want grade point averages or other specific records to be used in judging the girls” and that “each choice would be made on an individual basis,” with diverse interests being of particular importance. This dorm set itself apart by incorporating a social aspect along with an academic one: the Experimental Dorm was designed to create a community, not just a study group. In this sense, the ancestry of modern SLGs is clear, the creation of a group that shares similar values beyond their academic interests, designed to grow its members as people as well as students. 

Selective Living Groups today are often praised for their ability to bring people together; to create a learning environment in the dormitory alongside the classroom. The origins of those aims can be traced directly to the goals of the women who began the Experimental Dorm: a project which began to create a community, but whose effects have grown to become an important aspect of student life at Duke to this day.

Coming Soon! Pop-Up Displays on Student Organization History

With so many meetings, events, exhibits, performances, and games each day, it might seem difficult to set aside time to learn about your Duke student organization’s history. The University Archives, which collects student organization materials, knows how busy you are and we want to help!

Starting on October 20th, we’ll be holding a series of pop-up displays on student organization history, featuring historical materials from our collections. We’re calling this YOLO@UA: Your Organizations Live on @ the University Archives.

Each Tuesday, you’ll find us at a table just outside the Von der Heyden Pavilion from 2-3 PM, ready to show some cool stuff and answer your questions about student organization history.

We’ll be changing the display focus each time, so here’s the schedule:

October 20: Cultural Groups

October 27: Arts Groups

November 3: Student Government & Political Groups (Happy Election Day!)

November 10: Sororities, Fraternities, & Living Groups

November 17: Student Publications

Don’t worry if your organization isn’t covered with this schedule. We’ll plan more pop-up displays with different focuses during the spring semester. And you’re always welcome to get in touch with us to discuss how you can research your organization’s history at the University Archives!

P.S. Do you have student group materials that you’d like to archive at the University Archives? Learn more, and complete a form to let us know about your materials, here!

Cast of "The Womanless Wedding," ca. 1890s
Cast of Theatrical Performance at Trinity College, before 1892

How NOT to Pie a Duke Professor

In honor of Pi Day, it’s time for a pop quiz.

If you, an esteemed Duke University professor, received a pie in the face in front of your class, what would you do?

A. Update your CV, in preparation for finding an alternate career far away from college students.
B. Cry.
C. Pause for snack time, then continue your lecture on a sugar high.
D. Chase your assailant and catch him while wading through a creek.

If you were popular chemistry professor James Bonk (who passed away in 2013), your answer would be D.

Pie-Die Advertisement, From the Chronicle, March 21, 1975.
Pie-Die Advertisement, From the Chronicle, March 21, 1975.

Duke students have always been enterprising—a proud trait imaginatively demonstrated by the brief but legendary history of Pie-Die, Ltd., a student-run company that placed its first advertisement in the March 21, 1975 issue of the Chronicle.

For a fee, Pie-Die would track down your target of choice and, well, you get the idea. Apparently, business was quite good: on March 28th, an anonymous letter to the editor of the Chronicle, written on behalf of the “Family,” spoke of a “labor shortage” and offered a job to anyone with “expertise in dexterity and cunning not to mention a dash of insanity.” A hit on a professor cost around $30, while $300 bought a contract on then-Duke president Terry Sanford.

The letter concluded:

We sincerely hope that those who receive our pies are not left with a bad taste in their mouths. All pies are administered in good clean wholesome fun in the best “mom-apple pie” tradition. To prove our intentions, all proceeds will go to World Famine Relief after operating costs have been met.

The first to be hit was psychology professor Irvin Alexander, who was pied in front of his class in Zener Auditorium. He wore a fencing mask to his next class.

James Bonk’s turn came on March 31st, one day shy of April Fools’ Day. His hired assailant caught him with a pie at the end of one of his famed “Bonkistry” lectures. The first-year “hit-man” either didn’t know or failed to properly consider Bonk’s athletic prowess: he was a volunteer coach for Duke’s men’s tennis team and had played the sport since his childhood.

The Pie-Man's Attack. From the Chronicle, April 1, 1975.
The Pie-Man’s Attack. From the Chronicle, April 1, 1975.

With his 200 students cheering him on, Bonk chased the young man out of his class, across campus, and finally caught up with him in the middle of a stream, where he demanded to see the student’s Duke identification card.

Captured! From the Chronicle, April 1, 1975.
Captured! From the Chronicle, April 1, 1975.

This type of prank was becoming a trend on college campuses, and Bonk’s pursuit became national news. It was the perfect opportunity for pun-loving headline writers: the Charlotte Observer‘s article was titled “Pie-Eyed: Latest Craze is Chunking Custard,” while the Raleigh Times went with the more subtle “Creamed professor nabs pie thrower.” The Chronicle‘s headline was direct: “Bonk gets bonked.” The newspapers reported that the student would possibly face disciplinary action and that Bonk would also hold him responsible for his dry-cleaning costs.

After this, we lose track of Pie-Die: was there a turf war with their competitor, Fli-Pie? Did they ever catch up with Terry Sanford? Let us know in the comments if you can shed any light on these Duke history mysteries. (And, if you were a part of Pie-Die, let us know if you have any documentation from those days that you’d like to add to the University Archives. The statute of limitations must be up by now.)

Oh and, by the way, the pie that hit James Bonk was lemon meringue. Happy Pi Day!

Post contributed by Amy McDonald, Assistant University Archivist.