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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, January 14, 2010

Mathematician named Collins fellow
A career of teaching and service adds up to honor for Lindsay Childs

By Jo E. Prout

GUILDERLAND — Lindsay Childs has made a name for himself on town planning issues. He has also made a name for himself in the world of mathematics. Now, the University at Albany has named Childs a Collins Fellow.

The Collins medallion is bestowed on senior teaching faculty who have shown devotion to the university and its students for an extended period. Childs has been part of the university’s mathematics department since 1969. The award is named after former University at Albany President Evan Revere Collins. Childs was given the Collins medallion at the 2009 Winter Commencement.

Childs is the author of a textbook, and 50 research publications, on higher algebra. He served as the department chairman in the 1980s and, again, in 1991. From 2007 to 2009, Childs was director of undergraduate studies in the department of mathematics and statistics. He is currently on sabbatical leave in Richmond, Va., but he will return in August.

“Math has become more and more recognized as something useful in recent years,” Childs told The Enterprise. A math degree “offers a broad array of opportunities,” he said, from work as a retail manager to Internet tracking of “monstrous amounts of data” from search engines. “It takes special skills to deal with that amount of data,” he said.

Many of his students become secondary school math teachers, he said. Others become actuaries in the insurance field.

“There is a big demand for statisticians, for example, with pharmaceutical companies,” he said.

Born in Boston, Childs has a bachelor’s degree from Wesleyan University and a doctorate from Cornell University. He found out as an undergraduate, when a Wesleyan professor posed an unsolved problem in elementary group theory, which Childs solved, that doing something creative in mathematics was exciting.

“One negative aspect of being a research mathematician is that I have found it almost impossible to describe to a layman what it is that I do,” Childs told The Enterprise. “Typically, I would go to a community reception, such as a political fund-raiser, and begin a conversation with strangers. When the new acquaintances would find out that I was a mathematician — with rare exceptions — the conversation would either die, or the response would center around how much they disliked math. The work with the town was always much more interesting to talk about.”

Town work

Childs became involved with planning and land-use issues in 1979 when his wife, Rhonda, grew interested in the proposal to put in Crossgates Mall, he said. Childs was an independent party-in-interest for the Crossgates adjudicatory hearing held by the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation.

“I found that I enjoyed dealing with technical issues that arose in the Crossgates Draft Environmental Impact Statement,” he said. “I joined the board of the McKownville Improvement Association and served a term as president in 1982. I was asked to serve on the Guilderland Conservation Advisory Council in 1983, and then was put on the planning board the following year. I stayed involved in one way or another with planning in the town for virtually all of the next 26 years. It was kind of a separate part of my life,” he said.

In his work for the town, Childs has worn many hats. He served as vice-chairman of the Helderberg Escarpment Planning Committee; as a member of the planning board from 1984 to 1990, as vice chairman from 1988 to 1990, and, again, as a member from 2006 to 2009; as a member and vice-chairman of the zoning board of appeals from 1991 to 1995; as a member of the 1999 Comprehensive Plan Advisory Committee, and the 2001 Comprehensive Plan Revision Task Force; as a member of the Guilderland Pathways Committee from 2000 to 2008, and as chairman from 2001; as a member of the board of directors of the Guilderland Hamlet Neighborhood Association from 2003 to 2008; and as a member of the “Growing for Generations” Working Group for the Guilderland Public Library in 2007.

“I want to say how much I appreciate the opportunity to work with the town of Guilderland, over the years. It has been very satisfying for me to contribute in the realm of public service as much as I’ve been able to,” he said.

Along with his prolific publications in mathematics as an expert in algebraic field theory, Childs co-edited the 2002 Helderberg Escarpment Planning Guide, and wrote extensively as a McKownville correspondent for The Enterprise from 1980 to 1986.

Childs is focusing on his own scholarship while on sabbatical.

“I’m getting some mathematics research done, so it’s been useful,” he said.

Childs and his wife have three grown children, and three grandchildren.

“Partly with them in mind, last month I collected, edited, and bound together all of the columns I wrote for The Enterprise in the 1980s that described activities involving them,” Childs said. His columns included elementary school events, fairs at Stuyvesant Plaza, youth hockey, Pine Bush hikes, the Guilderland Ballet, and community events at the university.

“The columns brought back a great many nice memories for me,” he said.

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