News | June 9, 2015

Baltimore Raven/Mathlete John Urschel Visits NSA to Talk Math

What do you get when you add one NFL player/mathematician to a room of several hundred Agency mathematicians?

An exponential increase in Math Love.

John Urschel, Baltimore Ravens guard and center, visited NSA on Friday, June 5, to discuss his passion for both math and football at "Mathfest," an annual event sponsored by the CryptoMathematics Institute (CMI). The day-long event is designed to celebrate mathematicians and NSA's success in the field in the previous year.

In March, the Journal of Computational Mathematics published Urschel's research paper, "A Cascadic Multigrid Algorithm for Computing the Fiedler Vector of Graph Laplacians."

Got it?

Several national news outlets subsequently reported on the baller-mathematician binary relation. "It would be fun to have John Urschel speak" at Mathfest, Dr. Glenn Lilly, Chief of Math Research, mentioned to NSA Public Affairs at the time.

More than 300 attendees at Mathfest, held in the Richard C. Proto Symposium Center in NSA's Research & Engineering Building, seemed to agree. On June 5, Urschel's remarks covered not only his published work, but also his affinity for math, the importance of STEM education, and what it's like to talk about his passion for numbers with his Baltimore Ravens teammates.

"It's not hard doing both math and football, in that I love both," he said. "It's important for people growing up to realize that you don't have to be just one thing. Diversity is good."

He embraced math at an early age. His mother, he said, specifically pushed him to major in aerospace engineering in college. As far as she was concerned, her boy was a genius. "Don't all moms think their kids are geniuses?" he said, jokingly.

Urschel completed in his first year at Penn State all of the required math classes for his engineering major. Still, he thirsted for more. So, he switched his major to mathematics, kept that piece of INT from his mother, and never looked back.

Being able to use his star power to educate young people about the importance of STEM education is his second-favorite perk of being a celebrity, he said, responding to a question about such outreach. His favorite perk? "Don't hold it against me, but it's the salary," he quipped.

The president of the CMI presented Urschel with a plaque and honorary Institute membership at the end of his talk. Urschel then settled in for an unclassified presentation on mathematics at NSA and made time to chitchat with other attendees. Later asked to shed light on why he chose to visit the NSA that day, he didn't miss a beat.

"I love this country that we're in," said Urschel, who holds dual citizenship in both the United States and Canada. "To be able to give back to some of the great men and women that keep our country a safe place, men and women that I very much look up to, is an honor for me."