Alan Sharples taught mathematics at New Mexico Tech. He tried to challenge and encourage the best students just like the weaker students.
Greg Byrd | El Defensor Chieftain


Alan Sharples is a retired professor from New Mexico Tech.

What did you do at New Mexico Tech?

I was an applied mathematician. I first started as an assistant professor and after one year they promoted me to associate professor. After 13 years I became a full professor and was chair of the mathematics department from 1974 to 1985. I also did a lot of work with the physics department there.

How long was your tenure?

Well let me ask you a question. Does the year 2000 ring a bell?

You mean Y2K?

Yes. Was 1900 a leap year? No, because 19 is not divisible by four. Was 1800 a leap year, no. Was 1700 a leap year, no. 2000 was the first turn of the century leap year. So I chose a unique day that year to retire, Feb. 29.

What was your experience like teaching there?

Great. I wasn’t an easy teacher, but I did not teach in the American style where you had to get a 90 percent to get an A. I try to find out what a student knows and what can be brewed from that knowledge. For instance, if you got a 75 percent that would be an A. If you got a 50%percent that would be a C because mathematically that is average. Even the best students I challenged and encouraged just like my weaker students.

What was the best thing you did as a teacher?

Just the fact that over the years so many of my students wrote back to me as they started their particular careers and how valuable my teaching was. An experience for you. I was called back out of retirement and in 2005 I had a student sitting in the front row who had been kicked out of Los Alamos High School because he knew more than the teachers. Every time I asked a question Daniels hand shot up first. I was the first teacher he ever had that stumped him by asking “what is half-factorial”? I got him! It was great to tell Daniel there are always things out there we don’t know.

How did you come to Socorro?

I grew up in England, Manchester to be specific. That is where I was educated at the University of Manchester.

What did you study?

I received a bachelors and a PhD in mathematics. My first job was at the University in Glasgow. My wife to be Barbara could not get a job there so we came back to Liverpool. I did not enjoy working at the Liverpool University. One of my friends from Glasgow turned me onto the Fullbrite Scholarship at Cal Tech and that is when we came to the states.

What was your experience like coming here?

We were in Pasadena for five years before I told her I missed the desert. In 1968 I received three job offers. One was in New Zealand. One was in Australia. And one was at New Mexico Tech. And since coming here it has been great.

It has been you and your wife together the whole time?

Yes. We were married in 1960. We went to the same Sunday school at 9 years old. We went our separate ways. Then years later when I was in undergraduate school, I was looking for something to do. I began to play the organ at my local church. The next year I was ringing church bells and that is when I met Barbara again. Through the years we had three children, Katherine, Nigel and Christopher who is our youngest and the one that was born here.

If you won the lottery tomorrow, what would you do with the money?

Probably give it away. I would talk with my wife. She would know the best place to give that money. Both Barbara and I grew up with very poor families. So we need very little money to live on. I would probably give some to the church and the children.

Favorite moment in your life?

So many. Let’s choose one. About 12 years ago my wife and I had our 50th wedding anniversary. We chose to go to Chile, South America and from there to Easter Island.

If there was one thing you could change about Socorro County, what would it be?

I’m quite happy here. But if you were to ask Barbara it would be shops. She finds it difficult to buy the things that she wants here. That is her domain. But I can live with what we have here. I adapt.

Greg Byrd | El Defensor Chieftain