Stangl: Finding art in math and free form in Russian

Juneau color

Posted: Friday, December 15, 2000

Ian Stangl, a senior at Juneau-Douglas High School, is a member of the National Honor Society, the academic decathlon team, the pep band and the concert band. He still finds time for his job tutoring students in math after school.

They're usually well-motivated, they just need a different paradigm, Stangl said of his tutees. And Stangl, a soft-spoken, intellectually curious young man, can provide a different way of approaching problems.

Stangl, 18, was one of several students recognized by JDHS on Wednesday for special achievements. In his case, it was for his work in Russian class.

"He's not only a bright, hard-working student, but also a mature young man who sees clearly the importance of that, but also tries to be involved in "making the bridges," said Russian teacher Janna Lelchuk in her recommendation.

"I do a lot, but I don't make any one thing my life," Stangl said in an early evening interview downtown before heading back to school for pep band practice. "I wish I had twice the time of the day and three times the sleep. At that point, I might be able to do everything I want, maybe,"

Stangl, who visited the seaport of Petropavlovsk on the Kamkchatka Peninsula for two weeks before his freshman year, said he likes the Russian language because "it makes you think differently than English does." Russian's free-form word order "forces your mind to be fluid."

That's part of the appeal of calculus, too. Stangl is taking calculus II this year, although he never took calculus I because of a scheduling conflict. "It's so far different from normal math ... It's almost like a game of chess with numbers," he said.

Stangl, who said he's not a natural musician, plays the trumpet for the pep band and the French horn for the concert band. He enjoys the challenge of "trying to put some kind of life into the music."

It's not unusual for mathematically minded people to play instruments.

"Music is math," Stangl agreed. "You can relate it all mathematically. Or you can relate it visually. I understand it with just a little bit of each."

Similarly, math can have an aesthetic element.

"Math does become an art. Pretty much anything can be an art if you try hard enough and refine it. I've noticed there is personal expression, especially with calculus, where there is more than one way to go," Stangl said.

Stangl credits a third-grade teacher for giving him the kick that got him started on his intellectual adventures.

"She was the one that started expanding on my view. Before that, I was relatively linear," Stangl said. He read half his waking hours anyway, but "she was the one that got me interested in foreign cultures and researching stuff that you're not just given in the curriculum."

What's not in the curriculum is what appeals to some students in the academic decathlon. The regional and statewide competitions in tests and essays attract students who want to learn about the arts, philosophy and religion, as well as the usual subjects.

Stangl who moved to Juneau two years ago from the Interior city of Anderson, population 500 has participated in the academic decathlon all four years of high school.

"It's an urge to get out there and expand yourself," Stangl said. "It's almost going back to the experience I had in the smaller schools less than a dozen students working toward a specific goal."

Anderson's high school had 24 students, so everyone was on the basketball team and had a role in the school play, and every student had a computer.

Stangl, who has a 3.93 grade point average, isn't sure what he will study in college. "After college, no idea."

He started taking metal-working this year and finds it fun, he offered. With his math ability, he could be an engineer. But Stangl said he wouldn't want to work with existing technology, defining existing concepts down to the millimeter. He'd like to do something innovative, creating something with his own hands.

Eric Fry can be reached at

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