Dr. Adrian Ocneanu

As high school students, we were told extreme stories about college professors. One story would portray professors to be foreigners with little to no English speaking ability. Another story would try to convince you that professors are crazy, mad geniuses who lock themselves in their studies to research, caring very little to help students in their educational paths. While I know the human tendency to exaggerate, I couldn’t help but be a little nervous about what my teachers would be like at the college level. Would I understand them? Would I be able to keep up?

Thus far in my college career, I have been pleasantly surprised with the level and quality of instruction I have received in the classroom. I have found all my teachers to not only be extremely knowledgable of the subject matter, but also eager to communicate and explain the material in a relatable way. So this week for my passion blog, I wanted to highlight one of my favorite professors, Dr. Adrian Ocneanu. Professor Ocneanu is my math Math 140H, or Honors Calculus, teacher. This semester he is also teaching Math 230H and several graduate courses on his own work. However, Dr. Ocneanu explained to our class that he prefers to teach undergraduate-level courses because the students are still eager to learn and have not yet set boundaries for their education. He says he goes home from teaching graduate courses feeling depressed, but leaves an undergraduate classroom with the desire to learn and grow. I don’t know about you, but that makes me feel pretty good.

To give you quick glance at his impressive resume, Dr. Ocneanu is fluent in 10 languages, but he is originally from Romania. He taught himself the fundamentals of calculus in sixth grade, and as a high school student he won the International Math Olympics of 1974 held in Berlin, Germany. While at a math conference in Britain, Warwick University offered him a PHD to document a concept he had demonstrated at the conference. So, Dr. Ocneanu received his PHD in only 11 days! He has been working and teaching in the mathematics department at Penn State since 1982. Dr. Adrian Ocneanu spends his free time programming and inventing his own version of calculus. In the first- floor atrium of the McAllister Building (next to the HUB), Dr. Ocneanu’s design, the Octacube sculpture, is on display. The sculpture, which measures 6 feet in every direction, is a 3-dimensional “shadow,” of a four-dimensional solid object.

To say Dr. Adrian Ocneanu is passionate about his work would be an extreme understatement; he eat, sleeps, and breaths math. The other day, he actually shared with the class that the doctor diagnosed a pain he was having in his elbow as “tennis elbow.” However, this wasn’t from tennis, it was from building mathematical models. Who knew math could be dangerous?

His teaching style is unlike any other math teacher I have previously had. Instead of teaching the “mechanics,” he stresses the importance of proofs and theory behind every concept. There are are no exams or final in the class. Weekly quizzes are given, and a majority of your grade is based on participation and effort. I have never had a class like this before, but it is extremely refreshing. Instead of worrying about exam material, the students are given the freedom to learn and explore a variety of topics. Although I realize this teaching method would not work for every course, it is very effective for an honors calculus course where many of the students have been exposed to calculus already. Dr. Ocneanu keeps the class interesting by using relevant or even quirky examples and performing live or virtual demonstrations. At the conclusion of a quiz, he sings us italian opera and serves the class homemade desserts. I think the best part of the class is simply never knowing what to expect. I look forward to seeing what crazy thing Dr. Ocneanu will do everyday. So, you ask how this fits into my passion blog? Simple. Dr. Adrian Ocneanu is a novelty. No other university has a professor like him because he is truly one of a kind.

Dr. Adrian Ocneanu with his “Octacube”

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8 Responses to Dr. Adrian Ocneanu

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  4. Pingback: Prima dată în lume: Obiectul 3D “Octacube” conceput şi proiectat de dr. Adrian Ocneanu, matematician de origine română

  5. nxh5104 says:

    Hey, I had Dr. Ocneanu as my professor for math 141H. He is indeed the best math professor at penn state. In my free time, I like to solve hard calculus problems from various authors, and if I encounter any difficulty with the challenging set of problems, I would go to Dr. Ocneanu. He would solve them within a second and explain the concepts behind it so clearly which motivated me to do more challenging problems. I was very lucky to have such a highly qualified professor.

  6. Megan Flaherty says:


    Your blog is so thoughtful towards your inspirational professor. Great job! I would definitely show your professor your appreciation for him. I too was incredibly nervous about my professors coming to college (I even tried looking some of them up on Rate My Profess.com!) But like yourself, I was pleasantly surprised to find that my professor were all pretty fantastic. That’s one of my favorite aspects of Penn State: the qualified professors who are really into what they teach and do a great job teaching. I really enjoyed this blog.

  7. Pete Goodman says:

    Kelly, first off, can I just come to your class one day? It sounds like a blast. I mean, other than the calculus part. But seriously, it is great to know that there are professors such as Dr. Ocneanu out there and it gives me hope that one day I might have the pleasure of having one of them teach a class I am in. Your description of his background gives a perfect representation of a remarkable career and makes me want to meet him some day. So, if for no other reason than Italian opera and homemade desserts, I would love to come to your class.

  8. Paul Haspel says:

    Kelly, you describe well the reasons for your appreciation for Dr. Ocneanu and his work. I am glad to hear that he is from Romania. Last fall, when my wife and I were living in Hungary, we traveled into Romania several times. Among other things, we saw Bran Castle and Hunedoara Castle, sites associated with the historical Dracula.

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