Cryptology and you – the average person’s experience using modern technology
February 28, 2018   //   By:   //   Campus & Community, Campus and Community

A math-phobic audience posed a challenge for a math-loving presenter.

They moaned at the terms “statistics,” “liner algebra” and “calculus .” Nonetheless, the presenter persevered by engaging and encouraging his audience to share an appreciation for the math behind the technology the average person uses every day.

As Timothy McDevitt introduced a topic unfamiliar to most of the community, in his lecture “An Introduction to Cryptology,” presented earlier this month at Elizabethtown College, the professor of mathematics was a comedian and a mathematician, all at once.

Who uses cryptology?”

McDevitt’s lecture was featured as part of the College’s Presidential Community Enrichment Series and explored how cryptology and encryption are commonly used in practical applications such as opening a garage door, unlocking a car with a key fob and purchasing an item on the Internet.

“You use [encryption] every day,” McDevitt said. “You just don’t know it, because your devices do it for you. Everything is encrypted.”

McDevitt, a math-lover by nature, explained the math and methods behind cryptology, diving into the two main types of cryptosystems most commonly used in technology today: private key and public key encryptions.

McDevitt asked the audience. “You do. I do. We all do.”

Using friendly analogies, familiar characters and constant math jokes to reiterate his main talking points, McDevitt presented online encryption in an easy way for the average audience member to understand.

“Tim is a fantastic professor who brings enthusiasm for all his disciplines into the classroom,” said junior mathematics education major Angela Wesneski. “The result is often a class that doesn’t just teach students the subject of the course, but piques their interests in other areas as well. Students leave his classroom more well-rounded and eager to continue learning than when they entered.”

The question-and-answer session, following the lecture, showcased the audience as engaged and eager. Several audience members asked clarifying questions throughout the luncheon, and even more presented follow-up questions and comments after the presentation.

“I really enjoyed the lecture,” said E-town’s Annual Giving Assistant Melissa Bittinger. “I had a lot of people come up to me after the lecture expressing their interest and the popularity of the subject. Even though the mathematical aspects of the presentation were a little confusing at times, it was still really interesting to see how cryptology fits into our daily lives.”

“[Cryptology] is just going to get more important,” McDevitt said. “You couldn’t have the Internet or many of the technologies we use today without it.”

McDevitt teaches mathematics and computer science courses at the College. As an undergraduate student, he studied mathematics and physics at James Madison University and he holds master’s and doctoral degrees in applied mathematics from the University of Virginia. Prior to teaching at the College, McDevitt worked at the National Security Agency (NSA) for more than two years. Some of his research interests include cryptology, statistics and the use of mathematical software.

McDevitt’s lecture was the first in the 2018 Presidential Community Enrichment Series. As a continuing series at the College, these two-hour luncheon sessions offer engaging learning opportunities in a conversational setting.

Professor of Music E. Douglas Bomberger presents his lecture, “American Music and the First World War,” at the next luncheon on Tuesday, March 13.

Following Bomberger, Associate Professor of History of Art and Director of the Fine Arts Division Patricia Likos Ricci presents “Envisioning a Better World: The Art of Violet Oakley,” on Monday, April 23.

The Presidential Community Enrichment Series luncheons are open to the public, with a $17 admissions fee. For more information or to register for an upcoming lecture, please contact Melissa Bittinger at or at 717-361-1489.


Melissa Spencer Bio
Melissa Spencer is a junior English-Professional Writing major at Elizabethtown College. She also minors in mathematics and data analytics. Spencer is the News Editor for the College’s student newspaper, “The Etownian.” Her work has also been featured in the College’s literary magazine, “Fine Print.” She hopes to become a writer who can combine her passions for English, mathematics and big data.

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