Author: Joy Jordan

John Gale, ’04

Since graduation in 2004 I’ve been working at Apple, Inc on a variety of projects, most internal to the company, some external. Over the years, we’ve interviewed many people from various backgrounds, and one of the biggest things that keeps amazing me is that a prestigious ivy- league resume doesn’t translate directly into an amazingly intelligent person. I’ve seen fantastically technical candidates come in, spouting algorithms, bragging about how many computer languages they know; but when we ask them to solve a real life problem, some of them can’t easily think it through. They become limited by their depth in a particular branch of knowledge, and have closed their mind to new experiences, new paradigms of thought, and new opportunities.

Lawrence was the one place that taught me that breadth is important, and a valuable and profitable career path. Depth of expertise is handy, but using that as an excuse to ignore learning things in areas new to you is dangerous. Keeping your mind open to new ideas allows you to find commonalities across teams, across problems, even across professions. You can realize, for instance, that the solution to a technical problem can solve a societal one; or that understanding the concepts of how a device works from top to bottom — even if you don’t know the technical details — can help find and fix problems far faster than someone else that’s mired in only one level of the device.

The classes that I took at Lawrence helped stretch my mind by teaching foreign concepts and highly theoretical ways of thinking. At the time the usual maxims applied; “who really needs to know this stuff?” and “this won’t apply to what I’m going to make money at anyway.” But several universal truths have since clarified these experiences. The first is that it’s always easier to learn something the second time; remembering every detail on your final exam isn’t what you’re supposed to take away. But once you’ve learned something once, a ghost of it sticks in your head, and years later when you recall “I once learned how to solve this problem!” you’ll learn it again, quicker, better, and more applicably. The second is that learning new things becomes a skill to hone. The more your mind becomes stretched by new concepts, the easier it is to learn in general. They say that once you learn a second language, learning the third is easy; similarly, once you learn several skills, learning new ones becomes a piece of cake, and a very applicable professional skill.

By exposing me to things I wasn’t familiar with, teaching me to learn things (some that I really hated learning), and encouraging me to think critically about new ideas and scenarios I was presented with, Lawrence became a very strong part of my résumé, easily helping me find and perform a great job at a great company.

Matt Stackpole, ’05

I am currently a graduate student in the department of mathematics at the University of Colorado at Boulder pursuing a Ph.D. We mathematicians are so often spouting about how math is a “universal truth” that students often seem oblivious to the fact that mathematics has a history and has undergone many changes. My eyes were opened to this when, after reading Kuhn’s “Structure of Scientific Revolutions,” Dr. Pourciau asked our calculus class if we thought mathematics had ever undergone a paradigm shift. It took thousands of years to go from a few area formulas produced by the Greeks to the calculus that was being taught today. Because of this experience, I like to shake things up in my lectures by throwing in historical stories and anecdotes about mathematicians.

The math department at Lawrence gave me some wonderful opportunities to grow mathematically and personally, including an internship for the NSA and a semester studying math in Budapest, Hungary. As if learning math weren’t enough, these programs were also where I met my wife.

Cassidy Heller, ’08

I’m currently teaching 7th grade math in Oregon, Wisconsin, which is a town just outside of Madison. This is my first teaching job and it’s going very well so far!

Not only has the Lawrence education department prepared me for this job, but the math department certainly has as well. Although 7th grade math is not quite as demanding as college math, I’ve been glad to have such a strong background in it and to feel so comfortable with the material. I also have been looking back and drawing from aspects of my independent study which was in geometry. This has been particularly helpful in the high school level geometry class I teach to a group of 7th and 8th graders at the middle school.

In addition to the math, I have learned from the math faculty on how to interact as a department. The community feel of the LU math department was very special to me, and definitely something I’m hoping to become part of at Oregon Middle School!

Stephanie Kliethermes, ’07

My years at Lawrence University can be described as nothing less than transformative, influential and inspiring. The transformation began the first time I set foot on campus as a high school senior, and my experiences at LU continue to shape and support my current endeavors as a PhD student in Biostatistics at the University of Iowa. I think the saying goes, “You don’t know what you’ve got, until it’s gone.” Yet, even though I become more aware (with each passing year) of the unique and fundamental ways in which Lawrence impacted me, I feel LU is, and always will be, fully ingrained in much of what I do as a scholar and a person. That’s how special Lawrence is.

I began college thinking that I wanted to pursue a career in journalism or communications; however, I was instantaneously captivated by the math department. Integrity, accountability, effort, motivation, perseverance, honesty, loyalty, and affability are just a few of the qualities and skills I honed while at LU. These qualities were, and still are, critical to my success as a student, a professional and a friend; and interestingly enough these characteristics are nowhere to be found in the curriculum requirements for a degree in mathematics (or any other major at LU).

I feel extremely lucky that the math department is full of inspired faculty with priorities that extend beyond teaching such as befriending, mentoring and encouraging each and every student as both a scholar and an individual. The department, and LU as whole, equally values the learning that takes place within the classroom as well as outside the classroom. In their minds, this learning is not limited to the content they present or that which can be found in the course textbook; they recognize and value the entire college experience for what it can give. I can’t think of a better way or place to learn and grow. The department demands a lot out of their students, but the amount they give back in knowledge, time and compassion far surpasses these expectations. And in the end, the students have an opportunity to come away with not only important communication and thinking skills, but also the confidence and desire to succeed and pursue their own individual paths beyond Lawrence.

I am forever grateful to Lawrence, and the faculty within the math department, for planting the seeds and helping them grow. Despite entering graduate school in biostatistics with very little statistical background compared to my fellow classmates, I quickly realized just how prepared I was for the challenges of graduate work as a result of my courses, experiences and efforts at Lawrence. I certainly attribute much of my success in graduate school and my growth as an individual to the faculty with whom I interacted, to the students and friends who helped me through, and to Lawrence as a whole for giving me the space to find my own strengths, interests and dreams. I cannot be more honest when I say: it truly is a remarkable place.

Nick Beyler, ’05

I am currently at Iowa State University pursuing a PhD in Statistics. I have worked as a teaching assistant and as an instructor for two semesters and am currently a research assistant in the Center for Survey Statistics and Methodology (CSSM) here at ISU. My dissertation research concerns measurement error and nonresponse error in surveys of physical activity. To summarize, I’m working on developing models that account and adjust for errors that arise when people report on their own physical activity. By Summer 2010 I hope to be done with school and on the job market!

Daniyal Noorani, ’06

After graduating from Lawrence I was lucky to have a job lined up as a pricing analyst with an auto insurance company called Progressive Insurance in Cleveland, OH. But before getting the job the math department was really supportive during the stressful time of job hunting and made me believe that there was light at the end of the tunnel.

I am currently working at a biotech firm called Metabolix, in Cambridge, MA, and I am doing business development for them. Throughout my career the lessons taught at Lawrence of being proactive and the lesson of “there is no such thing as a stupid question” have really served me well.

Mark Smrecek, ’00

I am currently working as a Consulting Actuary in Chicago. As part of my career, I work with large companies on a variety of pension and health care issues. Particularly, we focus on determining the cash and accounting cost of providing these benefits and developing strategies to optimize the effectiveness of funding these benefits.

While these objectives are far from those studied while at Lawrence, the critical thinking, collaborative work environment, and constant learning that were such major parts of my Lawrence experience are daily practices in my professional life. Being willing and able to explain thoughts and processes in multiple ways in order to gain mutual understanding is a skill that I use constantly that was developed in Briggs Hall working through Foundations of Algebra and Analysis problems with my classmates and professors.

Rachel Roberts, ’09

Being both a small and friendly department (with a good sense of humor), Lawrence’s math department is close-knit and supportive. We have Math Tea together each week and students have all-nighters together the nights before problem sets are due. Of course I don’t condone beginning work on math homework late enough that you must stay up all night to be able to finish it, as it’s not the best way to understand the material and do well in a course, but it can be fun and sometimes necessary given the workload Lawrence deals students from time to time.

All in all, the best way I’ve found to study math is to start as early as possible and work until you can’t progress further and then go talk to your professor with questions, or just to clear your head. Lawrence math professors are incredibly supportive and approachable and want to help students in any way possible. Also, given that it is a rather small department in a small school, professors have the time to work with each student individually in their office hours and are more than willing to talk to students about math or just chat during non-office hours as well. I am happy to have decided to be a math major at Lawrence and am very grateful to my professors for what I have learned from them and the relationships I’ve had with them.

Evan Neuens, ’09

The thing that really stands out is when we used to sit in the library to work on our Foundations of Algebra problem sets and everybody else thought we were speaking a foreign language. I’m not sure if this helpful information, but it was fun!

Dan Fulton, ’09

It’s hard to get a more personalized experience at Lawrence than in the small computer science classes. At times, the students more than the professors can guide the topic of study. Math classes are excellent as well, and the department strongly encourages students to be independent in their mathematical ability. I feel privileged to take classes with professors who are so clearly passionate about their discipline. For students who enjoy mathematics, I would think it would be difficult to find a better environment.