Nothing is obvious in mathematics. But, for three graduating seniors, the choice to major in math was even more obscure.
Megan McGurl of Sharpsburg started as a chemistry and pre-dental major. Sarah David of Macon was undeclared but excelled in English. Elyse Renshaw of Lawrenceville changed majors multiple times from pre-engineering to physics to exercise science and was a marketing minor at one time.
But all three stopped at the mathematics department, allured by something they define as beautiful, fun and enjoyable.
“The thing I loved most about math was that I could step away from everything that’s going on in the world and just focus on these numbers, these symbols,” David said. “There’s something very nice about being able to escape to this world of numbers. It’s very ordered."
Complicated equations mostly boil down to simple answers in math, said David, who plans to get a masters of arts in education and teach.
“In life, you don’t really get that a lot,” she said. “You’re just walking down this path completely blind. You have no idea. You can plan all you want. You can map it out. But it’s never going to be the way you want it.”
Renshaw was always good at math, but said it didn’t come easily until college. She laughed, saying it may sound “nerdy,” but taking Proofs of Math helped her find joy in calculating numbers. Renshaw plans to get a master’s degree in applied statistics and work in insurance, assessing risks.
McGurl chose math, because she wanted something that would open doors in her future. Like Renshaw and David, McGurl worked in lower-math classrooms as a Supplemental Instruction (SI) leader and tutored in the Learning Center at Russell Library.
The experience made McGurl realize she wanted to be a math tutor. Before that, however, she’ll work in merchandising at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, as part of the Disney College program. She also hopes to get a Fulbright scholarship to teach English in the Netherlands.
“If I can teach math, I think I can teach English,” McGurl said. “Math is a language all to itself. There are rules and syntax. And certain orders mean different things.”
McGurl’s ready to be done with school, have a daily set schedule and not stay up until 3 a.m. working on an assignment due the next day. Personal interaction with professors in small class sizes has prepared her to make the next step into a career.
“I’ve become more confident interacting with people, and that helps when you’re tutoring,” she said. “You know what you’re talking about, and you can come across as intelligent and assured, and I think I’ve been able to do that in other aspects of my life too - take a little more risk and be assertive and not doubt myself so much.”
All were active in the Math Club. McGurl, a French minor, studied abroad in Paris during summer 2014. David’s minoring in Spanish and was in the Spanish Honors Society. She co-founded “Lingua,” a small community outreach group, and taught English at the Mary Vinson Memorial Library in Milledgeville. Renshaw does club sports in volleyball, tennis and Frisbee.
The three seniors recently presented their capstone research projects at an all-day symposium on campus.
“We are very proud of Elyse, Sarah and Megan,” said Dr. Robert Blumenthal, chair of the math department. “They have completed a rigorous program and have done so with great distinction.”
Completing a degree isn’t easy. David advised other students to remember the light at the end of the tunnel.
“I didn’t think I could be successful in math. I honestly wasn’t sure if I could do it,” she said. “But it’s your sheer determination and your will and your passion - they’re the reasons why you picked that major, the reason you chose that path, and now they’re going to be the motivators for you to finish and keep going.
“I know everyone wants to change the world in some capacity. I want to change the world,” David said. “But I know my impact on the world comes from teaching in a math classroom. That’s my vocation. And that is what’s gotten me through. It pushed me to be better, to keep going. Because I know where I’m supposed to be.
“And even if you don’t know where that is,” David said, “you’ll find it. You’ll find the motivation.”