New math emphasis to prepare BYU students for the problems of tomorrow

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Society is moving toward a technology driven world where most careers require some technological knowledge. This is no exception in the math department.

Department Chair, Robin Roundy embraced the technological shift and together with other math professors created a new mathematical emphasis that they project will be beneficial to math students in their future careers and pursuit of higher education. The new emphasis is titled applied and computational mathematics.

“Decisions that used to be made by human beings are now being made by algorithms,” Roundy said. “(Algorithms) first in math, then computed in computer code.”

The applied and computational mathematics emphasis gives students the opportunity to learn and apply what they are learning in both core courses and labs. The core courses will help students develop skills in math modeling, analysis and algorithms. While the labs will teach students big data problems, high performance computing, team work and networking skills.

Jeff Humphreys, associate math professor flew to Kaust University in Saudi Arabia, a huge super computing facility with world leaders in applied mathematics, to meet with experts in the field to discuss the future of applied mathematics and gain insight into the creation of the new emphasis at BYU.

“(The program) provides the right skill set for students to learn that help them do very well right out the gate,” Humphreys said.

The new emphasis was created after the success of  BYU’s Interdisciplinary Mentoring Program in Analysis, Computation and Theory (IMPACT program) that was started six years ago.  IMPACT is a program that allows students to learn, apply and grow in the pure and applied sciences through high-quality research. More information about his group can be found at impact.byu.edu.

Humpheys said none of the students from the IMPACT group struggled with finding jobs or pursing doctorate degrees. There have been 55 students that completed IMPACT in addition to their majors and some even double majored. Students from the program have had offers from Goldman Sachs, Adobe, Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, National Security Agency, and many small start up companies.

“You have to have deep theoretical understanding to be able to keep up with the pace of technology,” Humphreys said. “This emphasis prepares students for graduate placements.”

Applied and computational mathematics gives student the necessary knowledge and skill set that will allow them to immediately apply to careers.

“(With) just math (you) don’t have skills that (you can) immediately apply,” Humphreys said.

The prerequisites for the program include all the math minor courses, math 341 and computer science 142. The new emphasis will be available Fall of 2013 with acceptance once a year.

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