M3 Math Majors Matter ----------------------------------

SPOTLIGHT ON ...

           Stephen C. Billups




Steve Billups is an Associate Professor, who's research areas include Optimization, Computational Biology, Data Mining, and Complimentary Problems. He is also the Director of the Center for Computational Biology We've asked him to fill out this questionnaire.
Where were you born?
Richmond, Virginia
Did you start college majoring in mathematics?
Yes. I double majored in math and computer science.
Where did you get your undergraduate degree?
George Mason University
What courses or areas of study gave you trouble while you were an undergraduate?
Anything that required writing. Lucky for me I tested out of freshmen composition.
What math class was the biggest challenge to you?
Definitely Advanced Calculus. It was the first class that I couldn't "cram" for on exams.
When did you realize math was of interest to you?
When I was in 6th grade, my older brother joined the high school math team. He would bring home math team problems and help me work them. I was hooked!
How did you know which area of mathematics to pursue?
As an undergraduate, I didn't really pick an area (we didn't have different options), and by my last year, I pretty much didn't have any choices of which upper division math courses to take -- I just took what was offered that year. When I went to graduate school (in computer science), I studied numerical analysis and mathematical programming because they involved a lot of math.
What would you have done differently as an undergraduate?
I would have gone to a more research oriented school and gotten involved with faculty research (George Mason University was much different than it is now).
What advice would you give to undergraduate math majors?
That depends on the student and what his or her goals are, but in general: Get involved with the department. Go to seminars and develop relationships with faculty (they are good at giving advice, and you'll need them for letters of recommendation). Learn about possible careers and what it takes to prepare for them. Take some computer science classes.
Are you the first in your family to earn a PhD?
Yes, but only the 3rd doctorate. My Dad has an Ed.D., and my wife has a Pharm.D. When we got married, the priest introduced us as "Doctor and Mr. Billups."
Describe your area of research.
Most of my work has been in mathematical programming (or optimization). This involves finding the "best" solution to a problem that may have many solutions. For example, finding the cheapest way to manufacture a product, subject to resource and technology constraints. There are interesting applications almost everywhere -- everybody wants to do things better! The field involves lots of work with computers (we solve problems with millions of variables), and also some very interesting mathematics. More recently I have been working in computational biology, using mathematics and computers to address biological problems.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about mathematicians?
That they're smarter than other people
How can an undergraduate get involved with the math department?
Go to seminars, join the math club, take the Putnam Exam, do an independent project with a faculty member, volunteer for the undergraduate committee.
Where is your favorite place you have ever traveled?
The Florida Keys for a week of lobstering.
What CD is in your car right now?
None (my car has a tape player). The tape that's in it right now is Raffi's "Bananaphone" (it's for my kids).
What is your favorite movie?
Monty Python's Holy Grail.
What is the best concert you have ever been to?
Chanticleer (it's an a capella singing group from San Francisco).
What would you be doing if you weren't a math faculty member?
Hard to say. Almost certainly doing math/computer work somewhere -- maybe at a national laboratory.
Have you had any jobs other than being a faculty member?
I worked for Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque before I got my Ph.D.
What is your favorite activity?
Ballroom dancing.
What is your favorite sport?
To watch: football. To play: golf.
What is your favorite food?
Mexican.
What was your best Halloween costume?
A horseman riding on the back of a little old lady (a la Benny Hill).
If you could have lunch with anyone living or dead, who would it be?
Thomas Jefferson.
What is your favorite thing to do in Colorado?
Hanging out in the mountains.
Tell us something about yourself that would surprise everyone.
I once sang with Barry Manilow in concert (I was in the backup choir for "One Voice").


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