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


           Leah Grant

Leah Grant is a senior who completed on our math modeling team this past spring semester. She is also the only winner (so far) of our monthly prize contest.
Where were you born?
Where did you go to high school?
I attended Maranatha, a tiny, little private school in Arvada that looked like a farm. They even had goats running around.
What was your major when you first arrived on campus?
(Haha) I actually started out in the Theatre Department! I had to claim a major to get a certain scholarship and had enjoyed dancing and drama in high school. I also considered a few other Fine Arts majors ... and Chemistry (shudder). What was I thinking?
What made you decide to change majors to mathematics?
Honestly? One of my ex-boyfriends, an engineering major at the Colorado School of Mines, always gave me a hard time for having a non-academic major. So after finding I enjoyed Calculus, I decided "I'll show him!" and switched to math. Little did I know what I was getting in to! (just kidding) It actually has been an incredible experience, and I plan on applying to CU's PhD program in Math.
What class has been the most difficult for you?
I don't think it was so much the course material as it was things going on in my life outside of school, but last semester I struggled with Number Theory and Numerical Analysis.
What area of math are you enjoying the most?
Being the nerd that I am, I have always enjoyed the classes in my major. In a particularly enjoyable History of Math class a few semesters ago, I developed an appreciation for discrete math, especially graph theory. Optimization modeling was also fun and interesting, and I have really enjoyed Clinic this semester.
Other than math, what other subjects interest you?
Well, I had a good time in my theatre classes, building sets and learning to speak with different accents. I also enjoyed taking French.
Are you involved in any activities here at UCDHSC?
Let's see, graduating hopefully -- that's an activity, right? This summer will be my last semester as an undergrad (I mean it this time!). I participated in the Interdisciplinary Contest in Modeling (ICM) last year and the Mathematical Contest in Modeling (MCM) this year. My other two modeling team members and I also gave a talk at the SIAM conference on campus a little while ago. I'd like to become more involved with the department and the Math Major newsletter, time permitting.
How did you find out about the math modeling competition?
Last year I was the undergrad student rep on the department's Undergraduate committee, and Gary Olson brought it up at one of our meetings and asked me if I was interested. It sounded like a great experience, and I'd never participated in any sort of academic competition before. I'm really glad I did.
What was the modeling competition like?
It was a lot of work, but we actually had a really good time, too. It's basically a 96-hour competition in which groups of three students choose one out of three problems to mathematically model. The first year I wasn't sure what to expect, and it seemed like we chose to model the most difficult thing ever (ozone layer depletion!). This year my team really clicked and everyone brought a different perspective and important contributions to the final product. I really recommend the competition to other undergraduates, it's a very rewarding experience.
What did you learn by participating in the modeling competition?
That when you participate, important people in the Math department take you out for expensive dinners! But honestly, I could not be happier with my experiences in competing. They helped set the stage for productive future group work in other classes (but with a lot less pressure!), and helped me relate the mathematics I see every day to practical applications in the real world. I even learned some basic LaTeX, which I also developed and used constantly this semester.
Which faculty member has had the most impact on you here?
Well, to borrow a popular mathematical explanation, it's clearly vacuous (: Actually, that's a tough one, the faculty here is outstanding. I'd say I've learned the most from Harvey Greenberg and Bill Cherowitzo, as the courses I've had with them were excellent experiences and helped lay foundations for my subsequent mathematical pursuits. Rich Lundgren allowed me to work on a project team with graduate students for one of his courses this semester, which contributed both to my very positive experience in the course and my decision to pursue graduate studies. So many others have contributed in such fundamental ways to my academic experience, it's overwhelming to try to figure out who has had the most impact.
What do you consider to be your biggest accomplishment so far?
Um, coming this far in my math major? Who would've thought. Getting through this semester and the last few years of school while working full time also involved a small miracle.
What advice or tips do you have for younger math majors?
Get involved in the department! The best thing I ever did was accept a position on the undergrad committee and involve myself with department-related activities. I wish I wouldn't have waited so long to get to know more people and participate in more activities in the department. It really helps to network and make friends; there are a lot of brilliant people here who actually enjoy helping students (and you never know when you'll need a reference letter!).
What would you have done differently as an undergrad?
Probably visit with my advisor more. It seems like a pain, but I probably would have graduated already if I'd touched base with her more these past few semesters. I also would have liked to work in the MERC lab if I had more time.
What is a common misconception about studying math?
That you can't do it. Perhaps applied analysis is not for everyone, but I feel that basic undergraduate mathematics (algebra, trig) should not be considered outside the realm of any student's understanding. The deciding factor is first their readiness to learn, and second is the quality of teaching (and patience of teachers) they receive. Any students who is willing to apply himself or herself can understand and even excel in math given sufficient direction and explanation.
What do you plan to do when you graduate?
Travel the world with Pink Floyd. Just kidding. I'm hoping to be accepted in the graduate program and apply for a T.A. (not nearly as glamorous but a lot more realistic).
What is your favorite thing about the UCDHSC campus?
The Daily Grind coffee house in the Tivoli is pretty high up on the list. And the fact that there are ample Starbuck's locations near the CU building. Lifesavers, I tell you!
If you could do any job in the world, what would it be?
My lifelong fantasy job is to own a cafe' in Venice. A plus if it's near a university.
If you won the lottery and never had to work, what would you do?
Buy a cafe' in Venice. Maybe the university, too.
If you could have lunch with anyone living or dead, who would it be?
Aside from several brilliant mathematicians and scientists, I've always been fascinated by celebrities and models. I'd have to pick Alessandra Ambrosio, a super-gorgeous Victoria's Secret model who's my age, but involved with charities and even has her own clothing line. She might not eat lunch, though, maybe we could go for black coffee.
What do you do for fun?
Dare I say ... homework? But I think at this point in my undergrad experience, that's how it should be. If you're in the right major, you should at least somewhat enjoy the classes before you graduate, right? Don't get me wrong, though, I have other interests outside of school. When I'm not working, I like to have drinks with friends and go to movies. I also have a ridiculous purse-shopping habit.
What CD is in your car right now?
Hmmm ... the new Mariah Cary, old 2Pac, and one from my friend's band.
What is the best concert you've attended?
When I was younger I saw the SCO and remember feeling just an overwhelming sense of awe at the orchestra members each playing different refrains that combined into one beautiful sounding symphony. Oh, and my friend's band always puts on a good show.
What is your favorite movie?
I love funny, stupid movies, since the rest of my life seems so serious and academically-oriented right now. "Old School," "Anchorman," and "Family Guy's Stewie Griffin: the Untold Story" top the list. On a more serious note, "Love Actually" is probably one of the most well-written and involving movies I've seen in a while.
What is your favorite restaurant?
John Holly's. It's this amazing little sushi place down the street from my apartment -- and they deliver!
Where is your favorite place in Colorado?
Right now, the pool across the street at my friend's apartment complex (mine's not open yet). I also really like Lake Dillon. It's absolutely breathtaking in the morning when there are clouds hovering over the water and everything is still and quiet.
Where is the favorite place you have traveled?
Well, since Cancun is the only place I really remember traveling to outside of Colorado, that would have to be it. And the place is beautiful.
What is your favorite TV show?
I use to be addicted to CSI and Alias, but I'm never home to watch them anymore. I also like Family Guy and Sex and the City.
What is your favorite sport?
Shopping is a sport, right? Growing up, I was never really involved with sports per se, but I danced ballet for fifteen years and even had a contract with a dance company. Now I like running and doing Pilates.
What item could you not live without?
Coffee, and my laptop. And my hair straightener. And chocolate.
Tell us something about you that would surprise most people who know you.
Well, most people that know me now might be surprised I started out as a theatre major. People that used to know me might be surprised I'm now a math major. I'll just be surprised if I ever get out of school (:

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