March 19, 2015

SVSU, Delta alumna Christal Ross found calling in mathematics; Ph.D. program up next

Some second acts are worth the wait.

Christal L.S. Ross’ first stint in higher education had its share of promise. The onetime theater major scored leading roles in Saginaw Valley State University productions from the early 2000s such as “Cat On A Hot Tin Roof” and “The Comedy Of Errors.”

But the curtain closed on that first act when she was married and had her first child before she finished her degree. Today — while raising two sons, 10 and 14 — she has completed two degrees with more expected.

“My life totally changed when I went back to school,” said the 1998 graduate of Heritage High School in Saginaw Township. “I’m really busy and I never sleep, but I find myself loving every minute of it.”

Her second act in college proved different than the first. Leaving theater behind, Ross discovered a passion for mathematics.

“I love math,” Ross said of her rediscovered interest in the subject. “The weirder math gets, the more I like it. They’re like little puzzles you have to solve.”

After receiving her associate’s degree from Delta College in 2008, she returned to SVSU. Along with adding a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from SVSU to her résumé in 2013, she earned a spot on the school’s dean’s list, and a position as secretary of the university’s Math Club.

An aspiring professor, some of the faculty Ross hopes to emulate supported her at SVSU including professors of mathematics Steven Sepanski and Thomas Zerger, as well as Tony Crachiola, associate professor of mathematics and acting assistant dean for the College of Science, Engineering and Technology.

“Tony was my teacher during my first semester after my transfer from Delta,” Ross said.

“I was intimidated, fearing that I would not be successful in math, especially since I started in developmental math classes when I was almost 30. I approached Tony after class one day, expressing my concerns, and he was very encouraging. I will always appreciate that pep talk, as it came at a time when I really needed a boost in my self-esteem.” 

Now she hopes to pay forward the support received from Crachiola and his colleagues.

“I’ve had wonderful professors everywhere,” Ross said. “I really feel like they’re cheering for me, and encouraging me to apply for new things. It’s been a very supportive environment.”

In August, she expects to earn a master’s degree in math at CMU, where she works as a graduate teaching assistant and is a member of the American Mathematical Society Graduate Student Chapter at CMU.

Her education will be far from finished when that master’s degree arrives. In fall 2015, she will begin CMU’s Ph.D. program for mathematics.

Eventually, Ross hopes to start a career not unlike that of the staff and faculty who helped her succeed during her second act in higher education.