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October 17, 2018

Dylan McKnight – the following was written by Dylan McKnight (Class of 2017)

My time spent at SVSU was crucial to my development as a mathematician. I am forever indebted to the faculty for taking a personal interest in my progress, and for always pushing me to accomplish more. The breadth of knowledge and research experience I gained at SVSU has placed me on a path to success in graduate studies.

Starting university, I had no intentions of majoring in mathematics. I majored in mathematics while taking Calculus II during Winter semester of my Freshmen year. In retrospect, there are two things that drove me to become a mathematics major. There was the "practical" reason, where majoring in mathematics would help me be a better physics major. However, I believe the real reason that I majored in mathematics was that the professor teaching Calculus II made the material interesting. An extremely interesting example, one which I have presented to every Calculus II class I have ever taught, is Gabriel's horn. This trumpet shaped surface is fascinating since it encloses finite volume, but has infinite surface area. Hence, someone trying to paint the surface with a brush will be painting forever. However, one could paint the object by pouring a finite amount of paint in, then dumping out the excess.

An aspect that cannot be overstated is the size of the mathematics program at SVSU; it is perfect. Starting graduate school, many of my peers from smaller institutions had not seen abstract algebra, a course required for the major at SVSU. On the other hand, many of my peers also went to large universities with math programs that offered more classes than SVSU. The latter point is basically moot, as I did multiple independent studies in topics such as Graph Theory and Topology, which helped me close the gap in terms of content. That is, the mathematics program at SVSU is large enough so that courses can be offered regularly, but not so large that you cannot get personalized attention from your professors. Any supposed deficiencies in mathematics knowledge compared to a larger institution are easily remedied through independent studies, which is something I found the mathematics faculty at SVSU are more than willing to do.

The last thing that should be mentioned is the time I spent outside the classroom doing research, participating in math club, and tutoring. Since the permutations (1 2 3) and (3 1 2) are identical, I will speak about tutoring first. The math tutoring center allowed me to maintain my skills in lower level math courses, while also affording me the opportunity to try new ways of explaining material, a skill that was indispensable as a new graduate teaching assistant. I found that the majority of professors in the mathematics department at SVSU were eager to do research with students. Through such work, I gave presentations at MAA Mathfest in Columbus, Ohio and the SE&T colloquium at SVSU. In math club, I was able to organize interesting talks for the math student population. I also competed in various mathematics competitions, consistently placing in the top, beating students from larger institutions in Michigan, near the end of my time at SVSU. I believe that participation in these activities were indispensable to being accepted to the graduate schools I got into.

To close this leviathan out, the mathematics program at SVSU is what you make of it. I took every opportunity that was presented to me, and strove to make myself competitive with students from larger institutions. However, as I am now in my second year of graduate school, I must acknowledge that none of this would have been possible without the constant hard work of my many mentors. A list of such mentors would quickly resemble the faculty directory of the math department at SVSU, so I will extend my thanks to three specific individuals. First, I would like to thank Dr. Amy Hlavacek for constantly pushing me to aim higher when applying to graduate school. Also, I want to thank Dr. William Vautaw, who pushed me to attend the University of Nebraska Lincoln in my numerous moments of doubt. It is a decision that has paid off immensely, and I would not have made it were it not for him. Finally, I want to thank Dr. Tony Crachiola, from whom I took numerous courses, including the fateful calculus II course where I chose to become a math major. As my instructor and research advisor, he perhaps had the greatest influence on my development as a mathematician while at SVSU, for which I am eternally grateful.