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“There’s so much you can do with a Math degree,” said Kate Holden ’14, a project manager and survey analyst for SullivanLuallin Group.
That’s true for at least three Elmira College alumni, including Holden. She and Emily Hardy-Shephard ’15 and Michael McCormick ’16 MS ’18 all majored in Mathematics, yet each of them went in very different career directions. The tie that binds them together? Problem-solving skills they learned from studying math at Elmira College.
Holden took a pretty typical career route for people with Math degrees. She became a statistician. She helps healthcare institutions conduct surveys to get insight into patient satisfaction and healthcare worker wellness. She uses her math skills to then analyze the results.
“But there’s a ton of problem-solving and troubleshooting skills that I probably use more than the math,” she said.
Holden explained that her clients, who are researchers, will often do their own analysis and she double-checks the work. When she finds errors she has to do painstaking digging in a trial-and-error fashion to work out where things went wrong. The work is similar to completing a peer review, which Holden learned how to do in the Elmira College Obler Summer Research Program.
“I use that experience a lot,” she said. “Our project wasn’t an official peer review but we spent the whole summer going through research, trying to replicate results, and finding errors.”
McCormick veered a bit from typical Math-degree careers and went into the math-adjacent field of Computer Science. He is Chief Information Officer at Lourdes University. He joked, “I came to higher education and never left.”
McCormick’s role requires plenty of algebra and applied mathematics skills to be successful. For example, he uses differential equations to determine the best return on investment when purchasing computer equipment for the campus. And he relies on metrics and data analysis to create reports for his key stakeholders. But McCormick said the true value of his Math degree was that it “taught me how to think.”
“With math, we learn that there’s an infinite number of problems but a finite way to solve them,” he said. “We learn how to approach problems in a methodical, uniform way.”
Hardy-Shephard echoed this sentiment often. “My Math degree taught me about problem-solving and using an analytical approach to things,” she said.
Hardy-Shephard is a Marketing Communications Supervisor with the Science and Technology division of Corning Incorporated. Her career is a less obvious fit for a Math major and is more typically associated with Communications, English, and Sociology degrees.
“Having a more linear mindset helps with creating timelines and meeting deadlines, which are critical to a communications role,” she said.
And her math background has come in handy in other ways. Hardy-Shephard has tracked the Communication department’s metrics and helped to convey financial information to investors, who want information packaged in very straightforward terms. Conveying such complex information in simple ways is never easy and requires a deep understanding of the information. Here again, she credits her Math degree with giving her the needed skills.
“In class, we were pushed to question that 2+3 = 5,” she said. “We were taught to understand why something works, not just that it works.”
Holden, McCormick, and Hardy-Shephard all hope future students with an interest in mathematics will dive boldly into a Math degree.
“Even if you love math but don’t know if you want to go into a math-heavy job, your ability to learn really difficult things is attractive to employers,” said Holden.
“Math is foundational, so you can pivot to go nearly anywhere,” said Hardy-Shephard.
“Chances are when you graduate, your entry-level job will not be the same job as the one you will have when you retire, and the job you have when you retire probably doesn’t even exist today,” said McCormick. “That’s why it’s important to be a well-rounded individual.”