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Faculty, students discuss relevance of mathematics beyond the classroom

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Josh McInnish 

Contributor

Mathematics may seem pointless at first, but it provides the skills people need in life. 

Many college students who are not majoring in math will say that they should not have to take math courses, but it can help with thinking and problem solving.  

“I think that the skills that you learn in a process to solve a problem, and knowing those steps in that process can develop that general ability, or enhance that ability to solve general problems,” said Ken Roblee, professor and chair of mathematics at Troy University.  

Roblee said math could help a student gain a higher level of analytical, or abstract thinking. He added that it could help someone going into a career or graduate school.  

“I think that higher levels of thinking can be developed in a math course,” Roblee said. “It’s not just math. I know it’s done in a number of subjects, but the math courses will definitely challenge that type of thinking.”  

Math is used in a variety of majors and careers.  According to Roblee, students who major in geomatics need math, especially advanced courses.  

“The study of mathematics, in one form or another, has been a part of any study for a person who is going to be an informed decision maker,” said Hal Fulmer, the associate provost and dean of undergraduate studies. “[math has] been around since the time of the ancient Greeks.

“Math isn’t just the study of formulas and equations and memorizing things like that. The study of mathematics is really the study of, and learning about how we reason.”  

One of the skills Roblee mentioned is the skill of logical reasoning. Logical reasoning can help students think through a situation and see how to solve it.  

“The advantage of any general studies course is that it requires a person to step out of their natural areas of interest and master material that is difficult,” Fulmer said.  

Not only does math help a student learn about the interests of others, but it is also used in many different forms of technology and other forms of business.

“I think we use math just about every day in some shape or fashion,” said Brad Bensinger, an adjunct math instructor from Huntsville. “It may not be as complicated as algebra, but we take measurements and use numbers in a variety of ways.”

In the music industry, musicians and record companies have to use math to calculate sales of merchandise, concert tickets, recording session expenses, equipment repairs and much more.

Fulmer said passwords and credit card systems use prime numbers in encryption systems. Fulmer also said that Bach was interested in math, and he used it when composing his music.

 Janet Gaston, assistant to the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and adviser for pre-health, said math is incorporated with biological studies such as genetics, chemistry and physics.

“With genetics, you are looking at ratios,” Gaston said. “In ecology, you are looking at ratios — how things compare; you’re looking at statistics, the mean, etc.” 

Gaston also said that ratios are used in the monohybrid, dihybrid and trihybrid crosses, which use cross-multiplication to find outcomes of genetic information. 

Some people realize they are using basic math with something which is right there under their noses and others don’t realize it. 

“Some students, for example, in our area (journalism) do not prefer math or have chosen a field of study that does not require math,” said Ava Tabb, a journalism lecturer. “But I think it is important, as young adults, that students do get the basics of math so they can, for example, balance a checkbook.” 

Other jobs which use math can include offensive and defensive coordinators of football, construction workers, engineers, accountants and computer scientists. 

Math, like other general studies courses, may not be enjoyable to most students, but it can be interesting to a few. Some students might even make math as a second major. 

Although math was Roblee’s primary focus, he was no exception to the rule of taking general studies courses when he was a student. Roblee, too, had to take other general education courses. He took a philosophy course, which was a requirement for his humanities area, which sparked a new interest for him.

“I enjoyed the courses so much that I took a second major in philosophy,” he said. “It opened up an area of interest that I didn’t realize there was such an area of study.”