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Thursday, April 15, 2010

Sara Elpers: Immersion in math

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A course in mathematical logic taught by Dr. Adrian Gentle, associate professor of mathematics, was pivotal in steering Sara Elpers toward a career in mathematics.
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USI senior Sara R. Elpers can't wait to eat, sleep, and breathe math this summer.

She will attend Cornell University's Summer Math Institute, an eight-week residential program that accepts 12-14 students from universities throughout the country. The program allows students to explore mathematics and prepares them for the rigors of graduate school. It focuses on advanced coursework in analysis and on small-group research projects that culminate with a presentation.

A member of the USI Honors Program, Elpers majors in both math and English. She has found an ideal way to combine her two interests in a project for a course in the history of mathematics. She and classmate Edwin Ramos are writing a musical aptly named A Brief History of Mathematics: The Musical. They were inspired by the touring production of Calculus: The Musical, which has been presented twice at USI. Elpers and Ramos, a math teaching major, performed an abridged version of their work in late March at the annual conference of the Mid-East Honors Association in Louisville, Kentucky.

"Music and math have more to do with each other than people realize," Elpers said, adding that Pythagoras is the mathematician who first explained the ratios that cause some musical chords to sound pleasant and others unpleasant to the ear.

Elpers has demonstrated excellence in mathematics on two recent tests. She achieved a perfect score on the Major Field Test in mathematics. Major Field Tests are comprehensive assessments designed to measure the critical knowledge and understanding obtained by undergraduate students in a major field of study. They measure factual knowledge and are helpful in evaluating students' ability to analyze and solve problems, understand relationships, and interpret material from their major field of study.

She scored a 9 in the Putnam Competition. More than 4,000 undergraduate students throughout the nation took the test in December.

Dr. John Donnelly, USI assistant professor of mathematics, said, "Any positive score is excellent, but a 9 is exceptional."

Elpers began her experience at USI as an elementary education major, but two courses impelled her toward a major in mathematics. One was Math 106 Introductory Mathematical Concepts for Teachers.

"It was a whole new world for me," she said. She found that she liked explaining how to go about solving mathematical problems.

Another meaningful course was Mathematics 253 Principles of Mathematical Logic. She discovered a love for doing mathematical proofs, a task that she said "makes most people groan inwardly."

Elpers is a graduate of Bosse High School in Evansville. She said, "I enjoyed science in high school and could do math, but I was all about reading and writing."
She credits her mother and sister, both avid readers, with inspiring her love of literature. Her family also encouraged her musically with a piano and other instruments available in the home. Elpers plays the Appalachian mountain dulcimer.

She is secretary of the USI Math Club and a math tutor in Academic Skills. She works part time at the Evansville Museum of Arts, History, and Science as a Girl Scout instructor.

From 2005-09, Elpers held the Rebecca Nunn Couch Endowed Presidential Scholarship. She will graduate summa cum laude as a University Honors Scholar with a Bachelor of Arts degree this semester and plans to pursue a doctorate in mathematics. Her goal is to teach mathematics at the college level.




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