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CSE senior finds community, creativity in UMN math program

According to Delanna Do, math isn’t just about the numbers

Delanna Do has been doing calculus since she was in seventh grade. When she was in elementary school, she asked for extra math problems to do after class—for fun.

“I was basically begging my mother to let me take math classes outside of school,” said Do, who recently graduated from the College of Science and Engineering in December with her bachelor’s degree in math.

“I was an absolute math nerd.”

It’s fitting, then, that one of Do’s favorite experiences during her time at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities was the Integration Bee, hosted each semester by grad students in the School of Mathematics. It’s like a spelling bee except the students solve integrals, math functions typically learned in Calculus I.

Do grew up in Minneapolis, Minn., and started at the University as a PSEO student when she was in high school. She competed in the Integration Bee her first year as a Gopher.

“The grad student hosts were absolutely hilarious,” Do said.

“They made it feel like the math department was one great, big family. I got to know them, and some of the grad students I met there later on became my mentors.”

For Do, the community and collaboration she found in the School of Mathematics was one of the coolest parts of her U of M journey. She participated in several department activities, such as the Women in Mathematics student group and the Mathematics Project in Minnesota (MPM), a weeklong event open to students from other universities and focused on building community for students from underrepresented communities. And, the grad students who helped run those activities never hesitated to help Do with math questions or grad school applications.

“My grad student mentors were great because they’ve been exposed to more math,” Do explained. “Sometimes you learn things, and it doesn’t make any sense if you don’t have the context, but they’ve had some real-world experience with it and helped me understand why I was learning certain things.”

Being so involved also helped Do get exposed to different types of math research that grad students and professors were doing. 

In the mathematics field, there are two main camps—pure math and applied math. In most of the applied or computational research, mathematicians develop theorems that other scientists, such as physicists, can use to solve problems in their respective fields. 

Applied math is where Do’s interests lie. She’s currently doing a post-baccalaureate research program for the semester at Smith College in Massachusetts. In the fall, she’ll go to grad school to pursue a Ph.D. in mathematics, where her studies will likely intersect with computer science. Do’s ultimate goal is to work in industry, ideally for a company like NASA, where she can do computational math that applies to space research. 

One of the main skills Do will take away from her time at the University of Minnesota is how to learn more efficiently—and realizing that math is inherently creative. In one particular class with CSE professor Ionut Ciocan-Fontanine, Do and her fellow students were given seven different problems that all used the Intermediate Value Theorem (a popular theorem used to solve calculus problems) in different ways. 

“I thought that was really interesting and a cool way to present how powerful a theorem can be, and how being creative in mathematics is important because one theorem does not necessarily only have one application,” Do said.

“While math can be done individually, classes are very collaborative. When you work on homework with other people, you can learn how they think and then add that to your own toolbox. You might think you have the most creative and efficient way of solving a math problem, and then somebody comes up with a better one. It makes you think about how you can come up with a better solution in the future.”

Story by Olivia Hultgren


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