The federal government hires more mathematicians than any other employer, so wouldn’t it make sense for undergraduate math students to study ethics? Or for the legions of number-crunchers involved in psychological research to learn about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs?
Insights like these have prompted a new option for PSU students who previously may have considered double-majoring or minoring with math and another subject. The value of interdisciplinary studies, coupled with résumé-building opportunities for experimental design and data gathering, are at the core of Plymouth State’s new Computational and Applied Mathematical Sciences (CAMS) discipline.
While applied math is becoming more popular at the graduate level, the vast majority of undergraduate math programs take a traditional route that prepares students for graduate work. Programs at Brigham Young University and the University of Chicago are among a handful nationwide that are similar to Plymouth State’s new offering in their opportunities for applied work, though their curricular requirements are made up entirely of computer science and math courses. The University’s new program is unique in that it more evenly distributes its coursework across other fields.
“This is what a ‘Cluster major’ can be; a partnership with other disciplines within the Cluster,” explains Professor Emma Norbrothen Wright, who chairs the new discipline. Math courses account for half of the CAMS requirements, and computer science courses for a quarter. Students can choose their remaining enrichment options from other Exploration and Discovery Cluster disciplines, including biology, chemistry, meteorology, and psychology, as well as from criminal justice of the Justice and Security Cluster.
These other disciplines provide students with experience in particular fields where mathematics and computer science can be applied. CAMS graduates will be equipped with the background to properly implement a wide range of highly applicable skills, which will enable them to serve in a variety of jobs in an evolving economy.
“Math applies to everything, and CAMS will help employers see it applies to their industries,” says Professor Justin Wright, who teaches several discipline courses. “CAMS combines mathematical and computer science skills with other, specialized knowledge, which we hope will help students land jobs faster.
“The goal is to produce graduates that can immediately begin working in government and industry jobs or pursue a graduate degree,” he continues. “These graduates will be ideally suited for analyst positions in any industry and be particularly strong candidates for positions related to their enrichment option. Students at other institutions in similar programs have gone on to work for companies such as Amazon, Apple, Disney, Microsoft, Oracle, and Raytheon or with government agencies like the IRS and NSA.”
PSU’s two math modeling courses, inspired by the Mathematical Association of America’s “PIC Math” (Preparation for Industrial Careers in Mathematical Sciences) program, demonstrate the interdisciplinary appeal of CAMS. Both have attracted students from other majors, and the current spring course features a partnership with the New Hampshire Environmental Public Health Tracking Program, through which students will analyze a potential correlation between geographical location and incidence of respiratory disease.
True to Plymouth State’s Cluster vision, the collaboration illustrates the potential of CAMS to involve students in projects with interdisciplinary colleagues and outside entities in meaningful work that goes beyond the classroom and has impact in the real world.
“CAMS is a multidisciplinary experience similar to what students might receive from an engineering school, except that it’s taking place within Plymouth State’s small-school environment,” says Wright. “It’s currently taking place within the Exploration and Discovery and Justice and Security Clusters, but we can imagine it to eventually include just about every discipline on campus.”
■ Peter Lee Miller
CAMS TARGETS FAST-GROWING JOBS
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, overall average job growth is 5.2 percent with median annual wages of $38,000. CAMS majors will enjoy the following options:
- Mathematicians, 36% growth, $102,000 median annual wage
- Operations research analysts, 25%, $83,000
- Statisticians, 30.7%, $87,000
Related fields, including information security analysts, market research analysts, and software developers, are also on the fast-growing list.