Rebekah Coggin, ’14, University of Kansas, PhD in Applied Mathematics

University of Kansas

Rebekah Coggin ’14 came to Calvin certain that she would study some kind of science or engineering. However, once she took Calculus I and an interim course called “Mathematics, Beauty and the Mind of God”, both taught by the same professor, she was sold on majoring in mathematics.

“Seeing how math could be applied to the physical world in such incredible ways helped me realize that understanding the math that physicists and engineers use is much more exciting than constructing the physics theories or engineering projects themselves,” says Rebekah.

Rebekah’s interest in math continued to develop while participating in summer research at Calvin. Rebekah worked with Professor Bolt and one other student to study the mathematics behind the card game, Spot it!, which resulted in a published paper on this research. The following summer, Rebekah landed an internship with the Department of Homeland Security at the Pacific Northwest Research National Laboratory. Here, she worked to improve the accuracy and efficiency of the Chemical Mixture Methodology (CMM), which assesses chemicals released into the atmosphere in an emergency situation, such as an earthquake at a chemical storage facility. It considers how dangerous each chemical is to the human body, which bodily system it affects, and reports a safe distance from the release point of the chemicals.

“This internship provided a contrast for me between the theoretical math research I did at Calvin and the applied math I saw at the lab,” Rebekah explains. “It was key in helping me decide to pursue applied mathematics at Calvin and in grad school.”

Because of Calvin's small class sizes and the professors' genuine interest in the students, Rebekah had another unique chance to learn from research during her senior year. She worked one-on-one with an applied math professor in the field of research she hopes to pursue in graduate school.

In the fall, Rebekah is starting a PhD program in applied mathematics at the University of Kansas. She will also be teaching undergraduate math classes as part of her graduate assistantship, and she is looking forward to starting her own research. Upon completion of her graduate program, Rebekah hopes to work at a national research laboratory, doing mathematical modeling of physical systems.

Rebekah is grateful for the professors she had at Calvin who mentored and challenged her throughout her coursework and research, and she encourages other students get to know their professors.

“Communicate with them and find out how you can get involved in the work they are doing. This will not only give you great opportunities while at Calvin, but will also open options after you graduate,” says Rebekah. Professors have been in your place before and are often more equipped than anyone else to guide you toward what you will enjoy most."

Written by Meredith Segur, posted July 2014