General Information for New Students
The strength of the mathematics program at Virginia Tech is in its strong career orientation (where there are four different graduation paths that you may follow) and also in its faculty (where there is a strong emphasis in both teaching excellence and research). Both of these features are absolutely essential toward the development of your potential in mathematics, and you should analyze them carefully in any college or university that you are considering. If you are a prospective student, and want more information on Mathematics at Virginia Tech, please also see our Prospective Student Website, as well.
The four different paths that you may follow towards a BS degree in Mathematics are:
- The Traditional Option
- The Applied Computational Mathematics Option (ACM)
- The Applied Discrete Mathematics Option (ADM)
- The Education Option
Furthermore, if you pursue a degree in the Honors Program, you and your advisor, in consultation with your dean and department head, can tailor your own individual set of graduation requirements.
The Traditional Option, as its name implies, yields a broad and flexible background in mathematics. The other three options are more specialized. The ACM is designed for students who are confident that they want to have an applied mathematics career in an area closely associated with physics or some form of engineering. The ADM is designed for students who are confident that they want to have an applied mathematics career in an area closely associated with computer science, statistics, or actuarial science.The Education Option is designed for students who are confident that they want to teach high- or middle-school mathematics.
Often students will begin their studies in the Traditional Option, and later change to one of the other three options when they become more sure of the path that they wish to pursue. You, however, can acquire many aspects of the three specialized options within the Traditional Option, because it also requires a certain degree of specialization in an applications area and provides career development features. The three specialized options are each less general, but bring particular career paths into sharper focus. Each of the four options provides an excellent foundation for graduate study, either in mathematics or in an applications area. Handbooks that on-going students use to guide their progress towards graduation in any of the four options are available upon request from the Mathematics Department.
The stress on quality of teaching needs no explanation. As such, the Mathematics Department has a Teacher Evaluation Committee that yearly analyzes the performance of all instructors. The findings of this committee are a strong part of promotion or raise recommendations. It is well-known among students that our head will listen carefully to what they have to say about how classes are taught. For example, the head has always resisted a common trend in many universities to teach calculus in huge recitation sections. In fact, at Virginia Tech no mathematics student will encounter a mathematics course with more than thirty-five students, including calculus, and several of the upper-level courses are considerably smaller. As further evidence of the emphasis on the quality of instruction, several of our faculty have worked individually with honors students on undergraduate research projects. (Samples of reports on these projects are also available upon request.)
The research activity of the faculty is important to all undergraduate students, not just the ones who intend to go to graduate school. For example, for those who go into industry after graduation, it is essential that the faculty be aware of what types of mathematics are currently important in various applied areas. Upon request, we will send you a list of research papers and texts published by Virginia Tech mathematicians in the past four years. You will not yet have the mathematical background to read this work carefully, but you should note its quality, quantity, and diversity. The work ranges from traditional theoretical areas such as algebra and topology to many areas of applied mathematics, e.g., neutron transport theory, aerodynamical control theory, wave propagation in disturbed media, crystallography, stochastic processes, fluid dynamics, continuum mechanics, structure of materials, mathematical biology, etc. You can see that you have a great choice in terms of which type of mathematics you wish to study, and to which type of problems you wish to apply it. You can also see the fine level of financial support for this research from exterior sources - a good indication of the esteem in which this faculty is held by the leaders in their respective fields. In many schools you will be limited either by the number of applications areas represented on the faculty, or by not having enough interested students to justify teaching a course in a particular area.
The undergraduate degree program in mathematics is very flexible. Although about one-third of our students choose computing and computational mathematics as an applied specialty, many other areas are also represented, e.g., mathematical biology, operations research, physics or engineering, actuarial science, etc. The requirements of the program break into three categories:
- Mathematics courses
- Core curriculum courses
- Mathematics-related courses (the applications specialties)
The Curriculum for a Liberal Education courses are introductory courses in natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities. They are easily completed by the end of the sophomore year. The mathematics-related or applications courses are taught by other departments, but in general have a calculus prerequisite. Hence these courses are taken mainly the junior and senior years. Of course, mathematics courses are taken (4, 5 or 6 hours) each term. This leaves about seven courses that are absolutely free as electives. Your advisor or one of our two Career Advisors will help you decide how to select these free electives advantageously. The Career Advisors and the student mathematics organization will also sponsor many activities, including visits to campus by mathematicians to discuss the type of work they do for specific corporations.
The University, through its Admissions and Scholarship Offices, offers several large scholarships, e.g., National Merit, University Distinguished, and Presidential. The Mathematics Department offers approximately $8,000 in Hatcher and Roselle Scholarships. These scholarships are based solely on merit. For further information, contact the Scholarship Chairman, in care of the Mathematics Department.
We sincerely believe that we have the advantages of a large school with the individuality of a small school. We suggest that you request similar faculty and program information from other schools you are considering. In particular, please be sure that you are not misled by a seemingly glamorous name. For instance, a high-recognition school may be famous because of its history and biology curricula, but it may not have a strong mathematics program.
We hope you will consider mathematics at Virginia Tech, and we will be happy to have you visit us and test us against your other choices. We welcome the comparison. If you cannot visit our campus, you can phone or write Dr. Robert Rogers, for further information. We are convinced that the more you learn, the more you will be impressed.