Sarah’s experiences with the Math and Computer Science programs here at SJU have shaped the way that she approaches the subjects in her undergraduate career and beyond.
The first few weeks of the fall semester bring back memories of freshman year and desperately trying to find common ground with 1,275 new classmates. “Where are you from?” “Where are you living this year?” and of course “What’s your major?” In response to that last question, I heard a lot of, “Accounting,” “Food Marketing,” “General Marketing,” and many other derivatives of business, as well as “Biology,” “English,” and “Education.” In other words, the inhabitants of Mandeville, the Science Center, and Merion Hall. However, tucked away in the second floor corridors of Barbelin are a very small number of us devoting our time to math and computer science.
This summer, I spent eight weeks at the University of West Georgia participating in a National Science Foundation program, researching graph theory and number theory with seven other students from across the country. As we inevitably compared our respective schools, most of them were quite shocked to learn how tiny both the math and computer science departments here at Saint Joseph’s University are. I think the unspoken question when this comes up is, “Why?” “Why choose a school where the programs are so small?” However, I wouldn’t trade my experience being tucked away in those two corridors of Barbelin for a whole building dedicated to mathematics.
As my professor mentioned on our first day of Real Analysis, “There’s not an unfamiliar face in the room.” What I love about being a part of such small departments is that I know almost all of the faculty and students across the classes, as well as the friendly and collaborative environment. Our professors care about us, and we care about each other. I know in the coming weeks as I’m tearing my hair out studying for the math GRE I can walk into the office of any professor in the department and get help and a pep talk. Coming into computer science with no programming experience was nerve-racking, but my classmates who had been coding for years were happy to share their knowledge.
It might seem as though a small department would mean limited opportunities, but I’ve found nothing of the sort. As an incoming freshman my Orientation leader connected me with a senior math major, the Supplemental Instructor from her math class. Over the course of my freshman year, she became a great friend and mentor, encouraging me to apply to be a supplemental instructor myself and happily giving me all kinds of advice on her experience with internships and research. I was able to secure an internship at the same place the summer after my sophomore year, somewhere I likely wouldn’t have had the courage to apply without her encouragement. As a senior, with my own research and internship experience, I have been happy to continue the tradition of passing along advice and mentorship to friends in subsequent years.
Being a part of the Math and Computer Science departments at Saint Joseph’s have truly shaped what I will look for as I begin my graduate school search. Knowing the benefits of being in such a welcoming and cooperative environment and the ways in which it has helped me learn and grow both in subject matter and as a person and leader, has made me eager to find somewhere similar. Although in May, which already feels too close, I’ll be moving on, I know I will miss my home in those two second floor corridors of Barbelin (as well as the rest of Hawk Hill). But hey, at least I know “The Hawk Will Never Die.”
Sarah Cooney ’17 is a Math and Computer Science double-major from Mifflinburg, Pennsylvania. She serves as a Supplemental Instructor, Writing Center tutor, and Sigma Zeta Executive Board Member. She’s also a member of the Upsilon Pi Epsilon Computer Science Honor Society and Pi Epsilon Mu Math Honor Society. When she’s not coding or writing proofs on Hawk Hill, she can be found napping with her two beloved dogs at home.