To hear the enthusiasm of these four senior math majors, you’d think the women had won the lottery—and they kind of have. Finding a major you love and are really good at—that’s pretty much the college jackpot.

Seniors Cecylia Bocovich (Coon Rapids, Minn.), Elise delMas (St. Paul), Wanyi Li (Shanghai), and Jeanmarie Youngblood (Brooklyn, N.Y.) have all been caught up in the beauty of mathematics. All four are headed to mathematics graduate programs this fall.

Bocovich comes from a long line of number lovers. Her father is an electrical engineer and her mother and grandmother are CPAs, but her plan was to buck the trend and major in chemistry—until she set her sleeve on fire in chemistry lab and realized that what she loved about chemistry was the math. An avid member of the women’s hockey team, Bocovich will graduate this spring with majors in both math and computer science.

“Everything is a puzzle to figure out,” she says. “I like the logic and the proofs; there’s such elegance.”

There is an old axiom that a flair for math is often accompanied by a talent for music, and if true, delMas makes a perfect example. She plays flute in Flying Fingers, a Mac folk music group, and also is active in shape note singing, but finds abstract algebra equally beautiful. “Everything is a puzzle to figure out,” she says. “I like the logic and the proofs; there’s such elegance.”

In Li’s country, the liberal arts college remains an anomaly. She’s majoring in applied math and economics, and minoring in computer science and psychology. Says Li, “I never could have done that in China.” She’s particularly interested in mathematical modeling, which, as she puts it, “makes the unobservable, observable.” Her honors thesis deals with the influence of elementary school attendance zones on Shanghai’s housing market.

Youngblood specializes in graph theory, which has to do with computer networks. She received an Outstanding Presentation award at the 2012 Joint Mathematics Meetings, the world’s largest annual math meeting. She’s also majoring in educational studies and has tutored students in math through several local programs. On school breaks she often competes in national Scrabble competitions “just for fun.”

All four women are quick to credit the Macalester faculty for their success. “I’ve never met a group of people so focused on helping students advance,” says Bocovich. “But the best thing is to see people you respect happy doing what you hope to do.”

May 1 2012

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