Senior Math Major to be Published in Journal
Can discrete equations modeling biological systems be transformed into a system of continuous equations that still exhibits the same behavior? If so, how?
This was the question that turned senior Laura Hochstetler into a soon-to-be-published author of an article recently accepted by the Bulletin of Mathematical Biology.
“Publication in a peer-reviewed academic journal is hard for everyone, and particularly unusual for an undergrad student,” said Dr. David Coulliette, professor in Asbury’s mathematics department. “In pure mathematics, an undergrad simply doesn’t have the background to contribute to the professional community. Applying math to a particular application, as in Laura’s project, is a great way to contribute.”
For more than eight weeks last summer, Hochstetler wrestled with the applied math question in Lincoln, Neb., with three other students from across the country. She conducted her Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) — a research internship sponsored by the National Science Foundation — at the University of Nebraska under Professor Alan Veliz-Cuba.
A math major, Hochstetler had to ease into the science aspect. “The internship was in applied math with questions directed in biology,” Hochstetler said. “I hadn’t taken biology since ninth grade, so there was a little bit of reading up to do.”
The question was prompted from a paper published in 2009 that had focused on particular biological conditions and specific situations within them. Hochstetler’s assignment was to generalize the findings and remove some of the specific restrictions involved. She and her team finished the work developing new theorems and steps to the already established algorithm faster than expected, so they were able to process their results and write a first draft of their article. Veliz-Cuba took their draft and “polished it up,” she said. “He wrote an introduction and added some theorems.”
Hochstetler’s opportunity sprang from her love for Asbury’s annual math modeling competitions and guidance from her advisor, Dr. David Coulliette.
“Dr. Coulliette encouraged me to consider applying for a research internship in math even back in my freshman year,” she said. “ I did the internship to find out if I was interested in it. If it had turned out to be a terrible experience, honestly, that would have been great. I wanted to find out if this would be for me.”
Hochstetler’s willingness to tackle new intellectual challenges has characterized her time at Asbury. She came as a freshman with a love for teaching and explaining complicated concepts, but no clear idea of how to translate that love into a major. As she enrolled in several different subjects, searching for a good fit, she also was searching for a church to attend.
“God basically created His own sermon series for me out of every church I went to,” Hochstetler said. The messages about depending on God to pursue what cannot be done with human strength began to pile up, and a pattern emerged that pointed to studying math.
“Math was the very hardest class,” she said. “It was the hardest thing for me to do. Maybe because it was the most challenging, it held my interest.”
This interest and commitment has developed into the rare occurrences of an article published from an REU, and Hochstetler said that she believes her passion for research will play a role after Asbury. But Hochstetler said she sees school as more than her studies.
“For me, it’s been so much more about becoming a certain kind of person than acquiring a body of knowledge,” she said. “Asbury had the best balance of actual academic integrity and rigor and, as they say, spiritual vitality. I found that really refreshing.”
--by Will Houp '12