"Anyone can do math. I want to help people conquer what they're afraid of." So summates Chantel Blackburn, a senior mathematics major and religion/physics minor at Andrews University. Recipient of top honors at this year's Albuquerque, New Mexico MathFest, held on August 4, Blackburn earned the Council on Undergraduate Research award for delivering her noteworthy student research presentation at the Pi Mu Epsilon (National Mathematics Honor Society) session of MathFest. The Michigan Gamma Chapter of Pi Mu Epsilon, presided by Blackburn, is hubbed at Andrews University. Blackburn's contribution to MathFest was the culmination of her participation in this summer's Research Experience for Undergrads (REU), a program offered by various universities nationwide and supported by a National Science Foundation grant.
A Walla Walla, Washington native and west-of-the-Mississippi resident, Blackburn attributes her desire to teach college coupled with Andrews University's paramount education program for inspiring her to choose a comparatively eastern institution at which to pursue higher education. Blackburn also nods to the influence of several exceptionally inspiring academy teachers, who were Andrews alumni.
As an incoming freshman at Andrews, Blackburn quickly realized what she felt was fairly comprehensive mathematical knowledge left little to boast of. Blackburn's admittance that she found calculus difficult might seem incongruent when one considers she just spent the summer mastering the impossibly complex Hausdorff Metric. But Blackburn stresses she faced the same challenges all incoming students face. She just didn't let them discourage her. "I tried my best, worked hard, and requested help," she says.
And help her professors did. One of Blackburn's fondest memories of introductory math classes is the supportive and accommodating nature of her professors, under whose guidance and collaboration she has accomplished what she "never thought possible." Not only did they unravel the mysteries of knotty math for her, they also engaged her in field-related research-much like the presentation that won her the MathFest award, which, despite being "a huge academic challenge," resulted in her amassing invaluable experience she expects will translate itself into her future professorial career. Currently, Blackburn and Andrews University math professor Shandelle Henson are preparing to co-publish a paper in a professional mathematical journal.
While no longer befuddled by logarithms or linear transformations, Blackburn is not beyond succumbing to anxiety. She admits transitioning to post-graduation life "terrifies" her. Still, she is currently calculating tentative plans to attend graduate school in pursuit of a teaching degree. "If I can help just one person believe in him/herself, then I think the world will be a better place." With such inexorable optimism an integral variable in Blackburn's attitude, it seems indeed likely that she will not only make a difference but also sum professional and personal success in whichever post-graduate plan she subscribes to.