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Math students gain industry knowledge without leaving classroom
Dr. Michele Joyner

JOHNSON CITY (March 16, 2016) – The course is called “Preparation for Industrial Careers in Mathematical Sciences.” And the 18 students who are enrolled in it this semester at East Tennessee State University are learning how mathematics is used every day in two major American industrial operations, Eastman Chemical Co. in Kingsport and the MIT Lincoln Laboratory in Lexington, Massachusetts. They’re doing so without having to leave the confines of their ETSU classroom.

Such experience is made possible at several institutions across the country through a grant from the National Science Foundation. This is the first year of the program at ETSU, and Dr. Michele Joyner, associate professor of Mathematics and Statistics, says because of its success, the course will be repeated again next spring and perhaps beyond.

 “Our students need to learn what it’s like in industry,” says Joyner. “Math is used every day in industry, but many students don’t know that.”

Joyner knows firsthand. She once worked at Lincoln Labs. A faculty member at ETSU since 2010, she holds a Ph.D. in applied mathematics from North Carolina State University.

The students in her ETSU class work directly with Dr. Baptiste Lebreton, operations research manager for Eastman’s Data Science Group. 

 “He has spoken to our class and has offered to do so again,” Joyner says. “He and the students exchange emails a lot. The relationship with Eastman has been very beneficial.”

Joyner says the program has been good for the two companies as well, as students contribute ideas to maximize profit and minimize cost.

The NSF-funded program is a joint effort of the Mathematical Association of America and the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics. Through the program, faculty attend a three-day summer workshop, where they receive information about non-academic careers and internship opportunities for students, guidance on developing business and industry connections, and training on how to develop skills in students that are valued by employers.

During the Preparation for Industrial Careers in Mathematical Sciences course, groups of students work on a problem proposed by an industrial partner. At the end of the course, a chosen team from the class submits a technical report and video presentation detailing a solution to the original problem.

The report and video are then submitted to a panel of judges, to compete against the work of students from across the country. The students will also be invited to present their results in person at a national mathematics meeting. That meeting will be held this summer in Boston.

For more information about the program, contact Joyner at 423-439-6974 or .
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