(Mathematics, Statistics, and Computer Science)
Mathematics, the study of patterns and order, is a creative art, a language, and a science. The practice of mathematics combines the aesthetic appeal of creating patterns of ideas with the utilitarian appeal of applications of these same ideas. Long seen as the language of physical science, mathematics is also used increasingly to model phenomena in the biological and social sciences. Mathematical literacy is indispensable in today’s society. As members of the Department of Mathematics, Statistics, and Computer Science (MSCS), mathematics faculty strive to help students understand natural connections among these related but distinct disciplines.
Mathematics at St. Olaf is interesting, exciting, accessible, and an appropriate area of study for all students. Each year, seven to ten percent of graduating seniors complete mathematics majors. The department offers courses representing various mathematical perspectives: theoretical and applied, discrete and continuous, algebraic and geometric, and more. Our faculty also teach courses in statistics, computer science, and mathematics education.
A concentration in statistics and data science as well as a major in computer science are also available. Courses in these areas are taught by faculty from the Department of Mathematics, Statistics, and Computer Science. For more information on these, consult the separate listings under Statistics and Data Science and Computer Science.
Overview of the Major
Students arrange a major in mathematics by developing an Individualized Mathematics Proposal (IMaP). An IMaP outlines a complete, coherent program of study consistent with the goals of the individual student. The courses included in a student’s IMaP are determined after consultation with an MSCS faculty member and approved by the department chair. About ten courses are normally required.
Special Programs and Opportunities
Mathematical experiences inside and outside the classroom are important parts of St. Olaf mathematics. Following are some of the many possibilities. For more information consult the mathematics website or a mathematics faculty member.
- Research: An invigorating way to explore mathematics; research opportunities exist both on and off campus.
- Experiential learning: Internships, independent studies, and various courses (including MSCS 390 Mathematics Practicum) allow students to apply mathematical knowledge beyond the classroom.
- Study abroad: The IMaP’s flexibility allows study abroad programs to fit into a student’s mathematics major. Students interested in a program focused on upper-level mathematics should consider the Budapest Semesters in Mathematics (BSM). Also, Math 239 Number Theory, is taught in Budapest with a St. Olaf Mathematics Professor. Students interested in the learning and teaching of secondary mathematics may consider Budapest Semesters in Mathematics Education (BSME).
- Problem solving and competitions: The department organizes problem-solving activities and sponsors student participation in regional and national competitions.
- Student organizations: The department has an active student Math Club and student representation of the national organization Pi Mu Epsilon.
See Academic Honors
Distinction in mathematics is awarded to graduating seniors for distinguished work that goes beyond the minimum requirements for the major. Information is available in the MSCS department and on the mathematics website.
Recommendations for Graduate Study
Students planning graduate work in the mathematical sciences should pursue both depth and breadth in their majors. A broad range of courses will help students prepare for the Graduate Record Exam subject test in mathematics. Fifty percent of the GRE subject test covers single and multivariable calculus, and differential equations; 25 percent covers material from linear algebra, abstract algebra, and elementary number theory; 25 percent covers more advanced topics: real analysis, topology, combinatorics, complex analysis, probability, statistics, etc. Taking many level III courses will help students prepare for graduate study. Real Analysis II, Abstract Algebra II, Topology, Combinatorics, and Complex Analysis are especially recommended for students going into "pure" mathematics; Differential Equations II, Complex Analysis, Real Analysis II, and Applied Mathematics seminars are especially recommended for students going into applied mathematics. Research experiences (on or off campus) and independent studies will also help students assess and explore their interest in further mathematical study. Students considering graduate school should consult early with a mathematics faculty member about planning an appropriate IMaP.