Q & A with Christopher Flippen
One of my favorite parts about the VCU math department is the availability of the professors. The math professors that I have had so far have all been very willing to discuss math topics outside of class and to help me find research projects in topics that I am interested in.
Why did you decide to study math?
I was originally just majoring in computer science, but after taking several math classes as part of my computer science degree, I became interested in focusing more on math due to how fun I found it. This led me to declaring math as a double major during my second semester at VCU.
What was your favorite class that you took in your major? And why?
Partial Differential Equations (MATH 433) is my favorite math class that I have taken so far. This class appealed to me because of how it combines some of my favorite topics from earlier classes such as calculus, real analysis and intro to differential equations in order to solve problems that yielded consistently surprising results. Working with the Fourier series was my favorite topic in this class.
Who was your favorite professor in your major? And why?
My favorite professor so far has been Dr. Neal Bushaw. Professor Bushaw is very skilled at explaining relatively abstract math concepts in simple and intuitive ways. One reason that many people dislike math is because they've had teachers who make math confusing or difficult to understand. Professor Bushaw's ability to explain concepts in intuitive ways allowed learning math in his classes to be fun. The ability to teach math in intuitive ways is something that I admire especially because I am interested in becoming a math professor, and I want to be able to teach students how to enjoy math and understand the beauty of it.
Can you tell us about any research projects you participated in?
I have participated in three research projects so far. My first project was with Dr. Neal Bushaw and was entitled, “Bootstrap Percolation via Automated Conjecturing.” This project involved studying a topic within graph theory known as bootstrap percolation which models the spread of a virus in networks.
I also worked with Dr. Allison Moore on a project through the Honors Summer Research Program entitled, “Knots and Links in Three-manifolds.” This project involved studying properties of an object called the Gordian graph within the field of knot theory. The results from this project were recently accepted for publication by the Journal of Knot Theory and its Ramifications.
My third project, which I started working on recently with Dr. Ihsan Topaloglu is part of the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program, and is entitled, “Anisotropic Extensions of Nonlocal Interaction Models.” This project involves using differential equations and numerical methods to study the behavior of swarming models under different types of forces known as interaction kernels.
All three of these projects have improved my breadth of knowledge in math, taught me about how research is done in different branches of math, and they have helped me figure out which types of math I am most interested in pursuing at a graduate level.
Why should students consider mathematics as a major?
Math is a good choice of major partially because of how many fields of study it can be used in. One aspect of mathematics that consistently surprises me is the sheer number of fields of math that exist and the range of things it can be used to study. Math also appeals to me because I find it fun. Math is all about solving puzzles and obtaining surprising or useful results, which is a process that I really enjoy.
Want to know more about the math major? Check out Mariana Fernandes Gragnani's AMA (ask-me-anything) story highlight on the College of Humanities and Sciences Instagram page.