Erin Ellefsen '17

Erin Ellefsen

Major: Math

Why did you choose to study math?

Math has always been a subject I’ve enjoyed and been good at. I especially like using information I’ve learned to draw conclusions. The discovery element of figuring out a problem is very exciting to me.

What do you think makes Luther's math major distinct?

My favorite thing about studying math at Luther is my relationship with the faculty. Class sizes are smaller and the professors are very accessible. I can easily see them during their office hours and ask questions about homework or topics I don’t understand.

My professors have also helped me plan my future semesters at Luther, prepare for graduate school, and discover programs I can apply to for summer research positions.

Have you been involved in a research project?

I worked on a research project with Kyle Fey, one of my professors, and student, John Doorenbos. We researched disease spread in populations. Using a computer program we wrote, we simulated how a disease spreads in a discrete network of people. Our model eliminated a key assumption from a commonly used continuous model. We then compared the results from our model with those from the commonly used continuous model. We did this for different vaccination levels and varied population structures. We’re hoping to present our results at the Student Research Symposium in May.

I also have the opportunity to take on another research topic this summer. I’ve been accepted into an REU (Research Experience for Undergraduates) Program at Oregon State University. I will spend eight weeks working on a research project with another student in the program and a professor at the university.

What do you hope to do with your degree after graduation?

My hope is to go to graduate school after Luther. From there, I’m not quite sure what I want to do. I would like to teach, as I like the academic atmosphere and would love to instill interest in the subject in other students as my professors have done for me. I would also love the opportunity to continue doing research.

Have you studied abroad?

I took the J-term course Art in Cultural Perspective in Italy, France, and Germany. It was incredible how much I was able to learn about something that was out of my major in three and a half weeks. Being able to see the works of art in person and learn the history behind them, the artists, and the cities we were in was incredible. I also learned a lot about travel, culture, and the people.

Why did you choose a liberal arts education?

I chose a liberal arts education because I have a wide range of interests. For example, I feel fortunate to have taken a few art classes. I believe the art courses have also contributed to my math education since constructing a proof requires an element of creativity.

I also took a class called Islam and the West. I believe the experience will help me make a better contribution to society in general, which I think is a crucial part of a college education. The class was very applicable as it discussed the Islamic faith and the widespread fear of this religion in our society. It also highlighted how destructive making conclusions with a lack of information can be, as well as how easy it is to be naive about what we don’t know.

What experiences at Luther have been most valuable so far?

Getting involved in cross country and track and field has been one of my most valuable experiences. It’s given me a team of friends that I run with every day. It has also helped me explore Decorah and the gorgeous surrounding areas on foot, places I probably never would have seen if I wasn’t a part of the team.

One of my favorite events that the Cross Country team takes part in every year happens during pre-season when we’re training the week before most students arrive. We spend a day working with Decorah Human Powered Trails doing trail maintenance or creating new trails. I think it’s incredible because, as runners, we make great use of the trails and it’s fun to be able to help maintain them for use by the team and the people of Decorah.

Trying to tackle hard problems on my own, while having a professor as a resource to guide my thinking, has been very important in overcoming challenges during my learning process.

—Erin Ellefsen

Read more about Erin’s undergraduate research project “A Mathematical Model for Vaccinations.”