Kieran Okerstrom '18

Kieran Okerstrom

Majors: Mathematics, Computer Science, Biology

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

Luther’s mathematics major allows the flexibility to explore whatever subfields of math a student may be interested in. I’ve always been very interested in statistics, so I was able to take a year of upper-level statistics courses. I also took courses such as Math Methods through the Biology Department, and others that directly relate to my field of study.

At Luther, students can easily meld their mathematics major with a second major, which I believe gives a competitive advantage to these students as they apply for jobs, graduate school, or professional school. The faculty are committed to making each student’s math major work for them, as opposed to just fulfilling a set of standard requirements.

What experiences at Luther have been most valuable so far?

I believe that the mathematics courses I’ve taken have been the most valuable experiences at Luther for two reasons. The first is that I’ve taken more mathematics courses than anything else, so I’ve had time to lay a strong foundation and make a lot of connections between different areas of math, such as between statistics and calculus. Secondly, math courses often have surprising applications. For example, in my discrete mathematics class, we learned how to dissect verbal arguments to determine if they were logical. Mathematical argumentation is universally useful, whether as a student writing a proof, as a lawyer in a courtroom, or as a Luther student trying to convince his mother that studying in England is worth being away from home for a year.

Describe Luther’s math faculty.

The math faculty have been consistently impressive in their ability to help students learn at all course levels. I know of many students who have taken a course in the math department to fulfill their quantitative or pre-professional requirements, and ended up getting a math minor or switching their fields entirely because the department drew them in.

As I’ve progressed in the upper-level courses, I’ve seen firsthand that deciding which math courses to take can be intimidating because there are so many different directions to take. The faculty’s guidance has shown me that not only are they great at teaching, they are also committed to helping students build their careers so that they’ll be successful beyond graduation.

Have you been involved in a research project?

I have been involved in the Luther College Bat Project, and the experience has allowed me to integrate my studies in biology and computer science, and hopefully will involve statistics in the future. The project broadly aims to help conserve bat populations in Decorah, especially considering the potential impact of the Luther turbine on local endangered species.

My role is primarily data management and data collection. We’ve recently expanded our data collection by starting a citizen-science program. It has given Decorah residents access to mobile bat-detector backpacks, which we call bat packs. By educating the public about bats, we hope to dispel the cringe-worthy myths that have been a result of the negative media depiction of bats.

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

My goal is to attend a graduate program for computational biology. Ideally, the program I attend would be split evenly between applied mathematics, biology, and computer science. After that, I hope to get involved in the international scientific community and study genetics or developmental biology.

I’m particularly interested in studying the human genome, stem cell science, or infectious diseases. I hope that an integral part of my work will involve statistics or mathematical modeling. Eventually, I would like to teach mathematics as it applies to biology, after I've accumulated experience in my field.

Luther’s campus programming always has interesting lectures going on, which gives students more to think about than just their academic work. Big names, like Cornel West, have often led me to consider Luther’s impressive connections.

—Kieran Okerstrom


  • Student researcher for the Luther College Bat Project
  • Luther College Debate Team
  • Student Senate
  • Mathematics competitions
  • Executive Board of Animal Allies (coordinates student volunteering at the local animal shelter)

I’ll be spending the next academic year in Nottingham, England, where I’ll continue my studies in computational biology. While I'm there, I hope to travel to Norway and Germany, where I hope to witness international scientific research in progress.

—Kieran Okerstrom