Academics Blog

Applied Math and Statistics

Name: Catherine Wilshusen

Year: Class of 2014

Hometown: Stewart Manor, New York

Major: Applied Mathematics and Statistics (AMS)

Minor: Computer Science

Welcome to the admissions blog! I hope my story helps you to learn more about the Applied Math program and the opportunities available for students in that department.

Why Applied Math?
In high school, I was lucky to have a wonderful math teacher. His class made me love learning about math and showed me the beauty of math, of all the patterns present in equations. The television show NUMB3RS sealed the deal of me pursuing math in college. Obviously, that show is a romanticized version of the role math has in fighting crime. But, at places like the National Security Agency and the FBI, mathematicians are hired to work in the field of cryptology and coding. For me, that seemed like an exciting and interesting way of using math to help others.

Campus at Night, on my way to work (tutoring)

Why Hopkins?
During the college hunt, I looked at many engineering schools. Hopkins stood out since there were opportunities to study cryptology in the Applied Math and Computer Science departments, as well as the Information Security Institute. The core classes in the AMS department were vigorous and provided a strong foundation for whatever area you chose to concentrate in: Probability, Statistics, Optimization, Discrete Math, Scientific Computing, and Financial Math. The courses on the website sounded interesting. If you are going to be spending most of your time studying for those classes, you should genuinely want to learn the material. I had never been exposed to these subjects before, and I was excited to explore those courses.

HUSAM Event- Art Benjamin's Mathemagics

When I came to visit Hopkins, the people in the applied math department, faculty and students, made us prospective students feel at home. One of the girls I met was a junior and an officer in HUSAM, the Hopkins Undergraduate Society for Applied Math. She was very welcoming and spoke well about the department. I ended up meeting her again when I joined HUSAM as a freshman, and we still stay in touch. Coming to Hopkins, I was also pleasantly surprised at the number of girls in my engineering classes. While most students will be guys, they do not dominate my classes. I like learning in this more balanced environment.


Aside from math, other factors drew me to Hopkins. Most of the other colleges I saw seemed to have programs made for people married to math and science: there was little time to explore other areas. I knew that kind of environment was not right for me since I enjoy creative writing and music. Hopkins engineering required at least six classes to be taken in the humanities or social sciences. I have been taking classes in the writing seminars department (which is well known and has a great faculty) to pursue my hobby and to fulfill the requirement. Having these classes exercises a different part of your brain and is a nice break from problem sets.

Peabody, where I take lessons

Finally, Hopkins had a wonderful relationship with Peabody Conservatory. Students could cross-register for lessons or music classes with Peabody faculty. I was so excited to continue pursuing music at the university level. I had been playing the clarinet and writing music on my own for a long time. Having that opportunity has been fantastic. I have been taking private lessons at Peabody since freshman year with a wonderful teacher, and I even took a music theory class at Peabody last year. Walking into the building and being surrounded by music is such a great feeling. Taking the shuttle downtown is an adventure, and I enjoy having the change of scene. The concerts at Peabody are a must-see as well!

The Applied Mathematics Major
Here is a link to the undergraduate advising manual with details. One of the strengths of the Applied Math major is its flexibility. Compared to other engineering majors, we have a lot of freedom in choosing our classes. There are a total of 15 courses required for the major. Of those, we can choose many of the courses to satisfy the requirements from selections in different categories. In all the courses I have taken, the professors are extremely knowledgeable and really want the students to learn the material. Definitely take advantage of office hours with the professors, the knowledge of the teaching assistants (TAs), and the applied math and math help rooms, where a TA will always be available to answer questions, for these courses.

PILOT math work

  • All majors are required to study single and multivariable calculus, linear algebra, and differential equations. These courses are offered through the math department. One of the most helpful resources for calculus was PILOT, Peer Led Team Learning,  which is a program run by the engineering school. A group of students meets with an upperclassman once a week to work on extra problem sets from the professor. It helps to solidify the material you are learning and to build teamwork skills.
  • Usually during freshman year, we study Discrete Math. Many different types of mathematical proof techniques are taught in this class. I found it to be a great foundation for more difficult math courses and introduction to applied math.
  • Since computers are necessary for many calculations, there is a scientific computing requirement. There are many courses to choose from to fulfill this requirement, offered through the Applied Math, Environmental Engineering, and Biomedical Engineering departments. I decided to take a class in the Environmental Engineering department. So far, it has been useful and interesting since we are learning to use VBA and excel to solve “real world” problems.
  • The upper level AMS classes are: Probability, Statistics, and Optimization. Majors are encouraged to take the graduate level Probability and Statistics classes. I took Probability last semester, and it was a great class. The professor truly cared about the students learning the difficult material, and the TA’s office hours were helpful. Now a statistics student, I am lucky enough to have the same TA and to be taught by the chair of the Applied Math department. It is one of the hardest classes I have taken here, but we are learning a great deal of theoretical and practical statistics, including some R programming. Next year, I will take Optimization, which I have heard nothing but good things about, so I am excited for that!
  • We can choose the remaining two upper level classes from the AMS department’s large variety of courses. We are encouraged to choose these courses to create a concentration for ourselves. A concentration consists of three upper level courses in one of these areas: Probability, Statistics, Optimization, Discrete Math, Scientific Computing, and Financial Math.
  •  The final three courses come from an area of application and must be taken in other departments outside of Applied Math. The natural sciences, economics, psychology, sociology, and many engineering departments would qualify as possible areas of application. I am minoring in computer science, so my area of application is in that department. I really like using the math I have learned in the computer science classes. Since computer science is based on logic and math, the departments go hand in hand. For me, computer science has been a way to make the math I am learning more concrete.

Campus Adventures
There are many opportunities for Applied Math students on campus. I am a teaching assistant for the department this semester, which has been a great experience and insight into the behind-the-scenes of a university class. I am also a tutor at the Learning Den, which provides free tutoring for all Hopkins students. Helping these students has been one of my favorite experiences in college. I have also attended tutoring. The tutors are knowledgeable and understanding – it is a fantastic resource for all students.

HUSAM, the Hopkins Undergraduate Society for Applied Mathematics, is active on campus, and I am an officer. We plan events where prominent guest lecturers in the applied math field come to share their work, research experience, and advice with Hopkins students. This exposes students to different career opportunities and helps them to network with possible employers. We run an Interactive Course Description Night prior to course registration period where faculty members describe classes for the next semester and answer questions to help students make informed decisions while selecting courses. The department also sponsors teams in an international math modeling competition for upperclassmen.

Purple JHU, just because it's my favorite color! :)

Aside from math activities, I am involved in the Hopkins Catholic Community and regularly play music with my friends. I have been attending free workshops at the Digital Media Center on campus for audio and video recording as well. My friends and I recently made a music video for our arrangement of a song! The rec center offers classes in yoga, zumba, and other activities, which has been a great way to have fun. There are many student organizations on campus, more than I can count. Whatever you are interested in, you will find people who pursue similar interests.

Last summer, even though I had only finished my freshman year of college, I was able to get a meaningful job for the summer. Since I had taken many quantitative courses, I was hired at a medical complex in my hometown. I worked in a team setting in the Electronic Medical Records Department to expand their system according to the government mandate. This meant learning a new computer language, being trained in the current system, and figuring out how their software worked. Soon, I was working on projects with the team, and the summer flew by. The background from my courses definitely helped over the summer.

ID Tag from My Summer Job

Applied Math was right for me since it has many different areas of focus you can pursue. Having been exposed to just some of these, I am now a computer science minor. In addition, I am now looking forward to exploring topics besides cryptology, such as computer graphics and statistical image analysis. In the future, I am hoping to combine my skills in math and programming with my interest in the arts to work on digital animation. I love the flexibility of the applied math program: you will get an outstanding mathematics education while learning about different subjects you can apply it to and pursuing your interests.

Plus, if you want to just do math, you can do that too! While most Applied Math majors are double majoring or minoring, some choose to concentrate on math alone. By the nature of the program, you can focus on math and will receive an excellent education which will prepare you for your future goals. Many different courses are offered each semester, and you will always find subjects that interest you. You can also do research with faculty – all undergraduates can participate in research projects.

In the future, having this quantitative foundation will provide you with the opportunity to find jobs in nearly any area you are interested in. Everyone needs mathematicians who can work a computer efficiently, whether it is in industry or academia. The Hopkins program in applied math will prepare you by teaching you how to think quantitatively. You will come out of these classes with the mindset to solve problems and the background to help you do it.

The professors in the department are excellent teachers who care about the students. My classmates are talented, motivated, and great people to study with. Most of my friends are applied math or computer science majors, and there is really great camaraderie in class. My experience at Hopkins has been wonderful. I strongly encourage you to come to Hopkins and to come learn in the Applied Math Department!

Whitehead Hall, the AMS building


Click here to access more information about the Applied Mathematics and Statistics Undergraduate Program of Study.

To further your exploration of this academic program and ask any question you may have of current students, be sure to visit the Hopkins Forums’ Academics: The Insider Perspective as well as the Applied Math and Statistics question thread.