Emma Talis holds many titles: senior, dedicated applied Math major with a track in biology, a researcher, and an honors mentor. The title she really covets, however, is mathematics professor: one who makes connections with her students that help them learn and grow as mathematicians and as people.
“When I was in elementary school, I didn’t know I wanted to do math yet but I remember thinking, ‘is there a job where I can just be in school forever?’” Emma recalls. Emma continued on her schooling path, always taking the highest-level math classes. This included high school honors and Advanced Placement classes, as well as calculus 1 and 2, both of which are typically taken in college. This head start gave her a leg up among her peers and allowed to her begin her college career taking a number of upper-level classes.
“Taking Calc 3 during my freshman year was really important to my success,” she explains. “I was able to take these upper-level classes right away. This, plus my differential equations background, were what got me into my first REU.” An REU, or Research Experience for Undergraduates program, Emma explained, is a national research program for math and science that usually accepts only juniors and seniors. Emma’s impressive résumé, however, secured her a spot in an REU early, allowing her to participate in three REUs total; one after her freshman year, one after her sophomore year and one after her junior year.
Emma spent the summer after her first year of college at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln researching predator-prey dynamics of model populations using differential equations. After her sophomore year, she completed an REU at Iowa State University researching the physical applications of modeling gas dynamics. During her most recent REU, Emma studied the effects of sexual transmissions on the spread of an epidemic, specifically Zika virus. While these summer research programs contributed greatly to Emma’s love for math research and problem-solving, she made sure to continue to pursue this love during each school year as well.
During her sophomore year, she took a job at as a calculus tutor at Marist’s math lab and worked with students, both math majors and non-math majors alike, to improve and hone their skills. It was here that she realized her passion for teaching. This passion will take her through five years of graduate school, which will allow her to get her ph.D. to become a professor so that technically, she can achieve her lifelong goal of “being in school forever.”
“I didn’t realize I wanted to be a professor until my sophomore year,” Emma explains. “I didn’t expect to love tutoring at the math lab, I just thought it would be a really awesome opportunity to do more math.” Emma, who admits that most of the people she surrounds herself with are math majors, has learned through her tutoring position to appreciate students in other majors as well, especially those who may not be great at math but still come to her on a regular basis so they can learn and improve.
“You learn their faces, names, stories, classes and majors. Most people that come in aren’t math majors. They come in because they need help getting through the requirements,” she explains. Emma continues, “I have such a great appreciation now for that type of student- the kind that doesn’t necessarily want to be a math major or want to keep doing math, but the person that tries so hard and just doesn’t want to get a C."
In the future, Emma plans to use this love and appreciation for helping students through math to teach upper-level classes like Differential Equations and lower-level classes like Calculus at a small college, similar in size to Marist. “Almost every day now I get a flash of, ‘what if I was actually a professor and could be the one assigning the homework and doing the lectures,” Emma says. “I’ve had so many great professors and mentors here and it made me realize that all I want to do is be a professor and be good at it.”