Cardinal Cadence Spring/Summer 2012

Reaching for the future

Lucas CastleCastle finds strength in numbers

LUCAS CASTLE always knew he loved mathematics, but it wasn’t until he gained the confidence to do a little research that he discovered the field offered him a future full of possibilities.

“Growing up, I had this stigma in my mind that if you’re majoring in math, your only option was to teach,” said Castle. “But there are tons of opportunities out there for mathematicians that I was never aware of until recently.”

Upon high school graduation in 2008, Castle was awarded the Mirabeau Scholarship from Lamar University and made plans to study chemical engineering in the fall. The Beaumont native found college much more challenging than he had anticipated. “In high school, I kind of breezed by, but college is very different from high school,” said Castle. “My first semester really helped me figure out how I needed to study and helped me realize what I needed to do.”

In his sophomore year, Castle added math as a second major, but he still wasn’t quite motivated about his future. “I just wanted to do the bare minimum and get through it, which you’d think as a Mirabeau scholar my attitude would have been different,” he said. “You’d think I’d want to go on to really achieve, but I was just really lacking confidence in myself at the time.”

Castle began looking at his options, and in Spring 2010 he was accepted into the Exxon-Mobil cooperative education program for chemical engineering where he worked off campus for the entire semester. He was responsible for monitoring and analyzing the performance of heat exchangers within the plant.

“I would have to go out into the field to the four units I was working in and do a temperature and flow survey of all our heat exchangers, and I’d put all that data we collected from the field into an Excel spreadsheet where it would calculate the health of the exchangers and if there were any potential risks,” Castle explained. “I also designed an interactive map of the exchangers in my unit that would actually flag which exchangers should be checked.”

He returned to Lamar that summer conflicted about his career path.

“I kind of came away from the co-op unexcited about engineering,” said Castle. “I definitely enjoyed the environment and the experience, but, as far as the work was concerned, I didn’t see it as something I wanted to spend the rest of my life doing.”

By fall 2010, Castle was seeking more ways to get involved on campus. He was accepted into the Lamar University Ambassadors Program and was serving as president of the Math Club when one of Castle’s math instructors encouraged him to join Lamar’s STAIR STEP Research Program, designed to increase the number of students receiving baccalaureate degrees in computer science, chemistry, physics, geology, earth science and mathematics. “I’ve always thought about research, but I didn’t know if I could do it,” said Castle. Through STAIR STEP, Castle was invited to attend his first Texas Undergraduate Mathematics Conference— and it changed everything. “I had the chance to see all these different areas of research in mathematics that I never knew were out there, and it got me really excited,” said Castle. “When I came back I made the choice to devote my studies to math.”

In summer 2011, Castle participated in the Summer Research Program at the University of Nebraska, where his applied mathematics group picked up where previous students had left off on an abstract fractional calculus equation. In two months of research, Castle and his partners broke ground when they found a general solution for the equation.

“Mathematicians have spent years and years on an equation before they’ve arrived at a conclusion, and this is stuff that nobody else has ever really looked at before,” said Castle. “We had this huge equation, and we managed to peel out the solution that we wanted out of the equation, and it was awesome.”

“I finally started to give myself a chance and put myself out there, and it has really paid off,” said Castle. “I lacked confidence early on in my education, and I feel like Lamar has really helped me to grow out of that. I feel like my accomplishments have been a direct result of me coming here, and I wouldn’t change that for the world. Now I’m trying to reach for things that are maybe a little outside of my reach – but I’m still confident as I reach.” Castle plans to enter graduate school after his graduation in May 2012.

Kayleigh RomeroRomero enjoys education as student and teacher

For junior KAYLEIGH ROMERO, the decision to pursue a career in education was made in the summer of her sophomore year of high school.

“I wanted to work somewhere where every day I’d have the opportunity to make a difference in someone’s life,” said Romero. She found her calling at Lamar even before she enrolled as a student. Thinking she wanted to be an engineer, Romero volunteered for the ExxonMobil Bernard Harris Summer Science Camp, a free residential camp hosted at Lamar for science, technology, engineering and mathematics for middle-school honor students from Southeast Texas.

While working as a counselor, Romero realized that working with children was what she enjoyed most about the experience.

“We had a robotics experiment with Legos where the students had to build and activate a robotic car, and they were intent that they could not do this thing. But when they finally figured out the programming, you could see it in their eyes,” said Romero. “You can see it in their faces when they all of a sudden understand something and they realize, ‘Oh, I could pursue this as a possible career; this is something I can use in my future.’”

Upon graduation from West Brook High School in Beaumont in 2009, Romero was awarded a Mirabeau Scholarship from Lamar and entered as a major in mathematics with plans to teach at the high-school level.

“In education, you always have that opportunity to open young minds to new ideas and experiences,” Romero said. “My challenge as a mathematics teacher will be to provide a learning environment that is challenging and exciting so that when students leave my classroom, they can’t wait to come back the next day.”

After her first semester, Romero decided she wanted to work with younger students and switched her major to interdisciplinary studies in 4-8 math. “I like the way you can work with students at that age level,” Romero said.

“They’re more receptive when you’re trying to introduce new challenging concepts. Lots of kids will tell you math is their least favorite subject, but usually it’s just a personal thing. They don’t like their math teacher, so they don’t like math. I want to try to break that cycle and show them that math can be fun.

“It’s impossible to think that every person will be interested in every subject,” said Romero. “But a master teacher should connect a student to the subject matter in a way that transforms an uninterested student into one who at least appreciates and understands the subject by getting them involved and participating. Many times, students realize that they may actually have an interest in a subject they believed they detested.”

Romero said the education program at Lamar has been integral in developing her commitment to her career as an educator. “I really appreciate that Lamar has worked so hard to get us into the local school districts for us to experience what teaching is all about. I was able to teach a

Junior Achievement course as early as my first semester, allowing me to actually teach and make sure this was my calling. I’ve already had over 60 observation hours, and having experienced the reality of real-world teaching beforehand, to me, is essential. If a teacher fails, students fail. You have to know that you can be there to support your students.”

As for her own experience as a student, Romero feels she has received a well-rounded education from Lamar. She chose electives in martial arts, popular music, tap dance and Asian literature. “College is a time to broaden your boundaries and explore your interests,” she said. Romero has always enjoyed sketching and painting, and recently added piano and sewing to her interests.

Romero also currently serves as vice president of the Honors Student Association and is a Lamar Ambassador. “I have had so many opportunities open up for me here. The generosity of the donors who support the Mirabeau Scholarship has helped so much, because that covers everything for me—tuition, fees, food, board, my books, my supplies—and I can’t think of anything that could make college better than not having to worry about debt while I’m in school. Also, being a Lamar Ambassador has allowed me to meet so many people and promote Lamar wherever I go.”

Romero is now lead senior counselor for the ExxonMobil Bernard Harris Summer Science Camp, the gO Women for Engineering, Science and Technology Academy (gO W.E.S.T.), and the golden Opportunities for Southeast Texas Construction Career Academy (gO SETX) summer camps. Romero hopes to graduate in Spring 2013 with plans to enroll in Lamar’s online master’s in education program and, upon completion, pursue her doctorate in education.

Elizabeth WuQuality of education cements decision for Wu

Like most high school seniors planning to attend college, ELIZABETH WU was faced with important decisions concerning her future. Upon her graduation in 2010, the Lubbock native was considering her options and hadn’t decided on a school—that is, until her mother showed Wu some interesting information from aWashington Post column picked up by newspapers nationwide.

“My mom actually sent me an article that said Lamar University students are more well-rounded when they graduate than students who went to Harvard University,” said Wu.

Based on the results of an educational study, the nationally syndicated column advised students to “Forget Harvard and think Lamar.” The column by the Post’s Kathleen Parker, which was published nationally, recognized Lamar’s “commitment to core subjects deemed essential to a well-rounded, competitive education.”

“That actually kind of cemented my final decision for me,” said Wu, a junior majoring in industrial engineering. “Many people think of Harvard as the pinnacle of education and success, but I’ve always felt that you shouldn’t base everything on a name. Here at Lamar, they don’t just push you in a certain direction; they kind of challenge you from several different aspects.”

Lamar’s challenging curriculum offered just the sort of mental cross-training Wu wanted from her education. A proficient violinist since the age of 4, fluent in Mandarin and a brown belt in San Shou martial arts, Wu was excited to begin her transition into university life—although she wasn’t overly excited about the major she had settled on.

“Since we were young, my dad always pushed for us to consider engineering, and my twin sister and I would always rebel and tell him no way. Plus, I never really liked math,” said Wu. Not wanting to enter college without a chosen direction, she reconsidered her father’s suggestion. “I figured maybe, if I pursued some kind of engineering, I’d start to like it. So I chose industrial engineering because, I’m not going to lie, it didn’t require as much math,” said Wu.

She took calculus during her first semester. The method used by her professor, Mohsen Maesumi, of having students show up for class prepared to do board work had Wu nervous.

“I worried about how humiliating it would be if I got up to the board and did something wrong,” she said. “I remember this one day I was up at the board working on a problem, and I was trying to figure out what to do next, and something clicked. That moment when I figured out the problem, math became much more interesting. Now, I love the idea of looking at something I can’t solve from different angles and then finally solving it.”

Through her new interest in problem–solving, Wu discovered her excitement for industrial engineering at Lamar.

“I’ve learned that it takes a lot of flexibility, drive, curiosity and analytical skills to be an industrial engineer. It takes a lot of patience and desire to get to the root of a problem, and that's essentially what engineers are hired to do—solve problems. Lamar has been preparing me for these aspects of engineering; the classes I’m taking are really feeding my interest in problem solving, and my teachers leave enough room for me to explore within the subject area.”

For Wu, Lamar’s commitment to a well-rounded core curriculum has enhanced her success in industrial engineering.

“I remember there were a couple of weeks when I had tests in every single class for engineering, and I was just freaking out. It was a relief to go write a paper for American Literature or watch a dance critique for Dance Appreciation. Sometimes, that’s just what you need when you’re stumped with an engineering problem. It helps to walk away and learn about something different; you come back and things are a little clearer for you. I don’t think you leave college with much of a worldview when you just get straight into your major. I enjoy being exposed to different concepts and ideas besides engineering.”

Wu is confident she was right to follow The Washington Post’s advice. In addition to being selected to serve as a Lamar University Ambassador and her campus activity with Engineers Without Borders, Wu was accepted for an industrial engineering intern position at ExxonMobil in Fairfax, Va., this summer.

“Lamar is so good about giving opportunities to students,” Wu said. “The programs and the opportunities I’ve found here have really taken everything to the next level, and the quality of education is the best.”

by Lucy Biebel

May 2012