2018 Oklahoma State University Alumna, Emily Sanders, poses by a tree.When Emily (Spalding) Sanders came to OSU as a freshman, she was a finance major, enrolled in Business Calculus in her first semester. After realizing how much she enjoyed the mathematics in Dr. Melissa Mills’s course, Sanders decided to switch gears and take Calculus I the following spring. Making that change was the first step in an impressive undergraduate career for Sanders, a 2018 alumna of the math department. She loved the challenging but welcoming environment in her math classes at OSU. “I felt like I really had the support of the whole math department,” Sanders recalled. “All of my professors wanted to see me succeed, and they really took time to help the whole class learn and understand.”

After graduating from OSU, Sanders went to work at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), first as an intern and then in a regular position as an analyst. At the APL, Sanders has the flexibility to work on projects that are interesting to her. “Lately, I have been doing a lot of geospatial analysis and modeling and simulation,” Sanders explained. “I have also been on several cyber projects doing social network analysis and building network graphs.” She has found that graph theory and combinatorics are particularly useful in her work.

Sanders likes that her work has a clear impact. “Since my projects usually have government sponsors, I also have a sense of pride in knowing that I’m making a difference to our nation,” she said.

While at OSU, Sanders had several jobs in the math department, and there are an increasing number of cocurricular employment opportunities available for students. “I remember hiring Emily as a grader on the recommendation of my graduate student, Ashwini Bhat, who had taught Emily in Calculus I and thought very highly of her,” Department Head Chris Francisco said. “She was so personable and talented that she became one of our first corequisite Learning Assistants, running class sessions to help students in lower-division classes who needed extra support. Even though we didn’t ask specifically about the Learning Assistants on our course evaluation forms, most of the students wrote comments about how critical she was to their success in the course. I was really impressed by that.”

That experience as a Learning Assistant stands out to Sanders, who has found that it benefits her in her research position at the APL. “I am so glad that I was also a Learning Assistant,” Sanders said. “The experience helped my presentation skills and taught me how to clearly communicate difficult concepts.”

Like most math alumni, Sanders also appreciates the skills that a math major obtains and their transferability to any profession. “The critical thinking skills that I developed through my studies in math have been invaluable,” she commented.

Sanders called her work “an amazing opportunity” and encouraged math students to apply for an internship, particularly at APL. “Emily is a terrific example of how the OSU math major prepares students for a wide variety of jobs,” Francisco said. “It’s been great to see how enthusiastic she is about her work and the meaningful impact she has had already.”