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Math degree opens doors for Tipton resident

March 24, 2017
KOKOMO, Ind. — Justin Murray’s original plan was to earn a business degree from Indiana University Kokomo, to prepare him to run his family’s auto body business.

A calculus class changed his major — and his career path.

“I decided to take the class because it was interesting to me,” he said. “One class led to another, and then I got a job in the campus math lab as a tutor. Those classes, and the tutoring, made me realize I wanted to switch my major to mathematics.”

He graduates in May, and rather than joining the family business, he’s preparing for graduate school, to earn a master’s degree in math. It’s as surprising to him as it is to his family, in Tipton.

“I had thought about maybe earning a Master of Business Administration, but I never would have thought I’d enroll in a master’s program in math, or that I would even consider a Ph.D. program.

“I’ve always been good at it, but I just never paid much attention to it, or had an interest in it, it was just something I had to do,” Justin said. “Now that it’s to the point its not something I have to do, I just want to keep doing it.”

Justin’s family supports his decision to change career paths.

“They were completely happy for me,” he said. “We believe the shop is a self-sustaining entity due to the team we have. They just want me to do something I enjoy, so that work doesn’t seem like work.”

He learned hands on what kinds of careers are available in math, completing a research project with William Lindsey, assistant professor of mathematics, analyzing data for the Kokomo Visitor’s Bureau.

Justin spent two months during the fall 2015 semester combing through two years’ worth of Howard County hotel occupancy data, looking for trends. He found that occupancy was trending upward, and that it was cyclical — meaning it was higher in times of year there were events in the area.

Lindsey noted that Justin led the project, checking in with him weekly to assess his progress, and gain any assistance he might need.

“He did all of the analyzing, and made all of the contacts with the Visitor’s Bureau,” he said. “This was something you can’t get in a class. Justin was able to see not only the scope of a large project, but also what real data looks like. These are not canned numbers for a class assignment, with a neat solution.

“It’s not something he had expertise in, not something he was taught to do in class, but because he has the math background, he was able to do what he needed to do with the data.”

Justin presented his findings to the Visitor’s Bureau, translating the raw numbers into charts, graphs, bar charts, and other graphic presentations, understandable to people not as familiar with math as he is.

The project was good preparation for graduate school and for potential jobs in the field, and led to an award as the campus’ outstanding math student in spring 2016.

Justin said Lindsey, along with Mary Hansen, associate professor of mathematics, played an integral role in his decision to continue studying math.

“They’ve challenged me along the way to become better, and they have always been there to answer any questions I’ve had.”

He begins his master’s program in the fall, with a graduate merit fellowship and a graduate assistantship to help defray costs. Justin will decide after completing his master’s degree if he wants to go on to a Ph.D. program in math, or work in research or industry.

“I’m just taking it one step at a time,” he said. “There are a lot of possibilities, and a math degree opens a lot of doors for me. “

Indiana University Kokomo serves north central Indiana.

Last updated: 03/24/2017