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Applied math students take calculations outside the classroom

  • Students (left to right) Ethan Boelkins, Alex Jonauskas, Melissa Dozeman, Miranda Bibb and Maddi Miller stand in front of Grand Rapids City Hall after their presentation to members of the city commission.

Posted on May 21, 2019

A group of Grand Valley students are taking math skills and working to solve real-world problems as part of a new applied math course taught by Professor David Austin.

Austin said three groups of students in his "Project-based Applied Mathematics" course took on complex problems for three different partners, including Steelcase, The Children's Healing Center, and the City of Grand Rapids.

Each group of students had to find a way to use math to solve an open-ended problem, which taught them how to communicate effectively while being creative to find a way to answer a question.

"We're working in this class to show what you can do with a math degree that doesn't necessarily involve teaching or graduate work," Austin said.

One of the groups worked with the City of Grand Rapids. The city told the students they wanted to know more about affordable housing and gentrification in four neighborhoods on the city's West Side.

The students were able to use city data to come up with a new way to calculate area mean income (AMI), a figure used by the city to determine housing assistance, to more accurately reflect the income of specific areas without influence from higher-income suburban areas.

Austin said they also worked to track development, housing rates and demographics over time to quantify a correlation between development and displacement of people of color. Results were reported to city planners, but the results were so well received that city officials thought a group of city commissioners should see the report.

"The city commissioners were very impressed and asked us to continue the partnership in the future," Austin said. "They said being able to quantify a problem gave them many more options to address the issue."

The students who worked on all of the teams are listed below:

Children's Healing Center

Michael Baas

Jose Garcia

Liz Ortiz

Emeline Root

Rachael Walters

City of Grand Rapids

Miranda Bibb

Ethan Boelkins

Melissa Dozeman

Alex Jonauskas

Madeline Miller


Logun DeLeon

Megan Genslak

Matthew Phad

Amanda Stanley

Aryn Van Laanen