John Skukalek Wins University Niemeyer and Department Outstanding Graduate Awards
John Skukalek of Grand Rapids has captured not only the Outstanding Graduate Award, the mathematics department’s highest honor for graduating seniors, but also the greatest honor bestowed upon undergraduates university-wide. The Glenn A. Niemeyer Award is given annually to just two Grand Valley students in recognition of their outstanding academic work, as well as for the ways they have enriched their peers’ lives.
John has taken nearly every mathematics course our department offers; in addition, he spent the fall semester of 2003 at the prestigious MASS (Mathematics Advanced Study Semester) Program at Penn State. He intends to pursue a Ph.D. in graduate school starting this coming fall, and is currently choosing from among several outstanding programs.
During his time at GVSU, John has most enjoyed being able to interact with professors who not only share his interest in mathematics, but also truly care about the quality of his learning. His favorite class was point-set topology with Professor Dickinson, for the subject helped him think more abstractly while “viewing different mathematical ideas through a single lens.” He also liked the way the class challenged him to balance intuitive understanding with rigorous reasoning.
John hopes to one day be a college professor himself, engaged in both teaching and research, and aspires to write (understandable) math books for undergraduates. He leaves us this year with some pointed advice for fellow mathematics majors, posed in a sequence of (true) if-then statements: “If you are majoring in math and find yourself not enjoying your math courses, you might want to consider changing your major. If you’re going to succeed as a math major you simply have to make it a personal concern of yours to ponder over ideas until you understand them. If you don’t find math beautiful, you won’t really learn it.” And finally: “Memorize the quadratic formula before taking a class with Professor Fishback.”