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Amanda Plunkett visits as this year's Alumna in Residence
Amanda Plunkett (’99) graduated from GVSU with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and a minor in information systems, and went on to earn a master’s degree in 2001 in applied mathematics from Western Michigan University. She started her professional career in mathematics working for an operations research company in Arlington, VA, whose primary business was assisting military planners in decision-making. Amanda went on to take a position with the United States Department of Defense, where she started in the Applied Mathematics Development Program, which is a three year rotational program doing "tours" in different divisions including one in England. At the DoD, she currently leads a team of mathematicians and computer scientists working on problems in applied mathematics. Recently, she completed her master’s degree in statistics, and she is now working on her PhD (also in statistics) at the University of Maryland Baltimore County.
In October of 2014, the department was honored to have Amanda serve as its 2014 “Alumna in Residence.” This program, sponsored by the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, provides “a venue for departments to invite outstanding alumni of their undergraduate programs back to campus to share their post-graduation experiences with the GVSU community [and offer] insights about what constitutes strong academic preparation for students.” Amanda visited several different classes, had lunch with students, gave a department seminar, and interacted with faculty in several different settings.
As a mathematics professional, Amanda shared that she has found studying mathematics and statistics provides a wonderful base of knowledge for entering a professional career. But, of course, learning should not stop there! As Socrates once said, “Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.” Amanda observes that some great ways to learn outside the traditional classroom and on-the-job training include free online classes via Coursera, meetup groups focused on mathematics and statistics, technical experts on Twitter, and Toastmasters groups.
In the mathematics major, we place a great deal of emphasis on the importance of communication. Many of our former students, including those featured in the Alumni Profiles, comment on the profound impact that Math 210 had on their careers through its emphasis on logical reasoning and precise written communication. Of course, oral communication is at least as important, and Amanda notes that Toastmasters, an international organization with groups that meet across the U.S. with the goal of enabling individuals to grow in their public speaking abilities, has made a major positive difference in her professional career. She participated in a local Maryland group for a few years, and found the entire experience positive and encouraging. During each meeting, three individuals give 5-7 minute timed speeches for which grammatical errors are recorded and the number of “um’s” and “uh’s” are counted. Other individuals are designated speech evaluators and give “sandwich feedback,” which is constructive feedback sandwiched between positive feedback. Additional scheduled events during the meeting include an introductory speech from the “Toastmaster of the Evening,” impromptu speeches that result from picking a topic out of a hat, and the “word of the day” announcement encouraging participants to use the word throughout the meeting.
Why would a mathematician or statistician need to be a proficient public speaker? Professionals in these areas often need to communicate research results to others in clear oral and written form. Amanda has found her experiences at Toastmasters useful in both her job and for giving presentations at conferences; she also clearly evidenced her strong speaking skills in many different venues during her visit to GVSU as our 2014 Alumna in Residence. She heartily recommends looking for a Toastmasters group in your local area.
We congratulate Amanda on her many impressive professional accomplishments and thank her for taking the time to share her insights with us, both in the Alumni in Residence Program and in this newsletter article.