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Studying Math Keeps Mind Nimble and Can Lead to Employment

Studying math stretches a mind, builds discipline and creates out-of-the-box thinkers.  For students worried about getting a job after graduation in a challenging market, math is a ticket to employment in some of the highest paying jobs available.  

That is why University of New Haven Mathematics Department Chair Joseph Kolibal recommends students, even those studying liberal arts or fields seemingly unrelated to math, minor in math. 

“Math distinguishes you in a competitive job market,” Kolibal said. “It shows that you have an analytical mind, that you took extremely challenging courses.”  

A study cited at Forbes.com in 2012 noted many of the highest paying jobs with anticipated job growth through 2020 are math related.

That echoed a 2009 study noting that the top 15 highest paying jobs for college graduates— whether in engineering, health care, finance, computer science or the sciences—all required strong math skills.

Top jobs for math majors or minors include actuaries, with an estimated median annual salary of $87,650, operations research analysts, cryptologists, statisticians, health data analysts, financial analysts and high school math teachers.

But whether math is the major or the minor, Kolibal says it helps students position themselves in the job market.

“Perhaps the most valued skill math minors take with them into the job market is their thinking,” he said. “You will learn to think differently. The ability to reason well and to think clearly will always be respected.”

UNH is seeing an uptick of interest in minoring in mathematics among STEM (Science Technology, Engineering and Math) students. Criminal justice majors, business majors and liberal arts and sciences majors—whether English, psychology, fine arts or hospitality—who have an affinity and aptitude for math can also benefit from minoring in it, Kolibal said.

Kolibal said math is also simply part of the landscape in engineering and technology-related fields. The Forbes.com piece cited a 2012 Millennial Branding survey that said competition for new science, technology, engineering and math talent is steep, according to employers, with graduates often fielding multiple job offers.

“The world is quantitative and cannot be described without using quantitative concepts like size, distance and location. Whether it's dealing with questions of personal finance or dosage of medications, math is required,” said Linda Braddy, deputy executive director of the Mathematical Association of America.

“There is also the growing importance of managing and interpreting data and what that means to us as citizens and as employees.” – Linda Braddy

Math is very much in the news of the moment, Braddy added. “Take the current news stories on the National Security Agency program to use data-mining techniques on phone logs, not the content of the calls, but the to and from numbers, locations and duration of the call,” she said. “Or the mining of personal data to tailor search results to an individual.  Good or bad, these techniques are becoming more sophisticated and are here to stay.”  

Next spring, UNH plans to offer math minors and majors an opportunity to take a new course in discrete mathematics, the study of mathematical structures that are fundamentally discrete rather than continuous.  Math minors can take that course along with Calculus II and III, Linear Algebra and nine credits of upper-level mathematics courses that complement their major area of interest.

Liberal arts majors, fine arts, theater arts, communications or fields of study with creativity at their center can also benefit from a math minor. While that might sound counterintuitive to those not in the field, math enhances creative thinking, Kolibal said.

“To be creative you must be productive,” he said.  “There is a mechanism in math for achieving productivity – crystallizing ideas down to their essence.”