Arlan Aakre“Study! And take more computer programming classes. Programming is one of the highly sought-after skills in the industry today.”

Arlan Aakre - Vermillion, SD
Major: Mathematics
2000 Alumni

USD math major Arlan Aakre achieved his goal – becoming an actuary for a large insurance company in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. But it didn’t come without learning how to fail.

He was inspired to pursue a career in mathematics by his second grade math teacher Mrs. Karantinos, the wife of USD professor emeritus Andrew Karantinos.

After choosing USD Arlan found much needed support and encouragement from his math advisors, particularly Professor Lio. It was Lio who encouraged Arlan to take the actuarial exams very early so he could learn what to expect on the test.

“It took a few attempts before the first pass, but it showed me how much studying was required to pass the exams,” Arlan said.

“Pass rates are consistently at 50 percent, and there aren’t any dummies taking these exams. You shouldn’t be discouraged if you fail. Odds are you will at least once, probably more.”

 Nathaniel Raak“All the faculty I worked with were extremely helpful because they seemed to care about my success.”

Nathaniel Raak - Edgerton, MN
Major: Mathematics
2012 Alumni

It was the approachable, helpful faculty that made Nathaniel choose USD for his math degree. Perhaps he was looking for the same kind of encouragement he received from another math teacher, who first convinced Nathaniel that he had the ability to understand math.

At USD he found Prof. Gabriel Picioroaga, who made the most difficult concepts seem easy.

“He was able to take difficult concepts and explain them in a way that made sense in my mind,” Nathaniel said. “So, sometimes there were times when I knew what we were doing should have been very hard, but at the same time it was possible to grasp.”

Now Nathaniel has the chance to return the favor to his students at Mitchell Technical Institute where he is a math instructor.

Nathaniel says his work as a teaching assistant at USD gave him valuable experience viewing education from both the teacher’s perspective and the student’s point of view. 

With that insight, here is Nathaniel’s advice to current students: “The more effort you put into college the more you get out of it.”

 Katie Raak“I really enjoyed being a teaching assistant while in graduate school. It was a chance for me to experience a different kind of teaching than I would have been able to do in a middle or high school setting.”

Katie Graves Raak - Mitchell, SD
Major: BS Mathematics Education, MA Mathematics
2012 Alumni

Katie Raak knew she wanted to be a teacher from the time she was in kindergarten. Members of her family have been teaching since the 1800s, including her grandfather who taught middle school math for 40 years.

“Teaching, in other words, is in my blood,” she said.

Katie chose USD because of the reputation of its math and education departments, and it didn’t hurt that USD was an affordable option.

Her favorite professor was Jose Flores, who taught her Calculus III and Complex Variables. “Flores provided interesting and interactive lectures. He challenged me immensely in both courses, and was always willing to answer questions.”

But if you ask her about her favorite experience at USD, she gives a different answer: Yote Floats. The Muenster University Center featured ice cream floats each week to encourage students, faculty and staff to take a break and mingle.

“Prof. Gamble would corral all of the math graduate students and a few undergrad students each week. It was a chance to build community,” she said.

Her advice for other students: “Get to know your professors. They are full of valuable information and are ready to share it. When you leave college with a degree in hand, you want to know that you did everything you could to get the most out of your education. You want to be prepared for your next steps.”

Katie, an honors student, took part in Math Club, Phi Eta Sigma, Alpha Lambda Delta, Pi Mu Epsilon, the South Dakota Council for Teachers of Mathematics and the Newman Center. She lives in Mitchell and teaches math to middle and high school students across South Dakota through the SD DIAL Virtual School.

 Matthew Burh“This entire experience has made me realize this is work I see myself doing for the rest of my life.”

Matthew Buhr - Albert Lea, MN
Majors: Mathematics, Chemistry

When Matthew Buhr graduates in 2015 with degrees in mathematics and chemistry he’ll be finishing only his third year at USD. But he’s on fire to continue his education, probing the relationship between math and other sciences like biology.

Matthew came to USD from Albert Lea, Minn., joined the Honors Program and started making things happen. He turned a corner when he earned a chance to do nationally-funded research in mathematical biology.

He’s been able to present his research at more than a dozen professional conferences and competitions across the nation, and he has several more on his calendar. His goal is to get his research published in an important scientific journal.

“My favorite part about USD is the opportunities provided for research, teaching and public speaking at conferences,” Matthew said. “All of these opportunities build skills which are a large benefit for graduate school, or for any career path you decide to follow.”

He says all of his professors inspired him, but he gives special credit to two.

“Professors Jose Flores and Dan Van Peursem helped make me realize that mathematics is the connecting point of the sciences…” he said. “They showed me that I can use mathematics and be involved in more than biology, but chemistry and physics as well.”

More is more for Matthew, unless he’s talking about attending the smaller classes at USD.

“Every professor has a certain strength. USD’s smaller size makes it great to take advantage of each professor’s skills they can pass on to you,” he said. 

“Take every opportunity that comes to you,” is his advice to students. “Staying up late a few nights is an aspect of college mutual to any college you decide to attend. At USD, you can put all the time to your best effort.”

Corina Larson“I really like the size of USD. It’s a fairly large school, but it isn’t so large that you feel overwhelmed…There are so many ways to find what you enjoy and figure out what you want to do with your life.”

Corina Larson - Aberdeen, SD
Major: Mathematics

Corina went to a small high school in her hometown of Aberdeen, and she hated math. In fact, she was terrified of taking calculus at USD. Until she met Professor Dan Van Peursem in the USD math department.

“Not only did I understand everything he was teaching, but I loved it!” Corina said. “Professor Van Peursem is hands-down the best professor I have met at this school…He actually convinced me to pursue a math major, and I couldn’t be happier with my professional path.”

Corina has already attended a math conference – “I had a blast,” she said. She uses her new-found love of math to help other students by tutoring the USD Math Emporium, and she’s looking forward to starting undergraduate research in bioinformatics.

“When I started my freshman year, I didn’t know what I wanted to study. USD provided a lot of possibilities, so I didn’t have to have my mind made up right away,” she said.

“Try taking a variety of classes your first year,” she said. “So many students realize that their intended major isn’t the right choice for them, and your first year of college is a great time to figure it all out.”

Her first goal is earning a bachelor’s degree in mathematics. Then it’s on to a Ph.D. program and hopefully a research career.

“Take a class or two that you wouldn’t initially expect to enjoy…’’ she said. “I feel I’ve grown as a student/professional/person for taking them.”

Kayla Henneman“I fell in love with USD’s campus the first time I visited, but I made my final decision to study at USD because of the approachable and friendly faculty…”

Kayla Henneman - Onawa, IA
Major: Mathematics

Kayla already liked math when she came to the University of South Dakota, thanks to her high school teacher Mr. DeRocher. But then she met the USD math faculty, in particular Professor Dan Van Peursem. That’s when she knew she loved math.

“He was extremely patient and encouraging throughout my undergraduate studies, even when I stumbled in a course or doubted my abilities as a math major,” Kayla said of Professor Van Peursem.

“I have carried these lessons with me since undergrad and now know that even if I stumble along my way, I can turn the situation around with hard work and determination.”

She credits her experience as an Honors student for inspiring her to go on to graduate school. “Being able to do research at an undergraduate level is a unique opportunity not available at many other universities and was what really prepared me for graduate school,” she said.

Kayla is finishing up her master’s degree in computer science at Old Dominion University. “I use the skills I learned as a math major on a daily basis,” she said. “Occasionally I have to use the concrete math concepts I learned in undergrad, but most of the time I am using the logical way of thinking a math major learns, especially in upper level classes.”

Her advice to new students: “Get involved in on-campus activities early, and step out of your comfort zone whenever possible. Mostly , never stop yourself from doing something you really want just because you have never done it before. These are often the most memorable experiences you will have in undergrad.”