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Zak Vilanilam '26

Zak Vilanilam '26

First math class at Swarthmore:   I took both Math 027 Linear Algebra with Professor Miller and Stat 011 Statistical Methods I with Professor Reinhart in the first semester of my Freshman year.  However, Math 027 was earlier in the day so I guess it's technically my first math class :)

What was your favorite math class and why?  I like all the math classes I've taken at Swat, but Math 027 and Stat 021 are definitely my favorites.  I enjoyed Math 027 because I knew nothing about linear algebra before taking the class and emerged with an appreciation of the field, especially as it relates to the the world around us (for instance, use of row reduction to solve insanely large systems of equations in Economics, use of eigenvalues in Google's page rank algorithm, etc).  I also loved Professor Miller's creative teaching style and the unique way the course was structured; it set an excellent precedent of what I could expect from future Math/Stat classes.  I enjoyed Stat 021 because of how it combines coding with linear regressions and data science.  Professor Schofield's projects and homework assignments were engaging and always encouraged critical thinking.  Her class helped me develop a skill set I could easily apply to real-world data analysis tasks.  My favorite quality about the Math/Stat department as a whole is how supportive professors are during office hours.  All of my Math/Stat professors were incredibly helpful and always supportive of deeper learning beyond content covered in class.  They inspired confidence in me, even when I was struggling. 

Why did you become a math major and how do you expect to use your mathematics after leaving Swarthmore?  I became a Math major because I believe a technical background in math and statistics complements my second major, Economics.   My post-graduation goal is to conduct economic policy research for the Federal Reserve using real-world datasets.  A balanced understanding of economic theory and applied math/stat will certainly help me along this career path. Furthermore, math was a subject I've enjoyed since elementary school, so I would still major in it for fun even if it didn't directly align with my career interests. 

What advice do you have for an incoming student?  My biggest bit of advice is to attend office hours regularly! Math/Stat professors at Swat are usually available multiple times per week.  Use that time to drop in and resolve any content questions, homework questions, or even just to chat! Being a regular at office hours is a great way to build relationships with your professors and get general advice as you progress through college.  Even if you're not having difficulty with the course content, I'd still encourage you to attend office hours for at least 30 min per week to observe questions other students might have.  Chances are, you'll learn something new!