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One passion, several opportunities

Author: Lona | Image: Lona

Catherine Thompson has always loved math. So much, in fact, she wanted to someday share that love with students as a high school math teacher.

Thompson (mathematics and economics, ‘17), a bright and gifted student from Chicago, had her pick of several schools – including a private institution – when she was choosing where to go to college. She ended up selecting Iowa State University because of its financial viability, its scholarship opportunities, and most of all, its fantastic mathematics program.

“I’m so happy I chose Iowa State,” she said. “The math program is rigorous and there are a lot of opportunities to get involved. This was a great decision.”

Thompson was awarded a prestigious George Washington Carver Scholarship her freshman year, which covers first-year tuition expenses for exceptional multicultural students in any major, and is renewable for an additional three years. That boost opened doors for her to get involved with extra activities, including serving as an ambassador for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, working in the ISU Dining Center, leading bible study groups for an on-campus Christian organization and being a part of the Honors Program.

As she became inspired by the math classes she took, she realized how versatile the degree really was. She could be an actuary. Or a teacher. Or a researcher. Or a financial advisor. Once she saw how many career paths she could take, she tacked a second degree in economics onto her course load, and began to pursue her new goal of becoming a business analyst.

“The math department isn’t a huge department, which is great because you have the chance to work with a lot of good people,” she said. “And even though the department isn’t big, it offers a lot of different classes. I’ve been able to tailor my classes to my interests and focus on the areas I’d really like to grow in and excel at. The ability to do that has helped me earn two great internships.”
Thompson has completed two paid internships at Vulcan Material Company in Chicago, the nation’s largest producer of construction aggregates such as crushed stone, sand and gravel. During the summer of 2015, she worked on the logistics side of the company, using her skills in math and reasoning to analyze competitors, market and industry needs, and to help manage delivery databases.
During the summer of 2016, she returned to Vulcan for a second internship, this time on the sales side.

“My job this summer was more analytical,” Thompson said. “I got to look at customer data and assess different kinds of sales and pricing. One week, I worked on helping our sales representatives file tax exemptions for certain jobs. Another week, I worked on correcting inaccurate pricing and filed the information for later use.”

Thompson earned her internships at Vulcan through the INROADS program with the help of Der Vang, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences’ multicultural liaison. INROADS is the nation’s largest non-profit source of paid internships for undergraduate, minority youth who are pursing a degree in math- or business-related majors. The college, and Vulcan, are partners with INROADS.

“Hopefully I’ll come back to work at Vulcan full time after I graduate,” she said. “Even if I don’t, the experience working in a corporate setting has been great. The social skills I’ve gained by learning to work with different groups of people has been invaluable.”
Thompson said her degree from the Department of Mathematics adds incredible value to her resume.

“The education is challenging and good quality,” she said. “When I came to ISU, I thought I’d be staring at equations all day, but it’s more theoretical and therefore I can apply this knowledge to any career path I choose. And, the department has great advisors and professors who are always willing to help. I feel like I’m a part of a little community, and that’s a great feeling.”

By Jess Guess