Kent Vashaw loves mathematics and the mountains. While attending Appalachian State University, Vashaw pursued a Bachelor of Arts in Mathematics because of his interest in the liberal arts. The degree allowed him to obtain a minor in English and to study the Russian language. His favorite renaissance artist is Albrecht Durer, and he’s also fascinated by mathematics.
Vashaw graduated from Appalachian in May 2014. He chose Appalachian because of its geographical location, but appreciated the higher level mathematics courses offered.
“I found out that higher level math, past the calculus I had done in high school, was actually really fascinating.
“I really liked that most of the learning was in solving problems, completing proofs – as opposed to just memorizing things,” he said.
Vashaw participated in a semester of undergraduate research with Dr. William Bauldry, researching cryptography in the Advanced Encryption System. He also completed an honors thesis on positional weighted voting and linear algebra while studying at Appalachian.
“Talking to and working with the faculty at Appalachian was great preparation for graduate school – all my professors made time for students, either to talk about classwork or just talk about math in general,” he said.
“They also encouraged a number of us to go to conferences to present our undergraduate thesis work, and accompanied us to these conferences, which was a great opportunity to interact with the math community outside of just Appalachian.”
Vashaw is now a graduate student at Wake Forest University, completing his master’s degree in mathematics.
“I like learning and exploring new things – there's always more math to discover. That's what really draws me to academia,” he said.
At Wake Forest, Vashaw works as a teaching assistant while completing his master’s thesis in noncommutative abstract algebra. He runs problem sessions, tutors students one-on-one and proctors and grades quizzes and tests. He said that enthusiastic professors at Appalachian prepared him best for graduate school.
“I think it's easy to see math as very lifeless – but I wouldn't be able to be successful in grad school if that's how I felt. But taking classes where the professors actually communicated what was exciting and interesting about math really prepared me to go on to further my math education,” Vashaw said.
Vashaw advises students interested in mathematics to choose Appalachian because of the supportive faculty, collaborative atmosphere and Boone itself.
“Grad school is an incredibly collaborative environment (both with respect to peers and professors) and I feel like the culture of collaboration at Appalachian really prepared me for it. Plus – and this doesn't really have to do with academics at all – Boone is a beautiful town, and if you can have a great academic program that’s also in a great place to live, what else can you ask for?”