MTSU actuarial science professor Don Hong supports his Master of Science in Mathematics students in the classroom, through the rigorous thesis process and beyond — differentiating to each student’s particular strengths and goals in the varied and challenging course of study.
“The most important thing in directing graduate math students to complete their course and thesis work successfully is talking to students often to know their interests, career plan and what research they are good at doing,” Hong said. “Some students are interested in more theoretical topics, and some are more hands-on and good at programming. Some students plan to pursue a Ph.D., and others are more interested in solving practical problems at work.
“When you know more about your students’ wants and what they are most interested in, you can work with them more smoothly and more successfully.”
As coordinator of the Actuarial and Financial Mathematics master’s concentration and with a background spanning from actuarial science to computational science, medical imaging and analysis and more, Hong reflects the depth of knowledge and expertise of the graduate program faculty.
“The program has very strong research faculty members with specialties in pure math, applied math, computational math, math education, statistics, actuarial and financial math and data science,” Hong said. “It has different concentrations to meet a variety of students’ needs. The master’s in actuarial science is unique in Tennessee, and it makes our program at MTSU even more special.”
Hong, originally from Hangzhou, China, said the thesis research component of the program and the support from faculty throughout the process sets it apart.
“The research component and the master’s thesis work prepares them (students) well for more advanced Ph.D. level dissertation research,” Hong said. “In addition, solid course training prepares them to take on more advanced courses and pass Ph.D. qualifying exams at prestigious schools.”
Several of the students Hong advised have done just that.
Zoe Zhang, who graduated in 2010, directly contacted Hong on possible thesis research supervision before even applying for the program. Zhang ended up winning the Conference of Southern Graduate Schools master’s thesis award in 2011 for her research.
“Northwestern University recognized that and offered her a fellowship to go there to work on her Ph.D. degree in statistics,” Hong said. “Now she is a tenured associate professor in the Applied Cognitive and Brain Sciences Program of the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Drexel University.”
Zhang said she was attracted to the graduate math program by the cutting-edge research conducted by the faculty.
“Under the supervision of Dr. Hong, I conducted several research projects, which resulted in three peer-reviewed journal articles,” Zhang said. “The math and stats training I received during my study also prepared me well for my doctoral study at Northwestern University.”
Zhang added that Hong provided her tremendous support and guidance.
“I have benefited a lot from his academic instructions, constant encouragement and valuable feedback throughout the work on my master’s thesis,” she said. “I am particularly thankful to him for encouraging me to pursue scientific research as my lifetime career.”
David Mathews, who graduated in 2016, was immediately hired by AAA Auto Club Group of Michigan upon graduation and was recently promoted to senior actuarial financial analyst.
Mathews said the academic flexibility of the program as well as the graduate teaching assistantship opportunity were crucial in his selecting it.
“The program’s main strength is the excellent, encouraging and supportive faculty,” Mathews said. “They provided the necessary assistance in selecting courses, teaching assignments and thesis and career support that helped shape my career.”
Mathews added that he would recommend the program to others pursuing advanced degrees in math.
“This program, from what I have witnessed, has a track record of building highly successful people,” he said. “You will have the opportunity to work with expert faculty, study with motivated and talented peers and gain valuable experience from supportive employers in the region.”
Hong also shared that two more of his former students received their doctorates in 2022, Ye YE from the University of Auckland in Auckland, New Zealand, and Lianlian Zhou from the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Learn more about the Master of Science in Mathematics programs at https://www.mtsu.edu/programs/math-ms/about.
— Stephanie Wagner (Stephanie.Wagner@mtsu.edu)