Master's programs in Mathematics and American Studies draw students from diverse fields


When Fairfield University's College of Arts & Sciences introduced its master's degree programs in American Studies (1998) and Mathematics and Quantitative Methods (just last fall), the two graduate programs were expected to attract high school and middle school teachers seeking their master's degrees.

A number of teachers have enrolled in both programs, but increasingly, people with other interests have signed on as well. Dr. Leo O'Connor, director of the American Studies program, says, "We got our share of teachers, but to our surprise, they've been far outnumbered by individuals thinking about changing careers, looking for personal enrichment, or some combination of both."

One such student is retired investment manager Allyn Arden from Westport. While his interest is mostly in history and political science, he says his work in American Studies, "is giving me the opportunity to look across the whole spectrum. I'm working harder now than I ever have and I've studied at NYU, the University of Michigan, and the University of London. The professors here have challenged me to think in new ways. It's pretty rigorous."

His enthusiasm is echoed by Jennifer Nelson who moved to the Fairfield area after working in the environmental field in Virginia. "I had the enviable opportunity to learn for the sake of learning ... when I saw the American Studies brochure, I said to myself, 'That's it.'"

Jennifer's success is evident in a paper she wrote for the class on "Bloomers," which has been accepted for publication in Popular Culture, an international scholarly magazine.

In the graduate program in mathematics and quantitative methods, one of the goals is to improve the teaching of mathematics at the secondary and middle school levels. The recent release of the Third International Mathematics and Science Study-Repeat shows that U.S. students lag behind children in industrialized Asian and European nations. Dr. Benjamin Fine, a co-director of the program, said, "We feel teachers who take this program to fulfill their requirement for a master's degree will provide a core of highly trained math teachers who will improve secondary math education."

But interest in the master's degree in mathematics extends far beyond teaching, with business in particular offering many opportunities for mathematicians. "Financial analysts and statisticians are crucial to business planning and decision-making. Businesses today use a much more detailed analysis called financial mathematics," Dr. Fine explains.

Consequently the 16 students enrolled in the new program come from a wide spectrum of interests, including those who may one day want to pursue a doctoral degree.

Dr. Fine's own enthusiasm for mathematics demonstrates the range of application available. A specialist in group theory and statistics, he is always discovering fascinating ways to apply mathematical principles. Recently he used his statistical knowledge to assess the Florida vote (he says Al Gore won).

His analysis also supported statistical sampling to conduct the most recent national census. While the issue became publicly controversial, he says, "the process was endorsed by the National Academy of Statistics and every reputable scientist."

Mathematics has become one of the top-paying careers for college graduates and offers a good background for many career paths, Dr. Fine points out. "It's a field that is attracting more women and Fairfield's program is no exception, with women making up more than half of the new class."

Questions about the two programs may be directed to: American Studies, Dr. Leo O'Connor at (203) 254-4000, ext. 2801; and Mathematics and Quantitative Methods, Dr. Benjamin Fine, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2197.

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Media Contact: Nancy Habetz, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2647, nhabetz@fairfield.edu

Posted on January 15, 2001

Vol. 33, No. 94