Hello, my name is Jenna Henderson and I am currently working towards a major in Applied Statistics and a minor in Environmental Studies at NKU. My family moved here from Iceland and I grew up in Louisville, KY. I joined the army when I was 17 and am now working as an intern with the Center for Environmental Restoration through NKU.
Some thoughts on mathematics
The aspect of mathematics I find to be most appealing is how it is so straightforward. All throughout school I struggled with writing because I always figured what needed to be said could be conveyed in a short amount of text. I also hated writing because I felt like if it wasn't a piece of writing I felt inspired to do I would just paraphrase and cite someone else’s work or just be adding to all the unimportant pieces or writing that just copy what’s already been written. My dislike for writing led to my liking for mathematics. In mathematics you provide your work and then provide context to the reader. How and why did you do the math, and how is the result important or not?
During high school, caring about school became a struggle for me. My friends and I would eat lunch with one of the math teachers, Mr.O. Everyday when he wasn’t eating lunch or grading papers he would be solving some sort of math on the white board that he found interesting that day. He would always get mad at me and my friends for complaining about school because he always said we have free education that we were forced to be immersed in every day yet we were not taking it for what it was. Mr.O would always explain how a piece of math could be used to solve actual problems our world faces today. He inspired me to find what I cared about and learn about it on my own. If school that day hadn’t fulfilled my want for learning enough then why not just go online and learn. If mathematics class wasn’t interesting enough look up how what I learned that day can be used in a job or to solve different problems.
Briefly how I got to where I am
It wasn’t until I got to college that I realized I really wanted a career dealing with mathematics. I actually didn’t even plan on going to college until I realized I had college paid for by the military. If it's free, why not attend? So I enrolled and decided to major in environmental science. One class I had my first semester was intro to statistics. This class was the only one I ended up actually caring a lot about and did pretty well in too. Ultimately I decided to switch my major to applied statistics with a minor in environmental studies.
I believe my interest in statistics stems from my hatred for writing. Why try to make an argument for something using words to try to persuade when you can just run a test and provide the statistics with context and analysis? I enjoy thinking of questions that I want to answer and can be answered by collecting representative data and performing a stats test.
Where I am currently on my mathematical journey
My second semester at NKU I started an internship with the center for environmental restoration. This internship deals with conservation and land management. A couple of tasks we did that I really enjoyed are using GIS and surveying. Both of these require the use of collecting data. There are plenty of opportunities in this field of work to collect data on plants or land and use that data to answer questions. As I learn more statistics from school and more ecology from my internships I hope to apply the two to work on some really cool research.
Some simple statistics and ecology
In statistics there are a few pieces of results that you can use to determine if the data from your tests are statistically significant. A really basic piece of math you learn in intro to stats is the p value. The p value is the probability that the data you’re working with was influenced by a factor you aren’t testing. If you have a p value less than the significance level you are using then the data you used to run your test likely isn’t being influenced by a different factor. This value helps you determine if you should reject or fail to reject your null hypothesis.
A simple example of this is as follows. Let’s say you want to determine whether a specific plant grows healthier in sun or out of sun. You would need to collect data on the amount of sunlight received by both sets of plants, those that grow in the sun and those that don’t. The null hypothesis could be that the amount of sun received by the plant doesn’t affect how healthy the plant is. The alternate hypothesis could be that the plant that receives more sunlight is healthier. Assuming you have enough data you would run a two sample t procedure and the p value you obtain will help you determine if the data is statistically significant or if the data is being influenced by other factors. If your p value is less than the predetermined significance level of let’s say 95% (p value would be .05 or less) then you might look at your plants to see which one looks healthier and you could assume based on the statistics that the plant in the sun is healthier because it received more sunlight. If your p value is greater than .05, you would assume that sunlight doesn’t significantly affect how healthy the plant is, or at least that sunlight isn’t the only factor that determines how healthy the plant is (think soil, temperature, water, location).
Looking forward to where mathematics will take me
I enjoy this really simple piece of mathematics because it’s just that, simple. The hard but fun work is generally obtaining the data needed to run the statistical test. This leaves mathematics as a really easy but powerful tool used to explain situations and solve problems. In the future I hope to use what I’m continuing to learn in school to answer concerns with our natural resources and solve problems with land management that arise around our country and possibly within our national parks.