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The University of Texas at Tyler Magazine, Spring 2010

Focus on Students
Excellence in Math and Science
Laura Strube Realizes Her Potential at UT Tyler

Laura Strube at the chalk board

When Laura Strube was named The University of Texas at Tyler’s 2009 Cranford Scholar for academic achievement and dedication in mathematics, she was reminded of how far she’d come since her freshman year.

She thought about her first day on campus and her feelings of nervousness and uncertainty. Her mind raced with questions that day in May 2004. Should she attend college? Could she succeed academically? She was sure of only one thing: her love of mathematics.

It was Dr. Robert Cranford who eased her fears and put her on track for her academic journey.

“Dr. Cranford was the first member of the math faculty I spoke with and one of my first contacts at UT Tyler,’’ Strube said of the retired math chair. “Because I wasn’t able to attend freshman orientation, I met with him. He talked to me about how he enjoyed math and what I could do with the major. Remembering that day made receiving an award named after Dr. Cranford very significant.’’

That memorable encounter would be the first of many positive experiences boosting her self-confidence and contributing to her success. At UT Tyler, she found a faculty devoted to helping her reach her potential, friends who shared her enthusiasm for learning and unlimited opportunities for career exploration and networking with mathematicians and scientists across the nation.

And succeed she did.

Double majoring in math and biology, Strube maintained a 4.0 GPA, belonged to three honor societies and was Math Club president. She graduated summa cum laude in December and continued working on campus this spring as an assistant in biology research. She will begin graduate school in the fall and is interested in mathematical biology, a growing field that applies the power of mathematics to the research of biological topics.

“When I came to UT Tyler, all I knew was that I loved math and wanted to study it at a higher level,’’ she said. “What UT Tyler has given me, in addition to academic opportunities, is a bigger perspective. When I began my studies, I knew I could teach math with the degree, but I had no idea mathematics was used in so many other ways. I wasn’t even dreaming of graduate school.’’

Strube was extraordinarily dedicated in both majors, UT Tyler professors said.

“Laura is one of those rare students who is not only smart but she’s a super hard worker – one of the hardest working students I’ve ever seen – and very focused,’’ said Dr. Casey Mann, associate professor of math. “We’ve been lucky to have her as a math major.’’

Dr. Blake Bextine, assistant professor of biology, described her as “the kind of student that is extremely satisfying for a professor to teach. She is extremely smart, works hard and is driven. She is really a great example of a student who came with an idea of what she wanted to do with her life, we put a plan together to get her through the program and she stuck to it.’’

Choosing Higher Ed

Laura Strube with microscopeStrube, who was homeschooled, finished 12th grade in 1998 but put off attending college. Back then, she wasn’t sure what direction she wanted for her life.

Two years after high school, she was given the opportunity to tutor math at a girls school near her Winnsboro home. The experience rekindled her interest in the subject.

“I pulled out all my old textbooks, went through them as I taught my students and rediscovered how much I enjoy mathematics. After tutoring for three years, I was far from being burned out. In fact, I was studying pre-calculus on my own just for fun,’’ Strube recalled.

“My sister made fun of me because we shared a room and I was in there three hours a night, just studying pre-calculus and trigonometry. She would say, ‘You’re crazy! What are you doing?’ ’’ Strube said with a laugh. “That’s when I decided my interest was strong enough to complete a college degree.’’

Strube took the college entrance exam, scored high and was offered a scholarship to UT Tyler. She began in the fall of 2004 as a math major, thinking she might also pursue her interest in science with a biology or chemistry minor.

“I had an amazing biology professor my first semester and I just loved the class,’’ she said. “I decided to take more biology and at the end of my sophomore year, I decided to double major.’’

As with pre-calculus before college, Strube devoted hours on end to her university studies. Making all A’s, she was inducted into Tri Beta, Alpha Chi and Phi Kappa Phi honor societies. She also received the Outstanding Student in Biochemistry Award.

Joining the Club

Commuting to Tyler from Winnsboro, she did not plan to get involved in campus activities.

“Traveling an hour and 15 minutes one way, I was very much the commuting student. I came to class, I went home. But the math department, including several upperclassmen, really worked to pull me into the Math Club,’’ said the Dallas-area native, who moved to Tyler her junior year.

Joining the club was one of the best decisions she made.

Associated with the Mathematical Association of America, the organization includes career exploration opportunities along with academic and social events. Traveling with the group to regional and national meetings, including the Nebraska Conference for Undergraduate Women in Mathematics, Strube met distinguished mathematicians from across the country.

“I’m a big fan of the Math Club because it gives students out-of-the-classroom exposure to their field of study, providing additional tools for success and opening up possibilities for graduate studies and careers,’’ Strube said.

“For me, attending the women’s conference in Nebraska was really significant. When I decided to double major in math and biology, I just really liked both subjects. I didn’t realize there was any connection between the two fields. As I progressed through my studies I learned that there is actually a field of research called mathematical biology. At the Nebraska conferences I was able to meet and network with people in that field,’’ she said of the conference she attended twice.

Strube also sought opportunities independently to learn about graduate programs and careers. Discovering there was a Society of Mathematical Biology, she attended its 2008 conference in Toronto, Canada.

Adventures in Research

Laura Strube with plants in biology labIn 2009, she was one of 12 undergraduates accepted nationally to an eight-week Summer Math Institute at Cornell University, in Ithaca, N.Y. The residential program included coursework and research projects to prepare students for graduate work in mathematical sciences.

“It was intense and fast-paced but UT Tyler had given me the foundation to do well,’’ she said. “I was well prepared for the summer institute and realized what strong professors I had here at UT Tyler.’’

Strube won an award at a national conference for a poster presentation based on her research at Cornell. She presented “Minimal Surfaces in Four Dimensional Euclidean Space’’ at the Dallas conference,  sponsored by the Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Latinos and Native Americans in Science.

She also participated in the National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates at UT Tyler, a summer program where students work closely with faculty in math research.

For research experience in biology, she worked in Dr. Bextine’s molecular biology lab. The entomologist and his team of student research assistants work to solve agricultural problems involving interactions between bacteria, plants and insects.

“I wanted to work in Dr. Bextine’s lab because I was becoming interested in that area of biology research. I’m particularly interested in molecular and cellular biology topics –
DNA, proteins, signaling pathways, anything on the cellular level,’’ Strube said, noting she is open to a career in academics or industry.

“Recently, I became aware that there are opportunities for mathematicians in biotechnological and pharmaceutical companies, so that’s a possibility,’’ she said. “I’m looking at all the possibilities.’’


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