Mark Panaggio ’09 graduated from Hope with a double major in engineering (electrical concentration) and mathematics. Upon graduation, he entered a Ph.D. program in Engineering Sciences and Applied Mathematics at Northwestern University. After completing his Ph.D., he spent two years teaching math to engineers as a Visiting Assistant Professor at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology. He then returned to Michigan in the fall of 2016, when he started his current position at Hillsdale College. Mark teaches a variety of undergraduate mathematics courses, especially those that make up Hillsdale’s applied math major. His courses include topics like mathematical modeling, differential equations, scientific computing and algorithms. He also does research on mathematical models of complex systems and studies how the interactions between individual agents in a system can lead to emergent collective behaviors such as spontaneous synchronization, swarming, and pattern formation. These emergent phenomena are essential to the efficient operation of a variety of natural and engineered systems including power grids, GPS systems and biological networks in the heart and brain. The following are excerpts from a recent correspondence with Mark.
What do you find most exciting or interesting about the work that you do?
My favorite part of my job is the fact that I get to help students learn how to use their knowledge of math and science to describe real world systems and solve practical problems. I particularly enjoy working on research projects with students both inside and outside of the classroom.
What are some activities you were involved with at Hope that helped shape you as a person?
I had a blast as an undergraduate at Hope. When I wasn’t studying or working in the math lab, I played on the ultimate (Frisbee) team and played on every intramural sports team I could. I also spent three summers working with Dr. Veldman on a project that involved investigating the pressure waves generated by explosives. Being involved in research as an undergraduate was great preparation for graduate school, but more importantly it helped me to realize that I had a passion for research and to appreciate how the concepts I was learning about in class came together in a real-world setting. When I started at Hope, I did not have a clear sense of what I wanted to do when I graduated, but those hands-on experiences helped me figure out what I was really interested in: exploring the computational tools used in engineering and science. Ultimately, this convinced me to pursue graduate studies in applied mathematics and got me started on the path I am on today.
Can you comment on the liberal arts aspect of Hope?
In hindsight, a couple of things about my liberal arts education stand out: 1. Although the technical knowledge from math and science classes is certainly important, being able to write clearly and communicate effectively are just as vital. Although I may not always have enjoyed it at the time, the writing and presentations I did for my general liberal arts classes made me a better teacher and were great preparation for writing papers and giving talks about my research. 2. Developing and clarifying one’s life-view is an essential part of a liberal arts education. I would encourage students to dig deeper into their faith and to seek the truth. At Hope, I was challenged to wrestle with difficult questions about what life is all about, what I believed and why. I left Hope on a firmer foundation and with a clearer sense of purpose than when I arrived.
What advice would you give to current students?
Don’t forget that learning doesn’t stop when you leave the classroom. If you can, get involved in a research project, extracurricular activities, or work as a lab assistant or grader. Often you will find that the time you spend on those activities will be just as valuable as the time you spent in class. Also, get to know your professors outside of class as much as you can! They can be a great resource and there is much you can learn from them even after class is over.