Not for the Faint of Heart: Math 2500
As I looked around on the first day of class Math 2500: Multivariable Calculus and Linear Algebra, thirty-nine other kids sat in the chairs in the classroom in Stevenson 1. By the time of the final exam, eighteen remained.
This is the story of the first semester of the best math class offered in freshman year, called Math 2500 (formerly Math 205a) and taught by Professor Bruce Hughes.
The first day of class, the forty freshmen in the class were told that we must love math to stay in the class. Some of us shrugged, convinced that we loved math enough to stick in the course. Some looked a little scared—was liking BC Calculus enough to stay in the class? And some considered dropping the class that day.
The first problem on the first homework ever told us to prove that zero times a vector x was the zero vector using the four fundamental theorems of vector spaces. I looked at two of my housemates and we exchanged wide eyes… what even? Of course zero times x was zero.
We did not understand the terminology yet. We did not understand Math 2500.
After spending an hour and a half with the TA (Teaching Assistant), Chang, we walked out of the office grinning. Math was so incredible! I felt invincible. I could do anything.
I received a 73% on that homework.
Every Sunday found me in the Stambaugh seminar room, climbing the great learning curve of Math 2500. I’ll be the first to admit that I did not start at the same level as the top echelon of the class; although I had taken a year of Multivariable Calculus/Linear Algebra, what I had done in that year could be summarized as drawing conic sections and inverting matrices… worth maybe a week in Math 2500. To be honest, I’m probably the lowest member of the 18-person class in terms of mathematical knowledge and skill. Therefore, I spent hours outside of class reviewing class notes, collaborating with my classmates on homework (highly encouraged by Professor Hughes and an integral part of math :) ), going to office hours with the most amazing and helpful Professor Hughes, and checking Blackboard a couple times a week to see my grade fluctuate between a 73 and a 75.
But the more flashcards I learned walking from Frassati House to Stevenson to Blair to Commons, the more I improved. The more notes I covered, the more questions I asked, the more time I spent in office hours, the more I strove to appreciate how beautiful math is, the more I learned what it means to be a member of Math 2500. It’s a war, man. But you will win in the end.
The night before the exam, I slept an hour and a half in the library and reviewed math from an hour and a half after my chem exam on Friday night to an hour before the exam at 9 AM Saturday morning. I received an 81% on my exam in my greatest triumph yet at Vanderbilt.
After considering dropping the class so many times, worried about my GPA before medical school, I can’t express how happy I am that I stayed in Math 2500. The beauty of math, transferring from the R3 to R2, learning the way linear transformations can be represented as matrices, taking my first steps in set theory, and so many things I have yet to fully understand… all these things convince me that I will always be a math major at heart.
So, don’t be afraid that Vandy won’t measure up to the level of the Ivies, and don’t be afraid to take a course that will challenge you to your limits. Be strong. Be courageous. Vandy is not for the faint of heart, and neither is Math 2500.
Math 2501, here I come.