Jordan Berkompas spends her days in a classroom that looks like something out of the movie A Beautiful Mind.
On three walls of the room, equations—matrices, derivatives, long algebraic formulas with enough x’s and y’s and Greek symbols to make your head spin—cover whiteboards. To anyone who is number-challenged, it’s an overwhelming scene. But for Berkompas ’20, a double math and computer science major from Hopewell who’s also a member of the Cormier Honors College, it all makes sense.
Simply trying to explain what she’s studying this summer with her faculty mentor Dr. Tom Wears, associate professor of mathematics, involves tossing out everything most people know about geometry and how it works.
“We’re working in Lorentzian geometry, which is different from what most people learn in high school,” she said. “In this geometry, shapes can be distorted and look totally different from one another, but still be the same. It’s often confusing at first because what you picture in your head is different from what the math is telling you, but I’ve gotten pretty used to it now.”
In other words, say goodbye to rules like a square always needing four right angles.
“I think we’re often spoiled by problems that are easy to solve,” she said, “or ones where we can always expect to write down a correct answer. If nothing else, spending a semester and summer working on these problems has taught me that math isn’t always going to be clean and nice—and it’s exciting to work on it that way.”
I have thought about being a math teacher, but working with Dr. Wears has given me a bit more perspective on the options available to me.Jordan Berkompas
Berkompas is one of several students selected for Longwood’s selective PRISM program, the signature intensive summer research program that pairs students with faculty mentors to work on a project. In the past, undergraduate students have published papers and presented their findings at professional conferences—a first step into a career in their field or an important distinction when applying to graduate school.
“I have thought about being a math teacher,” said Berkompas. “But working with Dr. Wears has given me a bit more perspective on the options available to me. It’s also given me a taste of what that kind of work would be like in the field, so I’ll keep exploring.”