20141212 JLH Hui Gong-004One of Hugh Gong’s research projects investigates volatility in options pricing. Another uses a quantitative analysis of variance to help uncover the genetic basis of seed yield in plants.

From the trading floor to the genetics lab, mathematics and statistical analysis help us make sense of the world around us, and Professor Gong loves to put this powerful tool in the hands of his students.

For many, he says, the opportunity to do research is they key to grasping the potential of math.

“With research, students learn how useful math can be, and that’s exciting,” Professor Gong says. “It can give you insight into a problem that you may find really inspiring, and then you want to learn more.”

Students in Valpo’s math department have the opportunity to attack real research problems from their first semester at the University. Each semester, math professors describe research agendas and invite students to join their teams.

“This is a very important part of our undergraduate program,” Professor Gong says. “This is where they go beyond formulas and learn to solve problems. They look at the information available, consider the question to be answered, and develop the methodology.

“Statistics is more than a science; it’s an art,” says Professor Gong. “Most processes depend on probability, and quantitative analysis can find insights that allow us to see things from a different perspective.”

As with any art, mastery requires practice. That, according to Gong, is what motivates the Valpo math department’s commitment to undergraduate research.

Also important, he notes, are presentation skills. “We encourage students to present their research at conferences and at the math colloquium, so they get training in speaking in front of an audience.”

The ability to understand a problem, subject it to quantitative analysis, and communicate the solution is invaluable in just about any field, Professor Gong notes.

For an illustration of this, students need look no further than Gong himself: in addition to his research in options trading and plant reproduction, he is discussing a new project with a Valpo law professor.

“Statistics can be used in so many different areas; it gives me a lot of opportunities for collaboration. It’s just so widely applicable.”

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