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Earning Dean's Medal gives grad 'confidence to keep exploring the world of math'

Haiming Zhang

Haiming Zhang, Dean's Medalist for the School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences.

December 06, 2018

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for fall 2018 commencement. Read about more graduates

Haiming Zhang grew up in Zibo, China, a place he describes as “a small but beautiful city.” When it came time to choose a college, Zhang did much research and found that Arizona State University received high reviews among Chinese graduates. “I think for a lot of international students, ASU would be their priority selection.”

Zhang has thrived at ASU, and will be graduating with his bachelor’s degree in mathematics with a concentration in statistics as the Dean’s Medalist from the School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences.

Last spring, professor Rosie Renaut taught Zhang in her MAT 425 numerical analysis course. After, Zhang approached her about the possibility of doing a research project. She had been investigating properties of a relatively new numerical linear algebra approach called Randomized Singular Value Decomposition. Although the material was definitely graduate level, Renaut felt by focusing on certain aspects of the problem they could design a suitable project for a talented undergraduate like Zhang.

“It has been a delight to work with Haiming,” said Renaut. “He immediately realized that the algorithm that I wanted to investigate could not be implemented in the format I had anticipated. Together we've worked through a modification, thus really leading to new research.”

Although graduating this semester, Zhang has already asked if he can continue to work on the project. Renaut is enthusiastic to continue the collaboration, which will hopefully lead to a short report that can be published.

“I have great hopes for Haiming. He is talented, proactive and curious,” said Renaut. “It really is encouraging to interact with students like Haiming.”

Zhang was thrilled to discover he had been chosen as the Dean’s Medalist.

“It is proof to my efforts and hard work during the last three years. I feel so honored to receive this award, have my name on the list with those past winners. It gives me the confidence to keep exploring the world of math,” he said.

Zhang answered a few questions about his experience at ASU.

Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to major in math?

Answer: I had work experience in a media and film-related company in China before I came here. My first "aha" moment was at that time when I got software using statistics to analyze the hot topics online and on different social media platforms. I was amazed by the power of science. It was embarrassing and hilarious that I thought statistics is the same as math. That was the reason why I chose my degree, mathematics with a concentration in statistics.

My "aha" moment here (at ASU) would be the time when I took MAT300 and MAT371. I have to thank Dr. Matthias Kawski for leading me to the right path on math learning. That was the first time that I found math is not the way I understood, and also made sure I want to learn more.  

Q: What is something you learned while at ASU that surprised you or changed your perspective?

A: I like some proverbs in the U.S.: "All work and no play make Jack a dull boy" and "Play hard, work harder." When I study, I learn to stay focused and be efficient. Besides studying, I like to devote time to those things that can make me fresh. Also, the camaraderie between classmates and affection between professors and students keeps pushing me forward. 

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I am going to continue my learning in applied math. Hoping to get my PhD in the future. 

Q: Were there any faculty that had a strong influence in your mathematics journey at ASU?

A: A lot of thanks to Dr. Rosemary Renaut and Dr. Matthias Kawski, they are like guides on my way of math learning. I feel so blessed to meet them in my life. Dr. Renaut is insightful and intelligent, by following her thinking, I learned a new way to think of a problem from different aspects. I took MAT 300 and MAT371 with Dr. Kawski. He is so thoughtful and sciential and always tries to show us the big picture of math learning. 

Q: What is the best piece of advice you would give to those still in college?

A: My suggestion is to try to break through your limit. Better not to satisfy your current situation, keep testing yourself and you will find you can do more than what you think you can do.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: I would like to work on problems like the environmental problem. To be specific, like climate change and animal protection. The environmental problem is becoming more and more serious nowadays. To make our Earth healthy, we need to draw attention from the public and let them realize how serious the problem is. One of my favorite movies is "The Day After Tomorrow"; the protagonist is a meteorologist. He used a mathematical model to forecast the disaster and saved people in the hazard area. The movie has now become reality. I think it is meaningful to use what I learned to do something like this.

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