Calculus classes for non-engineers

Photo by Brenda Lin

Its time to face the facts, math sucks. The only thing that sucks more is math at Tech. But this, very true, statement does not mean that math is not essential to both our degrees and future careers. I have to say, though, that I without a doubt believe that Tech’s math curriculum could be vastly improved with just a few, simple changes.

Sitting in my upper level economics classes, I realize the same thing daily—that I did not understand calculus until now. Somehow, when a derivative is described as a marginal cost and not the velocity of a rocket (if that is even correct?), I get it instantly. Put a word problem in financial terms, I understand.

I am now annoyed that I sat through hours of math classes where I suffered through physics I will never need and will probably never understand. The problem is, though, that my only other option was to take arguably easier and less impressive math classes, such as Survey of Calculus. For a Tech student who aspires to go to graduate school, this was not a viable option.

So instead, I spent my time learning about subspaces and velocity when I can see now, I should have been spending my time focusing on stochastic matrices and the Lagrangian method.

Instead of thinking of vectors in terms of physical space, I should have been given the opportunity to see vectors as financial models.

Changing the math curriculum to include calculus for Business and Economics majors would only help Tech. As long as these classes stayed as difficult as other calculus classes, there would be no softening of Tech’s tough reputation. Tech would, though, possibly move up in rankings, especially for Business and Economics. Our graduates would be able to prove they understand the difficult intricacies of financial math. Then, as Tech moves up in the rankings for these majors, more students would come to Tech specifically for Business and Economics. Which again, as if in an infinite loop, would only increase our rankings, which is good for every student at Tech.

Currently, there is an option of Calculus for Biology majors. I am envisioning a very similar structure for these, more financial based, calculus classes. There are two other pros to this idea.

First, there would be a greater sense of community between students in these majors, which would not only be a nice bonus for students, but could also create more collaborative research and organizations within these majors.

Second, students would feel more prepared and do better in their upper level Economics and Finance classes. If students had seen in their entry level calculus classes that matrices can be used for things other than finding the null space of a plane, or that derivatives can be used to find marginal cost, professors would be able to focus on other, possibly more difficult information in their classes. Again, this would only help Tech’s reputation,

I am not asking for an overhaul of the current math curriculum. I am not asking for all Business and Economics majors to have to take these classes. I am just asking that they be offered.

Just because Tech is a fantastic engineering school, it does not mean that it can’t be a fantastic business or finance school, as well.