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First-Year Students on the Fast Track after Completing Accelerated Math, Physics Programs

Monday, August 31, 2015
Students enjoying math problems.

Problem Solvers: First-year students learned to work together to complete three 10-week calculus courses in just five weeks through the Fast Track Calculus program.

The familiar lyrics of Fleetwood Mac's popular song "Don't Stop" billowed from a stereo system in a physics laboratory on campus, inspiring first-year students to learn elements of kinematics, gravitation, electric fields, and DC circuits.

Don't stop thinking about tomorrow
Don't stop, it'll soon be here
It'll be, better than before,
Yesterday's gone, yesterday's gone

The future looks bright for several members of the 2015-16 freshman class after meeting their first campus academic challenge, passing the Fast Track Calculus (FTC) or Accelerated Math Physics (AMP) programs - completing 30 weeks of coursework in both areas within five weeks.

Now, that's being on the fast track!

"Both are real intense programs, and introduce students to the work ethic needed to succeed at Rose-Hulman," says physics professor Richard Ditteon, who joined mathematics professor David Finn in leading the AMP program. It was started four years ago following the success of the 27-year-old FTC program.

Only those entering freshmen who have demonstrated outstanding ability in mathematics and physics, taken a year of college level calculus during high school, and taken one year of high school physics or analytic geometry are invited to take on the challenge. Graduates receive 13 to 15 hours of academic credit, depending on the program, and can take sophomore-level courses during the fall quarter or get a head start on an academic minor, double major, or graduate early.

"I do whatever is hardest…I love challenges," says Sydney Wilson, an engineering physics major who was in the AMP program. "I didn't realize I would be staying up until 3 a.m. for three straight nights working on calculus and physics problems. If I can complete this, I should be able to do alright when regular classes begin [on September 3]."

"Rose-Hulman is going to feel like a piece of cake after this," adds Zach Muncie, a mechanical engineering student in the FTC program. "I quickly realized I had to try a lot harder here than high school."

Computer science student Lewis Kelley, another AMP participant, remarks, "You come off summer vacation and then, bam, this hits you. Within the first few days, you have gone through all the physics and calculus you learned in high school. Everything is new. That first week was definitely a big learning curve for all of us."

Nearby, Paul Earhart holds up a thick stack of papers containing answers to one night's worth of 20 calculus problems, with multiple parts.

Fast Track Photo

Learning Laboratory: Students in the Accelerated Math Physics program completed several hands-on projects to learn about such topics as Newton's laws of motion and the Lorentz force law. (Photo by Bryan Cantwell)

"The work was definitely hard, and if you got full credit for completing just one problem correctly, with its many steps, you felt as if were on top of the world," says the computer engineering major. "But, then, you realize there are more problems to solve. You can't be satisfied here."

FTC students reviewed differential and integral calculus, covered all of multivariable calculus, and became familiar with the computer implementation of mathematics. Classes were taught by mathematics professors Elton Graves and Wayne Tarrant from 8:05 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays. Then, students solved homework problems from 5:30 p.m. until midnight - or well into the next morning. A total of 55 problems and a group project were completed during the first weekend.

"It was math, eat, sleep, and more math for five weeks," says Mariana Lane, a mathematics major. "The days seemed to blend together. The five weeks went by so fast."

Earhart adds, "It was astoundingly painful and sleep depriving, but the most amazingly fun time I have ever had. I'd do it all over again."

The academic demands of both programs required students to work together to complete assignments. These are friendships and academic survivor lessons that will be helpful throughout their Rose-Hulman careers.

"As we worked together more, the work seemed to get easier," remarks Karcher Godfrey, a mechanical engineering student. "We found out that if we could deal with [AMP or FTC], we could deal with anything that Rose-Hulman throws at us."

"By the second week you find out that you have to work with people to succeed here," says Miranda Anderson-Kenney, a biomedical engineering student."

Wilson, her first-year Rose-Hulman roommate and fellow swim team member, adds "I've come out of my shell here. I have learned to work with others, make friends, and be ready to learn lots of new things."

Math and economics major Ty Adams had his first all-nighter early in the FTC experience. However, he was well aware of the challenges since his father, Isaac, completed the program in 1994.

"Passing this was a major personal accomplishment," Ty states. "It showed me that I have what it takes to make it here, and has prepared me well for what's ahead."