Hidden Lessons in Differential Equations

differential equationsUnless you love math you probably went “Huh?” Not to worry. There won’t be a test.

This is like an Aesop’s Fable without the cute animals but including a balding professor and a lesson to be learned at the end.

I started out my freshman year of college as an Electrical Engineering student at NCSU.

Whoa! You probably thought you were at Mitch Allen’s Morpho Designs and had to take a second look because this is way more up his alley. I’ll wait while the shock wears off……….ready?…ok

It took me about 3 months to learn:

  1. I hated electrical circuits and would rather eat nails than do this the rest of my life.
  2. Drafting was fun only because of the cool tools, and I felt like Mr. Brady looking over architecture plans on the drafting table. (Explains the stick figures?…maybe)
  3. It’s possible to have a 7 average in a class and not be a star athlete (It was the notorious Chris Washburn years).
  4. Blowing up resistors and capacitors at amazing speed and quantity in lab is frowned upon.
  5. When it comes to picking lab partners, skill outweighs the novelty of being the only female in a room of geeks, so no one wanted to be my lab partner. (Due to #4)
  6. I needed to switch majors…ASAP.

Economics/Business Management with emphasis in Computer Science and Marketing here I come! Phew!

However I loved math! Despite the fact that I could have easily finished my math credits in business math, I chose to stick it out and finish the Engineering math route instead – which brings me to my final math class and the hardest class I ever took…Differential Equations.

The population of female engineering students from my perspective was…one. Me. I never had another girl in any core classes. So it was no surprise to walk into the tiny 20 desk room for Differential Equations class and discover I was the only one…again.

My teacher was a stereotypical math teacher that resembled an even geekier version of Dwight from the office but with no hair.

Dwight Schrute who I adore! Mr. D. E. Professor who I did not adore.
Dwight Schrute who I adore meet Mr. D. E. Professor who I do not.

After three weeks I was so lost and confused in the class that I resorted to a road trip across town for some tutoring from Dad, the genius that doesn’t forget a thing. He taught me a different method, and we discussed how horrible the book was.

Long story short, I went to my professor’s office to have a chat. This was the first and last time I ever met with a professor in my college career. For fifteen minutes I went on and on and on about the trouble I was having, how I learned a better method, and how useless the book was.

The rest of the semester I was a target in his class. Three times a week at 7:20am, I would sleepily plop into my seat in the front row and receive the usual sarcastic “Welcome, Melinda. So glad you could join us today,” from the professor. Constantly picked to solve equations on the board and always singled out as being the only “business major” with a “what are you doing here?” attitude, I put up with being the class outcast.

Remember the feeling when a semester is over and you can’t wait to run to the used book store and sell back the $150 textbook for $50? Money! A rare college treat!

The Revelation

Standing in line dreaming about spending the money on a delicious pizza, I all of the sudden looked at my textbook as if seeing it for the very first time. All those nights pouring over the inside chapters of maddening math problems, and I never once read the cover which said:

Differential Equations by D.E. Professor.

Moral: BEFORE ranting about how horrible and useless a book is for fifteen minutes, check the author. Especially if your grade depends on it.

OK there is a test…or more of a joke

What did the mathematician say after Thanksgiving dinner?

Hint: sqrt(-1/64)

Courtesy of my genius son who found this hysterical at 12:30am while my brain was spinning. This one is for you Mitch!