Applied math insights guide student intern through diverse fields
Long before her sophomore year at Furman finished up, Megan Hubbard ’24 had a pretty good idea what she wanted to do. She just didn’t know specifically how and where she would do it.
“I always knew that I wanted to walk alongside individuals in challenging positions,” said the senior from Nashville, Tennessee. “I thought, ‘OK, you can do that in the legal field, you can do that in the teaching field or you can do that in the medical field.’”
She started in Summer 2022, working in the nation’s capital as an investigative intern with the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia.
“I really liked that, because I got to track down and interview witnesses, meet with clients in the D.C. jail, serve subpoenas and scrutinize body camera and surveillance footage,” she said.
But although she was indeed walking alongside individuals in challenging positions, she didn’t see a way the criminal justice system could equip them to overcome those challenges.
“It seemed like a lot of clients were stuck in a cycle,” she said. “You get charged with something, the public defender defends you, you go to jail for a little bit, you get out, and then you’re just continuing with the cycle. I got frustrated with that. I wished I was using my problem-solving skills to help extract someone out of that situation.”
As an applied mathematics major taking courses like Operations Research, Hubbard was building a strong problem-solving skill set and insight into how to make systems more efficient, she said. Hoping to apply more of those skills, she explored another of the fields on her list the following summer.
In 2023, the Townes Scholar and Wylie Scholar in Mathematics joined the Summer Neuroimaging Intensive Research Program at Prisma Health as an intern.
Teaming with students from the University of South Carolina School of Medicine Greenville and other undergraduates from around the state, Hubbard investigated the relationship between Alzheimer’s disease and traumatic brain injury with the help of a high-performance computing cluster, presenting findings at the medical school’s research symposium in July.
“That gave me a taste of medicine and research,” she said. “I liked the science-y aspects of it, but now I’m thinking of something where you’re interacting with patients more.”
As her senior year progresses, Hubbard is looking for postgraduate opportunities in the biomedical engineering or genetic counseling fields.
“With counseling, you’re still using the critical thinking and problem-solving skills that I used in the D.C. internship, but you’re also getting human contact,” she said. “You’re walking someone through how genetics work.”
Stories like Hubbard’s illustrate how internships can help students find direction, said Andy Coe ’91, associate director of the Internship Office.
“We get to come alongside each student individually and explore those questions,” he said. “Some students are pretty sure what they want to do professionally, and an internship can help them confirm that. But sometimes students learn what they don’t want to do – and that is still a successful internship experience.”
Hubbard’s ability to leverage her background in applied mathematics in two different fields is another advantage Furman has given her, Coe said.
“The beauty and power of a liberal arts and sciences education is that students are learning how to think, not what to think,” he said. “Many of our students will spend the better part of their careers working in jobs that don’t even exist yet. If they were in college just to learn a job, we would be setting them up to be obsolete fairly quickly.”
The student experience at Furman will help Hubbard and her classmates on their paths, whether they lead to law, medicine, education or some other occupation as yet unimagined, said Coe.
“Our students – regardless of major – are learning to think critically, communicate clearly, work collaboratively and anticipate and solve problems,” he said. “Those skills will serve them and their future employers well for a long time to come.”