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Student Profile: Senior Kyle Fey has mathematics in his bones

By Andrew De Young

Kyle Fey

Kyle Fey

Kyle Fey has heard his share of career advice over the past three years at Dordt College. And Fey, a math major who’s still wondering what he should do with his love for numbers, has been more than happy to listen.

“Gary Vander Plaats always says I have to go into finance,” says Kyle of the business professor. “He tells me that there’s a lot of complex math in that. And a lot of people have told me that I could be an actuary, too.”

Kyle is still taking advice, but for the most part, he’s doing just fine on his own. This past December, he got married to fellow senior Lori Nibbelink, and as far as his future goes, he’s happy to study straight math for the time being. He was recently accepted to the doctoral program at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

“I’ve always had the math major,” Fey explains. “But there were different things added on at different times.” He certainly had an interest in math and an ability to excel at it—a self-directed study of calculus in high school taught him that—but he just wasn’t sure that mathematics would leave him with a clear career plan.

“I started out with math and physics,” he says. “I had a lot of fun with physics in high school, and I thought that I might want to be a physics major.” When that didn’t pan out, he moved to computer science, before finally dropping everything but the math. Although some students would be worried about abandoning majors without a clearer career plan, Kyle hasn’t looked back.

It was a good choice, as his former roommates will testify. “Kyle’s built to be a math major,” says Brian Schaap, who has known Kyle since they went to grade school together in Edgerton, Minnesota. “When he lived with us, there would be days when he would spend almost all his time by his desk, studying. He was so focused.” During his junior year, Kyle’s roommates saw his love for his discipline cross over into other areas of his life when he bought an aquarium, filled it with pet crabs, then playfully named them after famous mathematicians.

“I like all the structure in math,” he explains. “All the fields are related to one another, inter-related. And even though there’s usually one right answer, there’s still a lot of capacity for creative thought.” You can tell as he says it that he’s had the same conversation before, that he’s had to set people straight about his major in the past—it isn’t pointless, it isn’t dull, and it does take a lot of creativity.

“There are times,” he admits, “when you feel like, what are we studying? But math is a part of God’s creation. All this structure, what we’re discovering, that is something that God has created.”

His perseverance in the math major, admittedly, has been made easier by the fact that his professors recognize his potential and encourage him to develop it, most notably Dr. Calvin Jongsma. In the waning months of Fey’s sophomore year, Jongsma asked him to work for him during the following summer. He accepted, beginning a job that has lasted much longer than either of them expected. Now in his senior year, Kyle is still working for Jongsma.

“Jongsma is writing a text for a class in Discrete Structures,” Fey says. “He wanted a bit of student feedback, so that was where I came in.” It was Fey’s job to work through the textbook, do the problems, look through similar textbooks for comparison, and go to Jongsma with his findings. After the summer was over, he kept working, writing hints for some of the exercises, a job which continued through most of last year.

Soon, however, Jongsma became interested in a computer program called MIZAR, which checks mathematical proofs for validity. He asked Fey to acquaint himself with it, thinking that it might have potential applications for the developing textbook.

“It’s hard to use,” says Fey. “The syntax of the program makes it difficult for most students.” So, using skills he gained from his time as a computer science major, he began writing a new program. He’s still working on it.

“I want to add a little more functionality,” he says. “But mostly I need to work with the interface and make it more user-friendly.”

One day, Jongsma’s textbook may be published, with Fey’s program as an accessory. For now, however, Fey is just trying to get everything finished by graduation.

After graduation comes graduate school, maybe in Nebraska, maybe not. But no matter what direction his life will take, Kyle doesn’t seem too worried. He’s had unique opportunities in his years at Dordt, and if he keeps following his talents and interests, he’ll likely find more opportunities in graduate school, too.