Bright Scholar - Professor Steven Broad

Bright Scholar

When asked about his work and academic experience, mathematics professor Steven Broad responds with a smile, “It’s complicated.” While Broad says he can’t remember a time when he wasn’t interested in mathematics, he began his education as a physics major.

At that time he was an intern at NASA Lewis Research Center (now John Glenn Research Center) in Cleveland, Ohio. “I learned firsthand from working on several projects that I enjoyed the interplay between mathematics, physics, and engineering,” he says. Soon after, his real analysis professor said to the class, “When I was a student and I learned the Bolzano-Weirstrass theorem for the first time, I knew then that I wanted to be a mathematician and teach this idea to students.”

Broad thought, “Me too.” And he made the switch to mathematics, which led him down a varied and exciting career path. Broad earned his master’s degree from Washington University in St. Louis prior to his work experience and received his PhD from the University of Notre Dame last year. It is his first year teaching at Saint Mary’s.

Broad has worked as a software engineer, consultant, and applied mathematician for several companies mostly doing work related to scientific or mathematical programming.

He has worked on projects related to: microgravity fluid dynamics, radiation oncology, power systems optimization, portfolio optimization, asset and option evaluation, stochastic risk analysis, and economic evaluation of electrical transmission networks.

“The common thread in these projects is the use of mathematics and computer science to solve complex problems in the business world,” says Broad.

Impressed yet?

In 2010 the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board selected Broad as a Fulbright scholar grantee to Brazil. During the summer of 2011 Broad conducted research in his specialty, classical dynamical systems and differential geometry, and teach a seminar on the subject at the Instituto de Matemática e Estatística of the Universidade de São Paulo (USP-IME).

Broad brings a wealth of experience and expertise to Saint Mary’s students. He teaches courses in mathematics and computer science, including introduction to statistics, data structures, and system analysis and design.

Perhaps best of all, Broad is accessible to his students when they need assistance, and he makes subjects like advanced calculus accessible to them too. He especially enjoys watching students’ learning progress throughout a semester. He says they often can’t see their growth because they don’t have much perspective on the increasing difficulty of the material. Broad makes a point to illustrate it for them.

“It reminds me of a backpacker who, after hiking uphill for several hours, turns around and sees the smallness of things in the valley below and says ‘Wow! I can't believe how high I've climbed.  The view from here is beautiful!’ The backpacker then turns back around and finishes the climb, because she wants to see the view from the summit,” says Broad.

The key to Broad’s teaching style is changing students’ perspective on their own abilities. One of the greatest obstacles to their learning can be the memory of past negative experiences.

“Giving students opportunities to succeed often comes down to helping deconstruct their learned disinclination to the subject matter —“I’ve always been bad at math”—being available to students, and grounding our class time in concrete examples that are close to our lives,” says Broad.

Broad encourages his students to treat learning math and computer science as if they are learning new languages in which to express their ideas. “This can help students to keep from getting lost in the symbols and formulas and start to think about mathematics and computing as a set of ideas that they already use in their lives, and with a little practice can improve their use of them.”