Laying a Mathematical Foundation as You Build Your College Success

A hand builds a neat tower of blocks

Seattle University’s Mathematics department in the College of Science and Engineering is your home for a variety of degrees and specializations designed to fit your interests and your professional goals. At SU, you will benefit from our notable faculty connecting closely with you through our average 12:1 student-to-faculty ratio, and from practical, hands-on learning that is built into our programs at every level from class projects to research. Our graduates find themselves in a variety of careers in a diverse set of industries including finance, insurance, software engineering, and the sciences. In addition, some of our mathematics graduates pursue careers in teaching, while others continue their education through top graduate programs in mathematics, finance, statistics and other disciplines.

Our commitment to your educational and career success begins with our direct admission approach, our success with transferring students from a variety of regional and national institutions. We offer various forms of scholarship support for incoming, transfer, and continuing students. Mathematics is an essential tool in the modern world, as well as a fascinating and beautiful subject in its own right. Wherever your passion is focused, we embrace your dedication and will support you along your path toward making a difference. 

Math Dept. News

Get To Know the Math Faculty: Donna Sylvester

Three photos of Prof. Donna Sylvester, including one with her twin sister and one with her kids and husband
Part of a series of Math faculty profiles

Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Follansbee, West Virginia.  It’s a town in the northern panhandle of WV on the Ohio River. The main employers in the area were steel mills and coal mines. I lived there with my twin sister Deeann, older sister Deborah, and parents. It was fun growing up as a twin. I always had someone to play with and there was a natural competition that was good for both of us (MOST of the time).  We did the usual tricks like switching classes on April Fool's Day. Sometimes we participated in a local theater group (the Brooke Hills Playhouse), which performed in an old barn that had been converted into a theater. We appeared in several musicals (Sound of Music, Fiddler on the Roof, Babes in Arms) and sang on the radio. Today, Dee is the manager of a software team for Emerson Process Management (a company based outside of Austin, TX). So, she is another STEM person!

If you are not from Seattle, when and why did you come here?
After I finished graduate school in 1988, my husband, John (who is also a mathematician), and I were looking for jobs in university mathematics departments (the two-body problem). We had visited Seattle the previous year for about 5 weeks and really liked the city and all the outdoor activities. The University of Washington offered John a tenured position and me an Acting Assistant Professorship. While we had options in other cities, the UW was the only institution that offered us both jobs.

When and how did you first become interested in math?
My Dad was a civil engineer. He got his degree through a correspondence school and always wanted his daughters to attend college, an achievement that was limited to less than 20 percent of my high school class. He was the one who motivated us. I always liked math and science.  After biology labs got too icky, chemistry labs got too smelly, and physics labs got too frustrating, I ended up in mathematics, which is a beautiful subject that is not offensive to any of my senses. 

Where did you go to college and what was your major?
For my undergraduate degree, I attended Bethany College in Bethany, West Virginia.  I majored in mathematics with a concentration in computer science. I earned my Masters and Ph.D. in mathematics at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. 

When did you start teaching at Seattle U. and how did that come about? 
I started teaching at Seattle University in the fall of 1990.  When I was in my second year in my position at the UW, I had a friend with insomnia.  He was reading the Chronicle of Higher Educations late one night and saw that SU was hiring for a tenure-track position in mathematics.  He told me about it and I applied. And the rest is history! 

What is your favorite class to teach and why?
I love to teach differential equations.  For me, it is a great place for students to see why they took all those calculus courses and linear algebra.  The course provides a good review of much of the material in previous mathematics courses.  And, it’s so useful and beautiful! 

What is the most exciting math project you’ve ever been involved with?
I really enjoyed working with a team of mathematicians at other universities to create an epidemiological model for a disease called Onchocerciasis (commonly called River Blindness) that effects people in tropical countries.  The disease had been targeted by the Carter Foundation for eradication, and a statistical model predicted that it would be eradicated after 25 years of treatment.  However, our deterministic model helped explain why the desired result was not attained in some countries. (Mostly due to the fact that civil wars and famine made it impossible to administer Ivermectin inoculations to a high enough percentage of the population.) 

What is your favorite pastime, other than math?
I like to stay active.  My favorite things to do are yoga, biking, hiking, playing basketball, and Ultimate Frisbee. Note that I did not say that I was GOOD at all those things. Also, I used to enjoy painting (acrylics) and hope to do that again someday. 

What is your most prized possession?
I am not sure I have one, perhaps my wedding band. 

If you could give college students one piece of advice for success in school, what would it be?
Stay organized. Knowing what your assignments are and when they are due can really help you succeed in college. Ultimately though, the goal is not to complete assignments, it is to think and learn, and to develop the ability to continue learning for the rest of your life. So, take some time to find to reflect and find your real interests, and remember that it will take real work to pursue them.

If you could give college students one piece of advice for success in life, what would it be?
Listen to those around you, seriously try to understand what they are saying, and reflect before you speak or act. (I wish I were better at this.)  

Anything else we should know about you?
My mathematical hero is Peter Lax. He is incredibly smart, productive, humble, and encouraging. I have two adult children. My daughter, Emily, is an aerospace engineer and my son, Michael, is a mechanical engineer. They both work for Boeing in the Seattle area. All of us are pictured with Emily’s husband, Christian, at their wedding in Hawaii, last fall.


Math Student Kelemua Tesfaye receives an AMS Trjitzinsky Award

American Mathematical Society Logo

Each year the American Mathematical Society selects a number of geographically distributed schools, which in turn make one-time awards to math students to assist them in pursuit of careers in mathematics. The schools are selected at random from a pool of AMS institutional members. For the 2020 awards, the AMS chose eight schools to receive the $3,000 awards. The mathematics departments at those schools then chose students to receive the funds.

The Waldemar J. Trjitzinsky Memorial Fund is made possible by a bequest from the estate of Waldemar J., Barbara G., and Juliette Trjitzinsky. Waldemar Trjitzinsky was born in Russia in 1901 and received his doctorate from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1926. He taught at a number of institutions before taking a position at the University of Illinois, where he remained for the rest of his professional life. He showed particular concern for students of mathematics and in some cases made personal efforts to ensure that financial considerations would not hinder their studies. This award is made in the spirit of that concern.

Kelemua Tesfaye is a senior studying Applied Mathematics at Seattle University. Kelemua is deeply invested in mathematics education and research, as a transformative tool for the liberation of oppressed peoples. As a tutor, TA, and teacher, Kelemua enjoys engaging students who are rarely included as contributors to the mathematics community and investigating problems they are curious about. This past year Kelemua did knot theory research and designed the game Knotris as well as attended an NSF REU that used machine learning to improve electoral district maps. Kelemua plans to do more research in the future that can contribute to uplifting people and challenging power dynamics, while continuing to teach others by attending graduate school. 

New Data Science Minor In Offering!

Data Science Key Image

Working with data is increasingly becoming an important skill in a wide variety of fields. In the social sciences, business, leadership and management, journalism, engineering, and many other areas, the ability to understand, analyze, and summarize data can be a valuable skillset for employees.

Seattle University's new interdisciplinary minor in data science prepares our students for an increasingly data-driven world. In this minor, students will be introduced to the fundamental skills necessary to incorporate data analysis into their work. In keeping with the mission and identity of Seattle University, this program includes an emphasis on issues of justice, ethics, and equity in the ways that data are used in our society. Students learn how to engage with data in their careers in ways that are not only technically proficient, but informed by the social context of data in the modern world.

As part of this minor, two new data science courses are being offered for the first time this academic year. DATA 3310, Data Visualization, will be offered in Winter Quarter 2021, and DATA 3320, Methodology and Applications of Data Science, will be offered Spring Quarter.

For details, please see our Programs of Study page (Data Science). You can also follow news and events from the Data Science program on Instagram and Facebook. If you have any questions about the minor, please feel free to contact McLean Sloughter (

The faculty and advisors in SU’s Mathematics Department are second to none! I am beyond impressed with the passion, care, and enthusiasm that they express inside and outside the classroom. I feel that I’ve received a top-tier education that has established a solid foundation for my future endeavors.

2018 SU Student


Dylan Helliwell

Math Chair


John Teegarden

Sr. Administrative Assistant