Paul Dougall ’20 feverishly scribbles advanced mathematical definitions and proofs on a chalkboard in front of three faculty members from SUNY Potsdam’s Department of Mathematics. He moves from one side of room to the other, as he presents his work and fields questions. The weekly seminar is part of his capstone project for the BA / MA program in mathematics—a unique opportunity for highly motivated students to graduate with both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mathematics at the same time.
“If you discuss the option with your advisor freshman year and are invited to join Theory of Sets (the course that determines whether or not you are let into the program) in your sophomore year, you can graduate with both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in four years. It’s one of the few programs in the entire country that offers that. It’s really a great opportunity,” Dougall said.
Under the guidance of Dr. Cheryl Miller, Dougall has been delving into the study of algebraic structures through the lens of mathematical logic. “My seminar is on universal algebras. Basically, it’s building off of set theory and logic. It’s been fantastic so far! I really love everything Dr. Miller does. She works hard to make sure I’m on task, but she also lets me figure things out on my own, which is a big part of the BA / MA program,” Dougall said.
"All the professors in the mathematics department really are out of this world! They’re all understanding, especially with the BA / MA students who are really pushing themselves.”
Several years earlier during Calculus 2, Dr. Cornelia Yuen set Dougall on his current path. “At first, I found the course difficult and I felt maybe it wasn’t right for me, but I went in to talk to her and she gave me advice and helped me through it. I ended up doing very, very well in the course. The way she presents information is very structural and very detail-oriented and I absolutely love that," he said.
Dougall is a true Renaissance man. In addition to his dual degrees in mathematics, he’s also pursuing a bachelor’s degree in music business. When it came time to line up the required internship for music business, he landed a paid internship at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center where he was also able to incorporate his knowledge of data and statistical analysis. “I learned so much! I was doing a lot of work with google analytics, with the website and tracking the organization’s social media accounts to see how they’re performing,” he said. “It was out of this world! After this internship, I realized that I can incorporate my love of music and my love of math and bring them together into the same world.”
After getting back to Potsdam this fall, he resumed his leadership role as a resident assistant where he helps students adjust to college life and directs them to the resources they need to succeed. He also started his second year working as a tutor in the math lab. “I’ve always been drawn towards helping other people. That’s why I got into tutoring at the math lab. I also used to be a TRiO tutor. Throughout high school and college, I have always been the person that my friends come to for help, and I was always more than willing to help them,” he said.
“Potsdam really is a special place. All the professors want you to succeed and want to do everything they can to make you stand out in a crowd and better yourself. It really is an amazing school.”
Dougall also oversees the Math Alliance, a student-run organization that supports students interested in the field. He said the club brings students together to do homework and interact on a social level. As its president, he wanted to do more. “This year, I went out of my way to start a speaker series. I reached out to professors at SUNY Potsdam, Clarkson, St. Lawrence University and SUNY Canton and I asked them if they’d be willing to do an hour-long talk on various topics. We currently have four professors who have agreed to come speak,” he said.
To round things out, Dougall loves to write music, play the guitar and piano, and he’s a self-proclaimed movie fanatic. On top of that, he’s a regular fixture at the Maxcy Hall Fitness Center. “I’m big into lifting. I have an appreciation for working hard and really pushing my body to its limits. I think that applies both physically and mentally,” he said.
Where does all that hard work come from? He points to parents who have dedicated their time and resources to push him and his siblings to reach their full potential. “Both of them are engineers, but my mom decided to leave work to be a stay-at-home mom to raise us. She would read to us every single night and help us with math homework. My dad has worked his butt off his entire life, and he has done more than I can possibly fathom. He’s saved up tens of thousands of dollars for each of us to help pay for college, and that’s money that he could be putting towards retirement. They really do everything they can to help us—I’ve come to realize how much I appreciate everything they’ve done,” he said.
As he wraps up his last year at SUNY Potsdam, his career choices are endless. Whether it’s math, music business or another interest, Dougall will use all of his experiences at SUNY Potsdam to forge his future path. “Potsdam really is a special place. All the professors want you to succeed and want to do everything they can to make you stand out in a crowd and better yourself. It really is an amazing school,” he said.
Article and photos by Jason Hunter