Carolina Math & Me: Martha Anne McKnight

Today’s guest post is by Martha Anne McKnight, M.D., a 1977 Carolina graduate with a dual B.A. in Mathematics and Chemistry. More information about McKnight and her support of Carolina Mathematics is available in the story about her establishment of the Ancel Clyde Mewborn Professorship in Mathematics.

While I had always planned to become a physician, I also knew that throughout my high school years, mathematics had been my most interesting and challenging subject. At that time, it was unusual for “girls” to major or consider careers in mathematics, but both high school teachers and later UNC professors encouraged my study of this challenging field. While I know mathematics majors are trained far differently now than in 1977, when microchips were but dreams and computers took up whole basements in Phillips Hall, the theories of calculus, linear algebra and the other more theoretical concepts remain largely unchanged. Much more has been added, which I confess, I have not kept current in learning.

I did become a physician, and I left the United States for Europe immediately after medical school and residency training to serve in the United States military. While it is difficult to explain, my mathematics training in learning to solve theoretical equations helped me through some very difficult times in areas of the world where combat medicine became my specialty by necessity. The “down” times in these areas is still one of heightened anxiety, and the logic and beauty of matrix theory and mathematical theory as I remembered it helped move me into a different world of thought than the geographical one where I found myself, and quite often made sleep come easier and the days more bearable. Once I was injured and required multiple orthopedic surgeries, this training was even more invaluable in these ways. I am especially grateful for the instruction that I received from Dr. Mewborn and Dr. Mann in helping me acquire these abilities. Besides mathematics, they also always demonstrated the highest standards of professionalism and dedication to their students.

It has truly been amazing to watch the developments which have transpired over the decades with applied mathematics, the integration of mathematics and computer science, and the growth of the Mathematics Department in both the number and quality of their professors and students. The number and the quality of the developments that the Department has made since my graduation speaks to both the wisdom and the foresight of the leaders of the Department. It is an honor for me to be able to say that I graduated with a degree in Mathematics from UNC.

— Martha Anne McKnight, M.D.