Student Spotlight: Meet Student Showcase winner, Kaylin Jones

Mathematics and civil engineering major Kaylin Jones was a winner of the 2017 Student Showcase Awards. Photo credit: Jay Guzman


One of 2017’s Student Showcase winners, Kaylin Jones is skilled at writing, public speaking, and she has a third often elusive ability –for those talented in reading and writing– to understand mathematics. When Jones started her freshman year at UAA she planned to graduate with a B.A. in journalism.

“When I first applied here I did not think I was going to do anything [math related]. I actually wanted to do journalism, but then I took calculus one and about halfway through it I realized that I loved it,” Jones said. “I found what I was interested in and it was math.”

Since that calculus one class, Jones has switched her degree to a double major in mathematics and civil engineering, and she plans to graduate in four and a half years. Jones wants to become an environmental engineer, and after she graduates from UAA she will pursue a masters degree in environmental engineering.

“I think our environment has a lot of issues facing it right now, and I want to be one of the people who can help that,” Jones said. “I think that we need good, smart people in that discipline right now, and I want to be one of those people. I feel like it is a good way to make a difference; even if it is just on the local level, small environmental projects are always important.”

Jones loves math but she wanted to find a way to apply math outside of an academic setting, so she became an engineering major too. For the past two years Jones has worked as a research assistant with civil engineering professor, Osama Abaza, and their work focuses on reducing crashes around Anchorage and Alaska by researching anything from depressed medians to red light running.

As a female engineering and mathematics student, Jones said she is often the minority in her classes.

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“I think, because there is a lot of men in the classes versus women, student wise it’s kind of an interesting experience because you kind of get this feeling when you first go into a class that many people don’t expect you to be overly great,” Jones said.

Jones has been on the Dean’s list or Chancellor’s list every semester she has attended UAA while taking heavy course loads of mathematics and engineering. Mathematics Professor, Kamal Narang, said Jones is able to succeed in her courses, not just because she is a talented student, but because she is confident in her abilities.

“To me what stands out the most for her is the level of confidence she has,” Kamal Narang said. “She’s very aware of what she can do. She knows she can do it.”

Jones said part of what encouraged her to double major was her oldest sister, who has degrees in both mathematics and civil engineering.

“I think another big issue is that growing up women feel like they’re not as good at math,” Jones said. “If you want to study it, study it anyway, because I can guarantee you’re going to be just as good as anyone else. No one in math or engineering, none of us are like geniuses where everything is easy, we have to try hard too. Just do it.”

In her free time Jones has participated in the Cabin Fever Debates, where she was a finalist, she has written letters to the editor surrounding the issue of health care, she is a member of the American Society of Engineers and she enjoys rock climbing.

Kamal Narang encouraged Jones to submit a paper she wrote in his course, Historical Mathematics, to Student Showcase. Kamal Narang said he was impressed both by the content of the paper and the delivery. As one of Jones’ mentors, Kamal Narang has expressed how remarkable it is that she maintains good grades while taking 22 plus credits a semester.

“When [Jones] came for the [Student] Showcase her mother came… Her mother was mentioning in [Jones’] free time she likes to do so and so, and I said, ‘Kaylin has free time! Where does that come from?!’ And her mother said, ‘I don’t know either, where does that come from?’”

Debbie Narang, is also one of Jones’ mathematics professors, and she describes Jones as “just kind of a dynamo.” In the summer semester of 2015 Jones made the Chancellor’s list for all A’s after taking 15 credits of engineering, mathematics and technical writing courses.

“Back in 2015 I wrote this letter recommending her for our department tuition waiver, which is basically we chose on the basis for successes,” Debbie Narang said. “Usually a student at this level, I wouldn’t know them that well and they haven’t proven themselves. I would pick someone more senior, but she was obviously such a fine student that I had to recommend her.”

Debbie Narang said Jones has a rare confidence and fire, as well as a great work ethic. Kamal Narang said to be a good student like Jones one should “do homework” and be confident in your abilities. Jones advises other potential female engineering and mathematics students to pursue those degrees if that’s their passion, regardless of the initial atmosphere.

“Sometimes in classes the atmosphere can make you feel a little uncomfortable when you are in a room of mainly men, and that’s not really anyone’s fault it’s just you kind of get singled out in a way if you are the only woman in the room,” Jones said. “No one does it on purpose if just kind of happens, I think if–it’s hard– but if you can just ignore that feeling and keep trying succeed anyway, and you know you are good at these things then just do them.”