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Black History Month
2020 Honoree

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Opel Jones

Opel Jones

Clinical Assistant Professor

Towson University

 

Where are you from?

I was born in Brooklyn, NY and lived there until I was 6. We then moved out to Far Rockaway, NY and lived there until I was 13. We then moved to Beltsville, MD where I enjoyed my 8th through 12th grades. I am a proud product of New York City and Prince George’s County Public Schools!

 

Please describe an experience (or 2) that helped you discover/ cultivate your interest in the mathematical sciences.

As far as I can remember I have loved mathematics. My mother, a 31-year veteran special education teacher, tells the story of how I would always ask for more math problems and more puzzles when I was little. She would bring home old workbooks or dittos for me to complete. As I matriculated through middle and high school, math was always my favorite subject; I wanted a 100% on any and every assignment, I would not accept anything less, not even a 95% or 98%.

As an undergraduate student at Hampton University and choosing mathematics as my major, I fell deeper in love with the mathematical sciences and all of the various mathematical fields; algebra, analysis, differential equations, logic, geometry, even the history of mathematics. My junior year, one of my mathematical mentors, Dr. Ira Walker, dragged me kicking and screaming to my first mathematical conference for undergraduate research. It was MATHFest VII held at Elizabeth City State University sponsored by the National Association of Mathematicians. This was the first time, outside of Hampton, that I saw dozens of other math majors from all over the country who looked like me, professors doing research who looked like me, and met a couple of historical figures in mathematics; black history in the making. It was then that I knew mathematics was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life!

 

What is/are your most proud accomplishment(s) in regards to your career in the mathematical sciences?

In addition to actually completing my PhD at Howard University, through the trials and tribulations of life, I am super proud to have my own sequence, along with my advisor Dr. Alexander Burstein, in the Online Encyclopedia of Integer Sequences (https://oeis.org/A308750). It was previously believed that the sequences 2143 and 3421 were not Wilf-equivalent on Dumont permutations of the first kind. However, after careful reevaluation of the two sequences, they actually do not diverge; they in fact enumerate the same sequence up to n=10. I am hopeful that 2143 and 3421 will continue to enumerate the same sequences for all n.

 

What is/are your most proud accomplishment(s) in regards to your personal life?

With respect to my personal life, I am extremely proud of becoming an elected official, especially while completing my PhD. (I have to thank God, my amazing and supportive wife, as well as my two handsome sons and beautiful baby girl for giving me the inspiration and the drive to achieve both.) Two to three times a week, I literally would spend the afternoon with my advisor, then run home to knock anywhere from 75-100 doors before picking up the kids, have dinner with the family and get the kids down, then do research and write my dissertation until 1 a.m. or 2 a.m.

My wife had our baby girl in May of 2018, I was elected in November of 2018, and defended my dissertation in July of 2019. I had more than a few reasons not to run for office, and/or to take a break from the PhD… But God!

 

Please share some words of wisdom/inspiration.

For students thinking about the mathematical sciences as a career, you can do whatever you want to do with a background in mathematics. I have been a systems engineer, a computer scientist, a higher education administrator, and a faculty member. I’ve known math undergraduates and master’s students to go on to medical school and law school. With the analytical skills, the will to learn, and the drive to achieve, you can do anything with a mathematical background.

I would encourage mapping out your short term and long term goals, put dates to them, then work backwards to the present day to see how you will achieve your goals. They may be tweaked a bit, or changed all together, but keep pressing forward and never quit:

When things go wrong as they sometimes will,
When the road you’re trudging seems all up hill,
When funds are low and debts are high
And you want to smile, but you have to sigh,
When care is pressing you down a bit,
Rest if you must, but don’t you quit!