Riley Juenemann is a first-year student in the Honors Program at Tulane.
Riley Juenemann is a first-year student in the Honors Program at Tulane, studying mathematics and computer science. She is grateful for the academic communities she has become a part of, whether in the Honors Colloquia, the Honors RLC in Wall, or in her departments, which all bring together similarly academic-minded students, but with hugely varied interests and experiences. These communities have enabled Riley to pursue her central goal for her time in college: academic and cultural exploration.
Like all first-year Honors students, Riley has supplemented her conventional curriculum with enrollment in Honors Colloquium courses in the Fall and the Spring. Last semester, she took the class “Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics,” with Scott McKinley, Associate Professor in Mathematics (see this article on Professor McKinley and his Colloquium here). Riley says the class made her question what she thinks she knows, and, indeed, the “foundational basis” for any kind of knowledge. For her final project, Riley presented research on GMO foods, where there is a large disconnect between public perceptions—of health risks—and scientific evidence—which provides no support for these perceptions.
The gap between academic research and public perceptions has returned as a theme in Riley’s Spring Colloquium, “Quest for Answers,” with James Huck, Assistant Director of the Stone Center for Latin American Studies. Once more, she has learned that academics must be able not only to research topics and find truths, they must also be able to convey them, convincingly, to multiple audiences.
Riley is also looking to expand her studies by spending more time outside of her main fields. After the end of this semester, she will be taking part in the Summer Business Minor program, which she sees as a way to push beyond her STEM focus. In addition, Riley is “toying with the idea of a music minor.” As a long-time musician, she says, part of what drew her to Tulane was the opportunity to study music alongside her more conventional interests.
However, Riley’s academic explorations are not occurring solely within the classroom. Indeed, she recommends that all students get involved with events happening in their departments or elsewhere on campus, where they have an opportunity to encounter new topics and perspectives. Riley cites a lecture she recently attended in the Math Department on computational biology, which encouraged her to think about a whole new area of study for the first time.
The Honors Residential Learning Community (RLC) in Wall Residence Hall has provided another vital academic community for Riley. Students share some key characteristics, she says, in that they are studious and care about the world around them. Yet, they differ enormously in their specific areas of interest, expertise, and experience, which makes for fascinating conversations and interactions on a daily basis. For example, a recent Open Mic event in Wall saw students performing music, poetry, comedy—a huge, and exciting, variety of acts, all in the courtyard of Riley’s residence hall.
Though she is not yet sure of her longer-term interests, Riley is excited to continue her explorations at Tulane and in the Honors Program. She hopes to get involved in research and write a thesis, but has not yet decided whether she would like to focus on applied or pure mathematics. Similarly, she is also undecided between a research-focused or more practical career in the longer-term. One thing is for certain, however—Riley has plenty of opportunities to continue exploring.