Joseph McElmurray’s selection to represent Augusta University as the 2023 Academic Recognition Day Scholar came as a complete surprise to him.
“I got a phone call from a random number. I picked it up, and it turned out to be Dr. Seth Oppenheimer, who is a really prominent figure in the math department,” said McElmurray. “That day I had a road trip, a conference with my church. I was definitely surprised.”
Academic Recognition Day is a 35-year-old tradition in which the University System of Georgia awards one student from each of the system’s institutions for their academic achievements. Every year, each USG institution selects a student with a 4.0 GPA who best represents the high standards of the system.
The ceremony was held April 25 in Atlanta, where honorees received a resolution from the Georgia House of Representatives and a letter of commendation from USG Chancellor Sonny Perdue.
McElmurray, an Augusta native, is a senior pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics from Augusta University’s College of Science and Mathematics. He is also minoring in Spanish as a way to keep close to his mother’s Nicaraguan roots and looks forward to graduating next month.
“I started out as a physics major with a focus in pre-engineering, but engineering wasn’t really something I wanted to do,” McElmurray said. “It’s really just because I like math. I have a puzzle-oriented mindset, so math has always been one of the more enjoyable subjects for me.”
McElmurray has applied his love for math to his capstone thesis research with Olusegun Otunuga, PhD, an assistant professor in the College of Science and Mathematics. McElmurray is working on modeling infectious disease transmission in cases where vaccinated individuals can still be infected by an emerging variant. This model is being used to analyze epidemiological parameters for COVID-19 variant cases in the United States.
“His analysis and coding show his mastery of the concepts taught,” Otunuga said. “He brilliantly demonstrates logical understanding of all mathematical and statistical concepts taught in the class. He is dedicated and punctual, always attending every class lecture.”
According to Oppenheimer, who also serves as chair of the mathematics department, McElmurray was the “strongest mathematics senior in terms of academics” and was awarded as an Outstanding Senior in Mathematics during CSM’s Honors Night in March.
McElmurray has made use of his Spanish minor while at AU, as well. He was a part of a collaborative voiceover project between Art Berger, director of multimedia in Communications & Marketing, and Giada Biasetti, PhD, associate professor and program director in the Department of English and World Languages in Pamplin College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences.
The project involved dubbing Wycliffe Gordon’s My Augusta University Story into Spanish, and the video was sent to the Emmys for a potential nomination and later aired on Telemundo.
“His Spanish is excellent. His English is very strong, too, so for translation that is the perfect combination,” Biasetti said. “He’s got a talent for it. He could very well have a profession aside from what he is focusing on with math.”
McElmurray is not only active in academics, but also outside of the classroom as a member of the Baptist Collegiate Ministry, where he serves as the missions and evangelism leader. His duties involve student outreach and fundraising for mission trips.
“I’ve had a lot of really great friendships come out of my involvement with the BCM,” McElmurray said. “I think that has been something to help me persevere in academics because I think whenever studying and doing homework a lot, there’s definitely the risk of burnout.”
McElmurray plans to remain in Augusta post-graduation and seek out data analysis work. He said there is no “secret potion” to how he balanced his time at AU while juggling his academic and other responsibilities.
“It boils down to consistency and self-discipline,” McElmurray said. “Just having the discipline to keep going is definitely key. And again, I think having the balance is helpful — having school and then something else to really mitigate any sense of burnout.”