Sierra Lutheran grad earns math Ph.D. at Kentucky

Stephen Deterding

Stephen Deterding

He’s one of those most likely to succeed types who still somehow manages to take things even a little further. And everyone who knows him just nods in unison.

Standing just 5-10, Stephen Deterding always stood out as an important figure at Sierra Lutheran High School. A key member of the school’s two-time State Champion Academic Olympic team, a mainstay in student government, a member of the basketball and golf teams, and ultimately the salutatorian of the Class of 2008, Deterding owned the pedigree and necessary work ethic to write his own ticket. And he did.

In May, the former Carson City resident actually punched his own ticket by earning his doctorate in mathematics from the University of Kentucky. Soon after he became an assistant professor in the mathematics department at West Liberty University, a four-year public college near Wheeling, West Virginia. In earning his doctorate and professorship, Deterding became the first Sierra Lutheran student to achieve these distinctions.

“It was a lot of hard work, but at the same time it was very rewarding to learn so much new material,” Deterding said. “My fellow doctoral students were amazing people who were also extremely passionate about mathematics.”

Deterding’s research concentrated on complex analysis, which is the study of complex numbers frequently used in physics and engineering. Also furthering his doctoral work was his attendance at a wide range of conferences, as well as his own presentations to international scholars, including one conference in Lublin, Poland.

“I got to meet other mathematicians from around the world and listen to them talk about the kinds of math that they work on,” Deterding explained. “I was also able to give a few talks about my own work at conferences.

An applied mathematics major at Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia, Deterding enjoyed tremendous success as an undergraduate. He was a member of Pi Mu Epsilon, an honorary national mathematics society, and he earned the Outstanding Applied Mathematics Major Award and Outstanding Mathematics Major Award during his junior and senior years, respectively.

Deterding’s undergraduate experience provided invaluable foundational principles for his doctoral work. And yet, this acclaimed scholar nearly pursued a totally different career path.

“Before coming to Sierra Lutheran, I would have never thought that I would end up majoring in mathematics, but in my math classes with Dr. (Tami) Seddon, I discovered that I really loved the subject, and that I wanted to learn more about it, “ Deterding reflected.

“For a long time I wanted to do something with geography. I enjoy traveling and learning about other countries and when I was younger geography, not math, was my favorite subject in school. In fact, when I was first applying to colleges I thought that I would major in geography and only near the end of my senior year in high school did I decide to major in math instead.”

Seddon, herself a distinguished scholar with a doctorate in inorganic chemistry from Stanford University and who now serves as the principal at Sierra Lutheran, saw her pupil’s talent early on.

“Stephen was a geography whiz and several times had more accurate information regarding names of countries than the ‘answer key’ (in Academic Olympic competition),” Seddon recalls. “I am not surprised that Stephen has successfully obtained a Ph.D. in mathematics. God has given this young man a brilliant mind. He will use him mightily in his new position.”

Deterding not only credits his secondary education, but also grace as a significant factor in his success.

“I feel like I had a very solid foundation when entering college so that my first semester wasn’t as huge as a transition for me as it is for others,” he stated, “ Throughout my journey I’ve been placed in the right situation at the right time or that I’ve met the right person to guide me, so I would have to characterize it as one that’s been directed by God from the very beginning.”


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