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Mathematics students present research, earn poster award at national conference

RELEASED: Jan. 24, 2011

EAU CLAIRE — Four student-faculty research teams from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire mathematics department recently presented their projects at a prestigious national conference, with one team receiving a poster award for their project.

The Joint Mathematics Meetings, held this year from Jan. 6-9 in New Orleans, La., is the largest annual gathering of mathematicians in the United States. The conference is attended by members of the American Mathematical Society and the Mathematical Association of America.

A total of 266 research projects were displayed at the conference, and most top U.S. universities were represented, said Dr. Simei Tong, UW-Eau Claire associate professor of mathematics and student adviser for two of the projects. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, George Mason University, Brown University, The Ohio State University and Northwestern University were among the universities who sent research teams to the conference in addition to UW-Eau Claire, she said.

UW-Eau Claire students Josh Frinak, Green Bay, and Austen Ott, Mt. Horeb, received a poster award at the conference for their project, titled "Constructing Moduli Spaces of Low Dimensional A∞-Algebras by Extensions." Dr. Michael Penkava, professor of mathematics, was the faculty adviser for the project.

Part of the research for the award-winning project was conducted in June in Budapest, Hungary, where Frinak, Ott and Penkava collaborated with a faculty member at Eötvös Loránd University. They received a travel grant for the trip through UW-Eau Claire's Center for International Education.

In addition to the Joint Mathematics Meetings poster presentation, Frinak and Ott are presenting the research at several other conferences this academic year, and they have been selected from among 3,500 applicants to give a talk at the national meeting of the Council on Undergraduate Research this spring, Penkava said.

This was the fourth consecutive year that a poster by Penkava's students received an award at the Joint Mathematics Meetings. Of the students who received awards in the past, one is now employed as an actuary and three are enrolled in graduate programs. All four continue to do research and submit their results for publication, Penkava said.

"Two of the reasons that my students have been winning the awards for their posters are, one, they include original research by the students, and, two, the students can explain the results in their posters to the people who stop by to look at them," Penkava said.

Penkava added that he has observed a change in the perceptions among mathematicians about the contributions undergraduate researchers can make to the mathematics field.

When he wrote a grant proposal several years ago for a research project involving undergraduate students, a reviewer expressed serious doubts that an undergraduate could take part in the research in any meaningful manner, Penkava said.

In contrast, a referee for one of Penkava's more recent grant applications wrote, "This is one area where undergraduates can do something significant."

"The change in attitudes is partly due to the results that my undergraduate researchers have been able to obtain," Penkava said.

The following UW-Eau Claire students and faculty advisers also presented projects at the national conference:

  • Shawn Peters, Cumberland, and Becky Sippert, Eau Claire, with faculty adviser Tong, presented "Classifying Complemented Subspaces of Lp, 2 < p < ∞. with Alspach Norm."

  • Chelsey Drohman, Tony; Ying Yang, Eau Claire; and Alice Oswalt, Eau Claire, with faculty advisers Dr. Kate Masarik, assistant professor of mathematics, and Tong, presented "An International Study of Mathematics in the Middle Grades: China, Russia, and the United States."
  • Bret Meier, Oshkosh, Ott, Mt. Horeb, with faculty adviser Dr. Colleen Duffy, assistant professor of mathematics, presented "Polynomial Equations over Matrices."

  • Tristan Williams, River Falls, with research team members from the University of St. Thomas, Worcester State University and the University of Indianapolis, presented "An Exploration of Ideal-Divisor Graphs."

All of the students received support for their research projects and travel to the conference through UW-Eau Claire's Office of Research and Sponsored Programs.

Presenting at the national conference provided key opportunities to these undergraduates, Tong said.

"In addition to the opportunity to present their research results, going to this national conference gives our students an excellent opportunity to meet famous mathematicians, explore the newest developments in mathematics and meet graduate school directors," Tong said.

Tong noted that completing research that qualifies for presentation at the MAA conference has taken much extra effort by the students and faculty involved.

"For example, I had meetings with my student research teams almost every weekend last summer and through the fall," Tong said. "UW-Eau Claire's undergraduate mathematics program is among the best when it comes to the undergraduate research experience and faculty dedication to students' success."

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JP/DW

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