Summer Program Attracts Top-flight Math Students

Date: 07-07-2014

Joe Wills
Public Affairs

California State University, Chico is once again hosting some of the best mathematics students in the country in June and July as part of a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to provide them and high school math teachers with an opportunity to do challenging math research.

summer math program students work on a laptopThe NSF-funded summer math program, Research Experiences in Mathematics for Undergraduates and Teachers (REUT), is celebrating its 10th anniversary in 2014. Over that span of time, CSU, Chico faculty from the Department of Mathematics and Statistics, College of Natural Sciences, have successfully applied for a series of three-year grants to keep REUT on campus and attract a total of 58 students and 17 teachers to the program.

This year’s REUT program, which ends July 11, includes 16 participants.

The students and high school teachers work in teams tackling difficult math problems in hopes of publishing the results. Each of the three teams has a CSU, Chico math faculty member providing guidance.

Participating undergraduates come from CSU, Chico, CSU, Monterey Bay, Emory University, Wesleyan University, Willamette University and Virginia Tech.

Over the last eight years, the students and teachers have co-authored 12 peer-reviewed journal articles and six presentations at national and international conferences as a result of REUT research.

Many of the math problems the teams try to solve have real-world applications, said Sergei Fomin, CSU, Chico math professor and director of REUT. One of the three teams this year is working on modeling the wave action of a tsunami, while another is graphing complex lines and shapes that could aid in the design of circuit boards.

Math professor Thomas Mattman, REUT’s first director and one of the faculty participants, said he is excited that eight CSU, Chico students are in this year’s co-hort. Admission to REUT is competitive, Mattman said, so having a high number of Chico students enrolled speaks well for their math skills and motivation.

Mattman first began a summer math program in 2003 based on a grant from the Mathematical Association of America. The NSF grant received the following year was the first such grant in the U.S. to provide funding for high school teachers as well as college students. Currently, of the 49 higher education sites with math research sites funded by NSF, only CSU, Chico and Willamette include teachers.

Chico High School math teacher Dan Sours, who is on a team this summer led by professor Kathy Gray, has participated in REUT since 2004. “It is the most fun to be around so many smart young people,” he said. “You’d be amazed at the work they do.”

CSU, Chico student Ravi Shankar, a math, physics and chemistry major, is in his second year in REUT, and spends some time mentoring other students. Shankar, who transferred to CSU, Chico from UC Davis, said he is drawn to the challenging level of mathematics required, and the opportunities to publish research. After graduation he plans to pursue a Ph.D. and future academic career.

“These are very bright students and fast learners,” said Fomin, noting that all have virtually 4.0 averages at their respective schools. “In six weeks they will prepare and submit a research paper – it’s really amazing.”