Math Department promotes team building through NSF research grant

by University Communications,

Erin McNicholas, Josh Laison and their colleagues in mathematics have been awarded a three-year, $267,555 grant from the National Science Foundation.

The grant is funding the continuance of the Willamette Mathematics Consortium Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) Program, an eight-week summer program of undergraduate research, career development and team building.

“I am particularly happy about the opportunity it creates for Willamette students to collaborate with us and with students from across the country,” McNicholas says. “While only a handful of our students will be able to participate, hosting an REU in the department raises student awareness of such programs.”

During the next three summers, nine faculty members from Willamette University, Lewis and Clark College, Linfield College and Hamilton College in New York will conduct original research with 27 undergraduates. Their work will be organized around the themes of ring and matrix theory, statistics and random processes, and graph theory and combinatorics.

Program activities are designed to expand students’ knowledge of mathematical content and process, strengthen their technical communication skills, and increase their awareness of and preparation for careers in mathematics and other STEM fields, according to Kendra Mingo, director of the Office of Faculty Research and Resources.

Though it will be hard work, Laison says he’s excited to collaborate with a broader community of mathematicians here at Willamette. He’s also happy to provide students with an authentic research experience.

“These programs show students what it’s like to do research as a professional mathematician, helping them decide if it’s something they would like to do for their career,” he says. “It’s also a pretty great summer job. Who wouldn't want to do math all summer and get paid for it?”

In the past eight years, the consortium’s efforts have created research opportunities for 94 undergraduates and 20 teachers, based on more than $1.25 million in awarded funds from the National Science Foundation.

Student applications will be accepted through March 1 at mathprograms.org

• Article by Natalie Pate ’15, politics and French/Francophone studies major