UW-Stout News Story

Visiting students find math research, weather to their liking

July 19, 2012

Camilo Montoya hasn’t noticed that this summer in Wisconsin is hotter and drier than usual. To a native of Miami, where he’s a senior-to-be at Florida International University, the weather seems even a little on the cool side at times.

Truth be told, the weather hasn’t been on his mind much. He’s spending eight weeks studying a branch of mathematics known as complex analysis in air-conditioned Jarvis Hall at University of Wisconsin-Stout.

From an education standpoint, it’s been a perfect summer for Montoya. He is one of six students from around the country taking part in a National Science Foundation-funded research experience for undergraduates together with two UW-Stout students.

“So far, the program has been everything I hoped it would be,” Montoya said. “I love the small-town atmosphere. It’s been a breath of fresh air.”

This is the first year of a three-year, $214,837 NSF grant for the program, believed to be the first NSF-funded research experience for undergraduates, or REU, in school history. It began June 10 and ends Friday, Aug. 3.

Six members of the math faculty, all with previous experience in directing undergraduate research, are involved. They are Alex Basyrov, Chris Bendel, Steve Deckelman, Seth Dutter, Matthew Horak and Amitava Karmaker.

The research focus is on using computational tools to address geometric questions in algebra and analysis. Students are working in pairs with faculty mentors on “answering theoretical research questions in mathematics,” Horak said.

“These questions do not have answers in the back of a book or anywhere at all in the professional mathematical literature. The research teams are coming up with new ideas that nobody has ever thought of before to address these unsolved problems,” Horak said.

Montoya is in a group working on a project involving invariants of hypersurfaces in multidimensional complex space, a project that could have future applications in physics, he said. “I wanted to do theoretical research. I applied to several REU projects; this one stood out,” he said.

Students have been putting in 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. days in the classroom and labs. “They are learning a number of skills necessary for success in mathematical research,” Horak said.

The program involves weekly professional development workshops to prepare students for graduate school or careers in research and development. On a recent day Dutter held a workshop for the students on taking the graduate record exam, or GRE, for math, which they must pass to get into graduate school.

Students also will present their summer research at a math conference and submit it for publication, Bendel said.

"I can’t wait to go to graduate school if it’s going to be like this,” Montoya said.

As part of the REU, UW-Stout professors brought in an applied mathematician from Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico to introduce students to career paths within mathematics that they might not previously have been aware. Professors also have introduced students to west-central Wisconsin through sightseeing and cultural outings.

Dutter said students seem “to be enjoying themselves” despite putting in long hours on their projects. “It’s very important that students in every group have some results toward their problem, which is difficult in math.”

Jennifer Graetz of Hudson is one of the two UW-Stout students chosen to participate in the REU. She also is one of the first students in UW-Stout’s new math education concentration, designed to prepare her to teach math.

“I’m learning what graduate school for math is all about. It’s eye-opening. Here it’s much more theoretical, beyond what you would do in class and much more on your own,” Graetz said.

Graetz is paired with Tyler Russell, from Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas. Russell thought UW-Stout’s REU was one of the most impressive when he found it on the NSF website.

“It’s nice working with a small group of people who are really into the same thing,” said Russell, who plans to take the GRE this fall and hopes to become a university math professor.

Russell, like Montoya, is enjoying his first trip to Wisconsin. “I like Texas but not in the summer,” he said, noting that Wisconsin’s hot weather hasn’t seemed bad to him.

Other visiting students are: Sharif Younes, Bowdoin College, Ithaca, N.Y.; Melissa Haire, Gordon College, Moultonborough, N.H.; Ariel Setniker, Western Oregon University, Stayton, Ore.; and Lukas Owens, Whitman College, Seattle. The other UW-Stout student is David McKlveen, of De Pere.

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