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Convocation 2024

Congratulations 2024 Graduates!

The College of Science 2024 Convocation Ceremonies were held on Thursday, May 2 at the Jon M. Huntsman Center. The ceremony was presided by Dean Peter Trapa and featured comments from Associate Dean Pearl Sandick, chairs and directors of each department and a student speech by physics graduate Dua Ahzar.

 

Dean Peter Trapa Convocation Speech:

Welcome! My name is Peter Trapa, and I am Dean of the College of Science and of the College of Mines and Earth Sciences.  On behalf of the entire merged college community, I welcome you to the 2024 convocation ceremony.

I am so happy to be here with all of you -- graduates, of course, but all those (family, friends, loved ones) who have been with you every step of the way.  Many of you began your college careers during the years of the pandemic, so you know acutely the privilege of celebrating here together, in person. Just take a moment to think about how the last few years have changed you - I hope you look back fondly at favorite lectures, campus events, the friends you’ve made, and how much you’ve learned and grown as a person. You have achieved so much, overcome so much… you are unstoppable!

The twenty-first century will continue to be shaped by scientists, engineers, and mathematicians who first shed light on the pandemic, and whose research in many ways allow us to be here on this dazzling day.  The challenges facing our world will continue to tackle the grand challenges – energy, environment, medicine, health – of the future.

That’s you!  It’s your turn.   The world awaits you -- needs you -- each and every one of you.  Your career, your family, your entire life -- all unspool into an endless frontier of infinite possibility, and it’s your imagination that is the best window into your future. You will take what you learned in the Colleges of Science and Mines and Earth Sciences, the technical and the abstract, what you learned from your friendships and experiences at the U -- you’ll take all of that, and apply it in new ways that none of us, except for you, can imagine.  Embrace the change and opportunities as they come, and seek out new discoveries and challenges.  I’m so excited - and so proud - for all of you.

Remember that you are, and will continue to be, part of our College family. We want to hear about your successes, your new discoveries, your opportunities. Remember that we are here, celebrating with you every step along the way, as you achieve great things.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Solace of Numbers: The Math Center

The Math Center


May 20, 2024

Above: Director Lisa Penfold sitting among the activity of the Math Center.

PRIOR TO 2002, ANGIE GARDINER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF UNDERGRADUATE SERVICES IN THE DEPARTMENT OF MATHEMATICS, WAS WORKING WITH HER MATH TUTORS OUT OF TWO OLD WWII BARRACKS SITUATED BETWEEN THE COWLES AND WIDTSOE BUILDINGS ON PRESIDENTS CIRCLE.

Today, things are exponentially better, and not just because of the expanded space, with its beautifully rendered sandstone exterior accented with concrete and glass and illuminated naturally through skylights, rising into an elevated garden patio above. The $1.8 million T. Benny Rushing Mathematics Student Center, where the Math Center is housed, currently speaks to the collaborative, integrated space—both physical and mental—that offers what Gardiner calls a “continual review of mathematics” targeting University of Utah undergraduates enrolled in math classes.

That continuing review is robust as well—on-demand for students who at times just drop in with a quick query or for others who actually use the space as a study hall, raising different-colored felt flags (depending on what area of math they need help with) at their work stations when they need one-on-one attention.

Some of the tutors are graduate students, required, as part of their teaching requirement to work a minimum of one hour per week. There is also a tutor cohort which is more of a fixture, logging many weekly hours. All of these skilled mentors are always at-the-ready, willing and fluidly collaborative with their colleagues who may be more conversant with concepts than they are—whether it's quadratic equations, calculus, or trigonometry. There’s even a dedicated private space for Foundations of Analysis work where students are mentored through “proofs,” a deductive argument for a mathematical statement, showing that the stated assumptions logically guarantee the conclusion.

Discussion is a premium, says Lisa Penfold who took over the direction of the Center in 2018. "If a student discusses the problem with a tutor within 24 hours of a lecture,” she says, “understanding and retention increases” markedly. For the tutors, the benefits are mutual as they benefit in their preparation for the Graduate Record Exam, required for graduate school, by working as a tutor in the Math Center.

Veteran tutor Stella Brower, working with a student.

While designed first to be pragmatic (students need to pass math classes for their generals, but also for their STEM-related majors) the Center inspires students to move beyond the Steps (1,2,3…) to solving an assigned problem to really understand what the meaning is of what they’re looking at. It’s this undergirding mission that has made the Math Center at the U the powerhouse that it is. Tutors, who are skilled at deciphering the students' level of understanding, respond to students in real time.

Helping students to pass their math classes and to better understand math meanings can sometimes be complicated by the all too familiar “math anxiety.” Refrains like "I'll never be able to do math" or "math doesn't even walk in our family" are all too common for some who arrive at the U. The Math Center, with its welcoming atmosphere, private group meeting rooms, computer lab and a break room/kitchen has become a sanctuary for students struggling with the complexities of numbers, equations, and formulas. (It would seem the only thing they might be missing is a climbing wall.)

"Our objective is to make sure students feel welcome here and get the help they need," Penfold states. "We know there's a lot of baggage with mathematics."

Addressing that baggage is one of the Center's core missions. Through extraordinary patience and individualized teaching approaches, tutors work tirelessly to dismantle math anxiety. "We start by acknowledging it's valid," says tutor Caleb Albers, a PhD candidate in applied mathematics. "Then we can begin chipping away at those negative associations.”

“I find that helping students get more of a conceptual understanding … helps a lot,” says Stella Brower, a veteran tutor pursuing a master's in statistics. “I have experience tutoring many different types of learners. There are those that thrive working alongside you as you go through a problem, some that want a tutor to check their work, and then there are those that need a bit of guidance or a refresher on a concept.”

Albers echoes this approach. “The most important thing is to help them ‘learn how to learn’ math for themselves, instead of just showing them how to do one problem.”

The tutoring strategies are as diverse as the students themselves, and “meeting the student where they are,” is the standard operating procedure of the tutoring team. The objective of every interaction is to bring a deep commitment to unlocking each student's individual potential. Penfold encourages a culture of tutors commingling across disciplines, asking each other for support on esoteric concepts. Students from calculus and introductory courses are seen clustering together, facilitating an enervating—even fun— cross-pollination of ideas.

"You'll see six to eight students sitting together,” she says, “some in calculus helping those in an entry-level course.”

The pandemic accelerated the Math Center’s evolution, prompting an online tutoring option that continues facilitating virtual support Monday through Saturday. As the U continues to grow its enrollment, Penfold insists on preserving the Center's uniquely personalized, student-centric approach. Penfold is often stepping onto the floor herself when every seat is taken and helping a student even as they are currently almost doubling the size of the tutoring area and creating satellite centers like the one that recently opened in the Sutton Building to accommodate the number of students using the center.

“If a tutor has a question or encounters something shaky, they’ll ask another tutor. We have grad students, as well as undergrads— everyone talking about mathematics and working together.” Asked what she wants students to know about her facility, she immediately responds that she hopes they find out about the Center and that they then use it as frequently as needed.

It’s a tribute to the hard work and dedication of the Math Center team from the early days in old barracks to today’s open and accommodating facility with both online and in-person options, “This is probably the most difficult challenge faced as a tutor," says Brower. "The ability to change up your teaching methods on the fly is very important when helping a student that just isn’t quite getting it.”

The Math Center helps make that happen every day.

by David Pace

This is the feature story of the latest edition of Aftermath, magazine for the Department of Mathematics

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Academic Innovation + Intelligence Lab

Academic Innovation + Intelligence Lab


March 4, 2024

There's a lab for that: new cross-functional group will use research, data and intervention to clear paths for students to succeed.

 

The Office of Undergraduate Studies is pleased to announce the establishment of The Academic Innovation + Intelligence Lab (The A.I.I., or “A double i”), a cross-functional group that uses research, data, and intervention to clear paths for students to succeed. Its goal is to drive steady, continuous change by creating, implementing, and scaling viable interventions that enable every student to have an exceptional educational experience. Specifically, the lab investigates processes, explores new pedagogical approaches, tests new technologies and tools, uses data analysis and visualization to unearth new understanding, and shares its insights nationwide.

The A.I.I. is a culmination of multiple collaborative academic innovation efforts the university has engaged in for many years. Led by Jim Agutter, A.I.I. lab director, and senior associate dean for Faculty Success & Academic Innovation, it will fold in a long line of internally funded efforts to optimize university operations, remove barriers to student success, and transform how the U delivers exceptional education experiences for all.

“We stand at the precipice of a transformative era in undergraduate education at the University of Utah,” said T. Chase Hagood, senior associate vice president for Academic Affairs and dean of Undergraduate Studies. “Our vision with the A.I.I. is to create a nexus of innovation and intelligence that propels student success to new heights. By blending research, data, and interventions, the lab represents a commitment to continuous, evidence-based evolution in our teaching, learning, and success strategies. We invite creative thinkers and curious minds to join with us in this spirit of innovation. Together, we will not only navigate the changing landscape of higher education but also chart new paths of success for students and faculty at the U and beyond.”

The A.I.I. will also strengthen the university’s partnership with the University Innovation Alliance (UIA), a leading coalition of public institutions that fund, test, and scale interventions to bridge equity gaps and power student success for all. Working closely with the U’s UIA Extend Group (a campus-wide group of faculty and staff), it will incubate and coordinate UIA-sponsored projects with direction and management from UIA Fellow Lindsay Coco, special assistant to the SAVPAA/dean of Undergraduate Studies. Hagood and Senior Advisor in the Office of the President Laura Snow will shepherd projects as the university’s UIA Liaisons.

 

Read the full announcement by RAYNA WILES - PROJECT ADMINISTRATOR, ACADEMIC INNOVATION + INTELLIGENCE LAB

Why Science?

opportunity is knocking


We empower our students to achieve their ambitions.

It is the mission of the College of Science to connect our students with the vast opportunities that mathematics and science unlock. We develop the tools for critical thinking and reason. We prepare students for exciting careers, and educate the next generation of scientific leaders.

Over the last five decades, thousands of students have used their degrees from the College of Science to launch professional careers around the globe. Science and mathematics degrees prepare students for success in a wide range of careers including industry, academics, health, business, and law.

Nobel Laureate Mario Capecchi

Alumni of the College of Science include co-founders of Fortune 500 companies, pioneers of Utah’s software and biotechnology booms, and internationally-recognized leaders in health and technology.

College students have the opportunity to work with world-renowned faculty, including members of the National Academy of Science and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

The School of Biological Sciences, Department of Chemistry, Department of Mathematics and the Department of Physics and Astronomy, are consistently ranked among the highest performing on campus and throughout the region.

 

 

 

Science Mentors

A guiding light for aspiring scientists.

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Science Research Initiative

Research experience for first-year students.

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What Can You Do with a Science Degree?

Learn more about where a science career can take you

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SRI Students

Placing first-year students in real science research.

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Transfer Students

Finish your degree at the College of Science.

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Tour the College of Science

Request a tour of the stunning science campus at the University of Utah

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Live on campus

Unique housing opportunities for science students.

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Scholarships, Grants & Financial Aid

Scholarships for students at the College of Science.

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ACCESS Scholars

Individuals from all dimensions of diversity who embody excellence, leadership and equity.

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A.A.U. Membership

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Research Opportunities

Undergraduate Research Opportunities


The best time to start your research is now! Students can find a wide variety of opportunities in their major or in a topic that interests them.

The College of Science has a long tradition of exceptional research. Working in a lab is one of the best experiences you can pursue as a College of Science student. Students across campus are participating in cutting-edge research that is making an impact on daily lives.

Where to start? Current professors are a great resource - they can connect you to research labs and faculty peers. College departments maintain a list of research projects currently being done, and the Student Engagement Coordinator can help you reach out to find opportunities.

Tips for Finding Research:

  • Talk to your professors! They are a wealth of knowledge and LOVE to talk about their work. Talk to them after class, or set an appointment to talk about their work and your interests.
  • Go to the department's website (linked below) that you are interested in and click on the research tab. Read short summaries on each professor's research. It's okay if you don't understand the research right away–this  is normal! Keep a list of faculty that interest you to narrow down your options.
  • Use Google Scholar to browse through publications by the professor with titles that interest you. Most professors keep a list of current publications, read the abstracts and look at images; this will help you narrow down topics.
  • Email the professor you are interested in working with. You may need to email them several times. This is okay; they are very busy and often appreciate the reminder.
    Include an updated resume in your email. 
  • If the meeting goes well and it seems like a good fit, you can talk about the next steps to becoming a member of their group. Don't forget to:
    • Discuss how many hours you would like to work
    • How many semesters you want to be with the lab
    • Future plans for opportunities such as UROP
    • And ask who your lab mentor will be
  • If you meet with a lab, and it doesn't seem like a good fit: that's okay. Repeat this process with another professor. If you are not quite sure, and you want to get a better feel for the research group, ask if you can attend a weekly group meeting, where current students in the group often discuss their current research.

Department Research Pages



Example Email to a Professor:

Dear Dr. ______________,

My name is (insert your name) and I am a (first year, sophomore, junior, senior) (___________) major at the University of Utah. I have been exploring research opportunities in the department, and after looking through your research page, I would like to meet with you to discuss (your studies, a certain topic, opportunities to work in your lab, etc). (Feel free to elaborate on your interests and what you are looking for.)

I can meet (give 3-5 different specific dates and times that work for you...this allows them to choose a time that works for them). Would you be able to meet at any of these times?

I am looking forward to hearing back from you.

Thank you for your time,

(Your name)

How do I get funding for my research?

There are several ways to get paid for the research you do. Here are the more common ways that students work toward:

How do I present my research?

One of the best parts of doing research is presenting at conferences.

What is an REU?

National Science Foundation (NSF) funds a large number of research opportunities for undergraduate students through its Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program. An REU Site consists of a group of ten or so undergraduates who work in the research programs of the host institution. Each student is associated with a specific research project, where they work closely with the faculty and other researchers. Students are granted stipends and, in many cases, assistance with housing and travel.

Undergraduate students supported with NSF funds must be citizens or permanent residents of the United States or its possessions. An REU Site may be at either a US or foreign location. Students must contact the individual sites for information and application materials. NSF does not have application materials and does not select student participants. A contact person and contact information is listed for each site.

Search for an REU site or find more information @ https://www.nsf.gov/crssprgm/reu/



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Transfer Students

 

 

Science Mentors

A guiding light for aspiring scientists.

Read More
Why Science?

Connect with the vast opportunities that science and mathematics can unlock.

Read More
Science Research Initiative

Research experience for first-year students.

Read More
What Can You Do with a Science Degree?

Learn more about where a science career can take you

Read More
SRI Students

Placing first-year students in real science research.

Read More
Tour the College of Science

Request a tour of the stunning science campus at the University of Utah

Read More
Live on campus

Unique housing opportunities for science students.

Read More
Scholarships, Grants & Financial Aid

Scholarships for students at the College of Science.

Read More
ACCESS Scholars

Individuals from all dimensions of diversity who embody excellence, leadership and equity.

Read More

A.A.U. Membership

College Rankings

Why Science?

What Can You Do with a Science Degree?

Tour the College of Science

Live on campus

Scholarships, Grants & Financial Aid


HOME

 

2021 Churchill Scholar

Six in a Row!


Isaac Martin brings home the U's sixth straight Churchill Scholarship.

For the sixth consecutive year a College of Science student has received the prestigious Churchill Scholarship to study at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom. Isaac Martin, a senior honors student majoring in mathematics and physics, is one of only 17 students nationally to receive the award this year.

Martin’s designation ties Harvard’s six-year run of consecutive Churchill Scholars (1987-1992) and is second only to Princeton’s seven-year streak (1994-2000).

“Isaac’s recognition as a Churchill Scholar is the result of years of remarkable discipline and dedication to a field of study that he loves,” said Dan Reed, senior vice president for Academic Affairs.

Martin decided to apply for a Churchill Scholarship as a freshman, after meeting for lunch with Michael Zhao, a 2017 Churchill Scholar who unexpectedly passed away in 2018.

“I am positively delighted and quite flabbergasted to receive the scholarship,” Martin says, “but I wish I could phone Michael to thank him for making the opportunity known to me. His legacy lives on in the undergraduate program of the math department here at Utah, where many others like me have greatly benefited from the example he set.”

Martin, a recipient of an Eccles Scholarship and a 2020 Barry Goldwater Scholarship, remembers as a kindergartener trying to write down the biggest number in existence and, as an eighth grader, suddenly understanding trigonometry after hours of reading on Wikipedia.

“That sensation of understanding, the feeling that some tiny secret of the universe was suddenly laid bare before me – that’s something I’ve only felt while studying math and physics, and it’s a high I will continue to chase for the rest of my life,” he says.

Books by Carl Sagan and Jim Baggott also kindled his love of math and physics, and after several years of self-directed study in middle and high school and a year at Salt Lake Community College, Martin enrolled at the U as a mathematics and physics double major.

After early undergraduate experiences in the research labs of physics professors Vikram Deshpande and Yue Zhao, Martin found himself gravitating more toward mathematics. He completed a Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) at UC Santa Barbara studying almost Abelian Lie groups, which have applications in cosmology and crystallography, under Zhirayr Avetisyan. This experience resulted in Martin’s first research paper. He later completed another REU at the University of Chicago.

“This research was incredibly rewarding because while it applied to physics, the work itself was firmly rooted in the realm of pure math.” Martin says.

Returning to Utah, Martin worked with professors Karl Schwede and Thomas Polstra to study F-singularities, and developed this work into a single-author paper and his currently-in-progress honors thesis with professor Anurag Singh.

“I would not be where I am today without the incredible faculty at Utah and their willingness to devote time to undergraduates,” Martin says.

At Cambridge, Martin hopes to study algebraic geometry, number theory and representation theory (“in that order,” he says) in pursuit of a master’s degree in pure mathematics.

“I’m particularly interested in learning as much as I can about mirror symmetry, which I intend to make my essay topic,” he adds. “I also plan to drink a lot of tea and to buy one of those Sherlock Holmes coats. I will also begrudgingly begin using the term ‘maths’ but I promise to stop the instant I board a plane back to the U.S. in 2022.”

After he returns from Cambridge, Martin plans to earn a doctoral degree in pure mathematics and enter academia, using his experiences in many different educational systems including U.S. and British public schools, homeschooling and online learning, to broaden opportunities for students from a diversity of backgrounds.

“My past has molded me into who I am today,” he says, “and I hope I can use my experiences to create programs in STEM for opportunity-starved students, whether they are held back due to non-traditional schooling or to socio-economic factors.”

 

by Paul Gabrielsen - First Published in @theU

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How did you become interested in math?
I’ve always gravitated toward STEM subjects even in elementary school. In college, I was exposed to various subjects but a common language each subject used was math. I’m a curious student and hungry to consume as much knowledge as possible. Math is a universal language that allows me to communicate with those in different fields and tells me how things work. Math has allowed me to explore other subjects and influences the way I interact with problems—from social sciences to applied sciences and engineering.

What kind of internship did you have while at the U? How did you get it?  What did you like about it?
At the beginning of 2020, I started interning for the Pharmacotherapy Outcomes Research Center (PORC) at the University of Utah College of Pharmacy. I applied using the College of Science internship page. I loved interning with the PORC because it allowed me to engage in computational mathematics, work in pharmacology, and interact with different data science and statistical analysis techniques. The team I worked with was performing a correlational study between medication types and bile-duct cancers. I was able to work on the entire computing and mathematics aspect of the study and learn some cool chemistry along the way. My favorite part of the internship was learning how to access databases and interpret the information using data analysis.

You finished your bachelor’s degree and are now in graduate school at the University of California, Irvine. What are you studying?
I entered UC Irvine last fall to begin my graduate studies in mathematics. Graduate school is a whole new challenge but it’s such an enjoyable challenge! My coursework has really taught me to think in new ways, and I’m able to explore new areas of mathematics. At the moment, my favorite class is abstract algebra because it’s a whole new area of math I’ve never been exposed to. I think the online learning part of graduate school has presented learning curves but they’re interesting learning curves.

I’d like to continue my graduate studies in mathematics and get a Ph.D., whether that’s returning to the U. or staying here at home in Southern California.

Is there an area of research that interests you in math? What do you like about it?
I’m interested in applied and computational mathematics. More specifically, I’m interested in applying computational mathematics to data science and machine learning. Applied and computational mathematics explores modeling and/or simulating systems using computers and various mathematical subjects, such as numerical methods, inverse problems, etc. What I like about applied and computational mathematics is that it allows me to be an all-around researcher and engage and contribute to different fields.

Long-term career plans?
After my graduate studies are completed, I’d like to pursue a career in robotics, focusing primarily on research and development in machine learning and artificial intelligence.

 - first published by the Department of Mathematics