Department of Mathematics
In this, the second annual Boston College Mathematics Department alumni update, I’m pleased to report on a great number of exciting developments. From new collaborations to faculty teaching awards to groundbreaking scholarship to new programs, we have a lot to share with you and to celebrate.
However, these developments come in a broader, challenging, context – our nation’s economic crisis. Nothing makes me prouder of Boston College than the way that this institution has responded to the crisis, reworking priorities to channel extra dollars into financial support for our students. For me as Department Chair, the difficult financial climate that our new graduates are encountering is a real concern. Every math major has useful skills, and the encouraging word from the BC Career Center is that in spite of the difficult climate, our math majors have fared very well. On top of this, several of our new Masters graduates have landed prestigious positions at Wolfram Research, Inc. Still, if you are an employer with openings, please consider a BC math major or Masters student for a position, and please list your position with the BC Career Center. If you have internship opportunities that would be of interest to math students, please let me know so we can list them on our Student Opportunities web page.
In response to last year’s newsletter, several alumni were kind enough to write with their news. By all means, please continue to do so. Each and every faculty member in the department values the personal connections that we have made with you over the years, and many of you have inspiring stories to share. And for the goings on at BC, we hope you’ll visit our website – newly redesigned, to better tell our story -often.
This year, 39 seniors graduated with a Mathematics major, and an additional 35 with a Math minor. Seven graduate students earned their M.A.s.
This year, we continued to enhance our undergraduate offerings. Faculty created two new upper division electives, one on Advanced Linear Algebra and the second on Mathematical Problem Solving. The latter is one of our new courses for future math teachers, and reflects our commitment to preparing these teachers. Faculty also offered many independent studies, on topics such as Elliptic Curves and Cryptography.
We continued to work with our undergraduate organization, the Boston College Mathematics Society (BCMS), to bring math-related activities to campus and to foster connections between students and faculty. We co-organized fall and spring Block Parties featuring pizza and faculty advising, and arranged a talk by Don Telage, a distinguished entrepreneur with a Ph.D. in Mathematics, on the relationship between mathematics and business skills. Together with the BCMS, the Departments of Fine Arts and Theology, and the Jesuit Institute, we brought Prof. Thomas Banchoff of Brown University to campus, for a lecture titled “The Four-Dimensional Geometry and Theology of Salvador Dali.”
Faculty scholarship resulted in several research breakthroughs, with Prof. Mark Reeder co-authoring a paper on supercuspidal L-packets of more than 100 pages that appeared in the Annals of Math, Prof. Friedberg establishing an unexpected connection between automorphic forms and quantum groups, and Prof. Rob Meyerhoff doing fundamental work on minimum volume cusped hyperbolic three-manifolds. Faculty continued to receive international conference invitations; at one point this summer, we had three faculty members in Beijing for three separate mathematical events. External research support is climbing steadily, with faculty awarded three new grants from the National Science Foundation and two from the National Security Agency.
The 2008-2009 academic year marked the beginning of a collaboration between the mathematics departments of BC and MIT in the support of a joint BC-MIT Number Theory Seminar. With half of the presentations held on each home campus, we were able to bring twelve eminent number theorists to the Boston area for stimulating talks on their current research. We will be continuing the collaboration this year; the talks will be listed on our website.
This year we concluded the comprehensive departmental review process that was initiated last year. As an outcome of that process, we are pleased to announce a major step forward: we will begin to offer a Ph.D. in Mathematics, and we will admit our first class of doctoral students in the Fall of 2010. We look forward to implementing a program that allows our students to reach a high level of scholarship as they experience the excitement of carrying out mathematics research, and also to develop true excellence in teaching. At the same time, we remain deeply committed to our undergraduates. Our top undergraduates will benefit from the higher level courses that will be available to them. And having young people at every stage in their career interact will help us build a department that engages all our students.
Two mathematics faculty members won teaching awards this year. Prof. Margaret Kenney received the inaugural Rev. Stanley J. Bezuszka, S.J. Achievement Award for Excellence in the Teaching and Learning of Mathematics from the Association of Teachers of Mathematics in Massachusetts. Prof. Solomon Friedberg received the Mathematical Association of America’s 2009 Northeastern Section Award for Distinguished College or University Teaching.
Two students met the highly demanding requirements for departmental honors in math: Timothy Fisher and Thomas Runyon. In addition, 22 students were inducted into Pi Mu Epsilon, the mathematics honor society.
Paul J. Sally, Jr. Distinguished Alumnus Prize
Thomas R. Runyon received the Sally Award, given annually to a graduating senior who has shown true academic distinction in a demanding program in Mathematics. Thomas hopes to work in government.
Albert A. Bennett Award
Rebecca F. Wentzel received the Bennett Award, given annually to a graduating mathematics major who has shown a high level of achievement and a desire to teach mathematics. Rebecca looks forward to teaching mathematics at the high school level.
Dr. Julia Elisenda (Eli) Grigsby will be joining the Mathematics Department in the fall as an Assistant Professor. Dr. Grigsby received her Ph.D. from UC Berkeley, and is currently a third-year NSF postdoctoral fellow in the Columbia University Mathematics Department. She studies low-dimensional topology and knot theory.
We are sad to report the deaths of three retired faculty. Rev. Stanley J. Bezuszka, S.J.; Rev. John F. Caulfield, S.J.; and Archille J. Laferriere. Father Bezuszka served as Chairman of the Math department, and more recently as Director of the Mathematics Institute here at Boston College; Father Caulfield and Professor Laferriere were long-time faculty members.
Professor Ravi Vakil of Stanford was this year’s Boston College Distinguished Lecturer in Mathematics. Professor Vakil, an algebraic geometer, is recipient of the Coxeter-James Prize from the Canadian Mathematical Society and the Andre-Aisenstadt Prize from the CRM in Montreal, among other honors. He gave three well-attended lectures, met with faculty and grad students, and met with our undergraduate Putnam exam team to share a lunch and advice on the competition (he was the fourth person in the history of the contest to be a four-time Putnam Fellow).
One of our graduate students, Ebony Harvey, was accepted with full funding to attend the Arizona Winter School 2009 at the Southwest Center for Arithmetic Geometry. She also presented a poster on Knot Theory at the Conference for African American Researchers in Mathematical Sciences this summer.
Professors Martin Bridgeman and Tao Li are co-organizers for the 5th William Rowan Hamilton Geometry and Topology Workshop to be held in September at Trinity College Dublin. Professor Rob Meyerhoff will be one of the speakers. BC and BC-Ireland are conference sponsors.
Though it’s not strictly department news, we can’t resist mentioning that according to a study reported this year in the Wall Street Journal, the three best occupations in the U.S. are (1) Mathematician; (2) Actuary; and (3) Statistician. Tell your children!
Please keep us updated with your current contact information.
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