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Seniors to Remember: Lisa Piccirillo


By Kathleen Sullivan | Chronicle Staff

Published: May 9, 2013

Hometown: Greenwood, Me.

Major: Mathematics

Notable activities: Recipient of a 2013 National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship; Undergraduate Research Fellow, teaching assistant, grader and tutor for Mathematics Department; co-founder and director, BCTalks; co-founder and vice president, Education for Students by Students (ESS); co-founder and director, BC Splash; presenter at Undergraduate Research Symposium; Member of Pi Mu Epsilon.

Post-graduation plans: Piccirillo will pursue a doctorate in pure mathematics at the University of Texas at Austin. She plans on a career as a research professor.

Overview: Lisa Piccirillo has made a name for herself in the University’s Mathematics Department, becoming the first undergraduate math major to earn a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship in at least the last two decades. She has participated in, and delivered talks or made presentations at, at a number of prestigious outside programs and conferences, including the Women and Mathematics program at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton; the NSF’s Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) at Cornell University; the Young Mathematicians Conference at The Ohio State University; and the Joint Math Meetings – the world’s largest math conference. She has co-authored a paper titled “On Unit Triangle and Square Tilings” (publication forthcoming). Seeing a lack of opportunities for undergraduates to share their research, academic projects and other intellectual pursuits with peers, she helped found BCTalks, a TEDTalks-inspired lecture series by undergraduates for undergraduates held once a semester. Piccirillo also co-founded BC Splash, which has hosted more than 1,000 high school students for one-day courses taught by BC undergraduates.

Have you always known you wanted a career in abstract math?

I have always been interested in math, but for a long time it was sort of an anticipatory interest. I liked things like trig and calculus in their own right — these are subjects where the bulk of the work is in performing routines such as taking a derivative, but I also thought or hoped that there might be something more to math than performing operations. Turns out there is, and I discovered this explicitly in Intro to Abstract Math with [Professor] Ben Howard. That was really exciting, and that course really solidified my intentions to study math in the long term.

What has been a favorite experience during your time at BC?

One of my favorite experiences was getting to know the BC student body through the lens of Splash. We often interact with our peers in a strictly social setting, which is fun, but can limit the extent to which we know someone. People don’t love it when I talk about math at parties (for some reason), and this is true more generally. Chemistry or political science may be a huge part of your friend’s interests or identity but if you hang out with them exclusively on the weekends you may never know. In the Splash course catalog, people’s passions and interests come into the spotlight. I felt like I met the student body all over again, and that they were even cooler the second time around.

Who have been some of your most influential professors?

The entire Math Department has been great. BC has a lot of examples of brilliant mathematicians who are also fantastic teachers and cool people. [Assistant Professor] Eli Grigsby has been especially supportive and inspiring, [Assistant Professor] Josh Greene as well. It’s great to work with people who embody a lot of the characteristics and goals that you have for yourself; they remind you that it’s all possible.

What will you miss most about BC?

I have met really incredible people here. I will miss them enormously.

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