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Math students travel to meeting, but not by kayak

Kaylin Smith
In the past few years, the number of Monmouth College academic disciplines participating in off-campus experiences has grown substantially. Through field trips and conferences, the mathematics department has been part of that boom, and it continued to offer travel opportunities for its students last spring. Last April, faculty members Howard Dwyer and Michael Sostarecz led a group of five students to Naperville, Ill., for “ISMAA 2011,” the annual meeting of the Illinois Section of the Mathematics Association of America.

Mathematicians from colleges, universities and even some high schools from the state of Illinois attend the event, where a number of talks by undergraduates, graduate students and faculty are presented.

“There are four plenary talks and a number of concurrent general sessions,” said Sostarecz, who gave a faculty talk on “Mathematical Modeling with High-Speed Imagery.”

MC students attending the event, which was hosted by North Central College, were Molly Ball of Charleston, Thomas Danielson of Galesburg, Quinton Guerrerro of Galesburg, Michael Howard of Auburn and Henry Schmidt of Johnsburg.

Danielson, who graduated in May with a double major in mathematics and physics, presented a paper titled “Spheres and Oscillations in Wormlike Micellar Fluids.” His senior research was conducted with Sostarecz using the college’s new high-speed camera to model experiments with complex fluids.

“I felt that it was a great opportunity to gain experience presenting research in front of an unfamiliar audience,” said Danielson. “Due to all of the hours I spent on the research, my talk went smoothly. I knew what I was presenting forward and back. Overall, the conference was a great opportunity not only to practice, but also to learn about other students’ research experiences.”

“Being able to present their research is a valuable experience for students and may help reinforce the idea that the work they are doing is actually ‘real mathematics’ and of interest to others in the field,” said Dwyer.

Dwyer’s faculty talk was titled “Kayak Stability: A Modeling Problem.”

“I try to give a presentation of some sort every year,” he said. “I avoid deep research topics and try to select something which ties mathematics – and usually some computing – to a familiar setting.”

That respite from highly advanced subjects is a strength of the Illinois meeting, according to Dwyer.

“The Mathematical Association of America (MAA) is organized into local sections,” said Dwyer. “At the sectional meetings, most of the talks are not deep, narrow research presentations. They are appropriate, yet challenging for undergraduates.”

In addition to the opportunity to present their research, Dwyer said benefits for the students include participation in a problem-solving contest and the opportunity for a bonding experience, both among themselves and with two of MC’s mathematics faculty.

“Following the problem-solving contest, our students attended a dinner with students from other schools,” said Dwyer. “That provided another opportunity to meet people and compare experiences and interests.”

Dwyer was pleased with the meeting and optimistic about taking more Monmouth students in future years.

“I think that if our math department can make student participation a regular annual event, then this will help motivate math majors and minors to take on projects,” he said. “We hope that students will look forward to these meetings and will see that they really can do worthwhile mathematics themselves. With luck, this may help persuade a few more students to consider grad school.”
More information about the meeting is available at