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Sheetz awarded top honors at Illinois mathematics conference

Barry McNamara
Pictured at the IMSAA meeting are, from left, Mike Sostarecz, Rafael Cobarrubias, Joel Mota, Nate Smolczyk, Emily Sheetz and Trevor Richards.
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MONMOUTH, Ill. – A talented senior in Monmouth College’s Department of Mathematics and Computer Science has been making a name for herself academically.

Emily Sheetz of Mokena, Ill., brought home the sole first-place award from the recent meeting of the Illinois Section of the Mathematics Association of America (IMSAA). Her project was titled “Optimized Snapshot-Based Visual Homing for UAVs.”

“My research involves working on visual homing for unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) with a single downward-facing camera to navigate back home,” said Sheetz, who did much of the work during a Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) she completed last summer at Auburn University. “There’s some pretty cool mathematics involved.”

Monmouth mathematics professor Mike Sostarecz said that Sheetz already has a “pretty incredible” record of research for an undergraduate.

“Emily investigated using images so that aerial unmanned drones can return to their starting location without the use of GPS,” said Sostarecz. “That was Emily’s second REU, which is pretty incredible due to the highly competitive nature of REUs.”

As part of last month’s conference, Sheetz made a submission for an OUR Award recognizing outstanding undergraduate research within IMSAA.

In February, Sheetz submitted a 20-page report that introduced the project and the mathematics behind the work, along with the major findings. To be considered for an OUR Award, Sheetz also needed to present a talk on her work at the conference.

“While the other submitters were recognized with honorable mentions, Emily was chosen as the first-place winner of the OUR Awards,” said Sostarecz, an association board member who chairs its awards committee but recused himself from judging Sheetz’s submission. “I was later told that the thing that separated Emily from the other submitters was her ‘beautiful’ writing and the clarity of her explanations.”

A mathematics and computer science double major, Sheetz is also a member of the College’s Honors Program and various musical ensembles and will graduate with a minor in Spanish. Her senior research projects involve probabilistic and machine-learning methods for the generation and evaluation of text. After graduation, Sheetz will pursue a doctorate in computer science with a focus on artificial intelligence and robotics.

“Originally, I was a mathematics and Spanish major,” said Sheetz. “I took an introductory computer science course, but I was very skeptical. But I fell in love with it, so I dropped the Spanish major and added computer science. Professors (Logan) Mayfield and Sostarecz are my co-advisers, and they really got me involved.”

At last year’s Honors Convocation on Scholars Day, Sheetz was presented with the Paul Cramer Prize for outstanding work in upper-level mathematics and shared the Robert Minteer Prize awarded to a student who is working to maximum potential.

At the College’s recent Alumni Science Symposium, Sheetz presented a poster that combined the work she is doing for her related mathematics and computer science capstone projects. When considering what to present, she had a lot of options to choose from.

“She could have instead presented work from her involvement in any of three SOFIA (Summer Opportunity for Intellectual Activity) projects, two REUs, or her Honors Program capstone,” he said. “Emily is an amazing student.”

Sheetz said that being a Monmouth student helped her discover a career path she once never imagined.

“I would tell prospective students that Monmouth College is a great place to try new things – different areas of research, different classes,” she said. “I never thought I’d be looking at getting a Ph.D. I would tell them that all these new experiences will really be helpful in pushing you to being the person you’re going to be and the path you’re going to take.”

Three other Monmouth students attended the Illinois Section of the Mathematics Association of America conference: sophomore mathematics major Rafael Cobarrubias ’20 of Chicago; mathematics and computer science major Nate Smolczyk ’19 of Canton, Ill; and environmental science major Joel Mota ’18 of Chicago.

Cobarrubias, Smolczyk and Sheetz participated in the Intersectional College Mathematics Competition.

Faculty members Trevor Richards and Sostarecz both presented talks. Richards presented on alternative viewpoints of functions with a talk titled “The Infinite Train,” while Sostarecz talked about “Using Linear Algebra and Probability to Solve Minesweeper.”

Held at Valparaiso (Ind.) University, the conference was the third tri-sectional meeting held jointly among the Illinois, Indiana and Michigan sections. The first tri-sectional meeting was held 75 years ago and the second 25 years ago.