Barry McNamara  |  Published August 11, 2020

Full Steam Ahead

On National Science Foundation summer research project, mathematics and economics major Savannah Ball studied adaptive cruise control at lower speeds.

MONMOUTH, Ill. – Savannah Ball is not going into her senior year at Monmouth College on cruise control. Instead, the mathematics and economics major from East Peoria, Ill., is completing a demanding Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program through the University of Arizona

SAVANNAH BALL: Mathematics and economics senior participated in a a selective National Science Fo... SAVANNAH BALL: Mathematics and economics senior participated in a a selective National Science Foundation research project.“My project dealt with adaptive cruise control, working with lower speeds,” said Ball, who participated in the selective National Science Foundation project remotely from home due to COVID-19 concerns.

Adaptive cruise control is a process which allows a car with cruise control engaged to automatically adjust its speed to maintain a safe distance from vehicles ahead.

“We were working with parking lot or neighborhood speeds of up to 18 miles per hour or lower,” said Ball. “So we were dealing with more stop-and-go traffic speeds. Others have worked on adaptive cruise control at higher speeds, but not a lot of people have looked into the lower speeds, and that’s what Dr. (Jonathan) Sprinkle and his team are doing.”

As the 10-week project approached its final days – which featured presentations on the summer’s progress, a closing ceremony and writing a paper about the research – Ball was busy taking code that another team member had produced and writing a field to make sure the code is running correctly.

“I’ve also been debugging launch files,” said Ball, who said she might conduct some additional research in the days ahead. “Dr. Sprinkle has opened it up so we can continue working on it. We want to make sure it’s safe, so I’m thinking of staying on for a couple weeks.”

Ball heard about the REU opportunity from one of her mathematics professors, Mike Sostarecz.

“He suggested it to me last year, and I decided to look into it this year, said Ball, who has a firm idea of her post-Monmouth plans. “The end game would be actuarial science. I definitely think that field is still growing. I tell people what I’m thinking of going into, and they all say ‘That’s a great job.’”

Although graduate school is not required for actuarial science, learning about such opportunities was part of the REU program, said Ball, who watched an informative panel session featuring graduate school students answering questions about their experiences.

That, too, was done remotely, a reality that became the new normal in March. A Fighting Scots softball player, Ball remembers right where she was when life in the U.S. turned upside down due to the pandemic.

“We were on our annual spring break trip to Florida,” she said. “Teams were just leaving in the middle of games. It was scary.”

Ball said those Florida trips are always a highlight of the season, and in 2020 they constituted Monmouth’s only games of the season. Another highlight from her first two years playing for the Scots has been her performance against arch-rival Knox College. In two games against the Prairie Fire, Ball has five hits in six at-bats, driving in five runs.

“I didn’t know I was going to play softball in college until one of my coaches encouraged me to keep playing,” she said. “I had a super-good relationship with Coach (John) Goddard (who retired at the end of the season). Once I came to Monmouth and saw the campus and met with him, I didn’t look anyplace else.”

Returning from Florida, Ball had to head home to East Peoria for the remainder of the semester, as the campus was shut down due to the pandemic. That was less than ideal, but she was still able to take positives from her first experience with remote learning.

“I think it went pretty well,” she said. “Professor (Joanne) Eary was super good about it. Math can be very hard to learn online, but she was really good about working with me. I’d ask ‘Can we Zoom right now and talk through this problem?’ and she was very good about that. We also had good interaction online with my Reflections class, taught by Chris Goble – the superhero class.”

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