Dear alumni and friends,
Greetings from Iowa State! Our fall semester is in full swing after an eventful summer in Ames. This July, we hosted the International Linear Algebra Society (ILAS) for its week-long annual meeting, bringing about 375 mathematicians to campus. Thank you to all in the department, especially Leslie Hogben and our graduate students, who worked hard to make this event a success.
Innovation in education
It has been a great year for our undergraduate program. I am happy to share that we improved our first-year calculus sections for mathematics and statistics majors by greatly reducing class size. In Fall 2017, we teach two calculus sections of 20 mathematics and statistics students each, compared to a typical course for the general ISU population, with 200 students. This gives our current students even more personalized faculty attention. Moreover, it serves as an excellent recruiting tool for prospective students and their parents. We are grateful to our friend Beth Bierbaum whose generous philanthropy has made this enhancement possible.
Other highlights include:
- Online distance learning courses in general mathematics and calculus helped students fulfill requirements during the summer term, giving them more flexibility in the fall
- 15 undergraduate independent research projects completed
- A new course to help undergraduate women plan for STEM careers
- A 95% job placement rate for mathematics majors in 2015-16
- Enhanced teaching assistant training for new graduate students
- Continued work in local and state outreach
Research funding and scholarship
The National Security Agency has suspended its external funding programs, leaving the National Science Foundation (NSF) and Simons Foundation as the only organizations funding basic research in mathematics. In 2016-17, total external funding for the Department was a bit over $3.2M. About 20 new grants were awarded to Math Department faculty in the past year.
Jason McCullough, assistant professor of mathematics, joins us this fall. His research centers on commutative and computational algebra and algebraic geometry. The March 2017 Notices of the American Mathematical Society included a terrific article highlighting Jason for his part in resolving a 32-year-old open problem in communicative algebra. Jason’s wife Meg also joins the ISU faculty in the College of Veterinary Medicine. This fall we also welcome Diego Rojas, a graduate student with a prestigious NSF Graduate Research Fellowship. This recruitment is a credit to relationships built by our faculty.
This marks my final letter as department chair, having concluded my term in June. It has been an exciting challenge to fill this role and I especially enjoyed working with peer department chairs in the college—we have remarkable people on this campus! As I return to faculty rank, I’ll be teaching two classes this fall and returning to research. As part of an NSF-funded project, I will be working on constraint satisfaction problems, as well as research in algebraic logic. I am happy to be handing over the reins to an exceptional individual. Hal Schenck joins us this fall as our new department chair, and we’re pleased to welcome him below.
Wishing you a good autumn ahead,
Clifford Bergman, professor of mathematics
Welcome to our new chair
Hal Schenck, professor and chair
“I’m very excited to be joining Iowa State, and look forward to building on the tradition of excellence in the Department of Mathematics. It is a wonderful time to be working in mathematics: advances in technology have opened a vast array of new research opportunities and challenges and created a broad range of new employment possibilities for our students, as well as a chance to forge interdisciplinary research connections within ISU and externally. One thing which caught my attention when I visited ISU was the data science initiative. Some of my own research is in applied topology, which, roughly speaking, studies the shape of data. When I’m not busy with chair duties and teaching, I’m looking forward to collaborations between applications, data and mathematics.”