Greetings from Carver Hall

A headshot of Hal Schenck.
Hal Schenck (Christopher Gannon/Iowa State University)

Dear alumni and friends,

Greetings from Iowa State! I joined Iowa State in fall 2017 as chair of the Department of Mathematics. I count myself fortunate to have inherited a great department from former chair Cliff Bergman and look forward to building on our past success. There are amazing opportunities opening for young people who have quantitative literacy and computational dexterity, and the department is hard at work developing new initiatives and revamping existing programs to give our students the skill set to compete and excel in a growing global economy. Below are a few examples of what is happening at Iowa State.

Transformative Research
The department’s ISMaRT (Iowa State Math Research Teams) program launches this fall, as part of a larger College of Liberal Arts and Sciences initiative to engage undergraduate students in transformative educational experiences. ISMaRT consists of teams of undergraduate and graduate students working in collaboration on an intensive research project, with each team led by a postdoctoral research fellow and overseen by a faculty member. This lets us combine and enhance two departmental priorities: providing our students with high-impact educational opportunities and building a postdoctoral program.

Student-Centered Learning
A second initiative is a revamping of our calculus courses. In fall 2017 a small cohort of professors taught the first unified version of Calculus III. Following a common syllabus lets students attend multiple lectures and have access to over 40 office hours of extra help per week. Common homework and tests allow students to form study groups across sections and ensures a quality experience for everyone. Student feedback was very positive, and in spring 2018 this was expanded to all of Calculus III. Calculus I and II will follow in fall 2018. The effort is being spearheaded by Steve Butler, associate professor of mathematics and the Barbara J. Janson Professor in the Department of Mathematics. Having an internationally recognized researcher like Steve deeply engaged with the undergraduate experience is one of the things which sets Iowa State mathematics apart.

Bridging to Success
At the graduate level, the department has received final approval from LAS and the graduate college for a postbaccalaureate certificate program in mathematics. The certificate program will serve as a bridge for students who need extra preparation transitioning from undergraduate to graduate school and broaden the pipeline of students ready to pursue mathematics at an advanced level. This program would not have been possible without the determination and hard work of Bernard Lidický and Michael Young, two of our newly promoted associate professors in mathematics. This program resonates with me on a personal level: entering graduate school after serving four years as an Army officer was tough. I believe our certificate program will serve as a model for other institutions. Iowa State enrolls more than 900 student veterans, and the mathematics department is working on several fronts to ensure our student veterans are successful in mathematics.

We bid a reluctant adieu to Justin Peters and Jim Wilson, who both retired; Justin spent 41 years with the department and Jim 37 years. This year five faculty members received tenure: Tathagata Basak, Bernard Lidický, Songting Luo, Xuan Hien Nguyen and Michael Young; Kris Lee and Elijah Stines were promoted to senior lecturer. The department is working with LAS to attract new faculty in mathematical biology and data science, emerging areas with opportunity in both research and employment.

There are many other exciting developments in the department; a few highlights are

  • The department established an AWM (Association for Women in Mathematics) chapter.
  • The Putnam team had their best performance in years, placing 38th nationwide.
  • Michael Young received the Martin Luther King, Jr. Advancing One Community Award.
  • Ongoing work to develop data science and actuarial science courses.

As we prepare our students to be future leaders, we rely on you, our alumni and friends, to engage with our department and our students. As part of this effort, we have revived the Mathematics Department Advisory Council and held a meeting in April. We also want to hear about your experiences, what you think we can do to best prepare students and help you connect students to opportunities they wouldn’t have otherwise. Send us your thoughts at Much of what we do would be impossible without engaged alumni. Thank you for your support.

It’s an exciting time to be at Iowa State and we look forward to a bright future. Go Cyclones!

Hal Schenck, professor and chair of mathematics