Math Matters – Letter from the Chair

Dear alumni and friends,

Change is constant, and in the Department of Mathematics that’s been a good thing. Over the last year, faculty, staff and students have worked diligently toward some challenging goals, and the momentum has been contagious. The results have been incredible, enabling us to start this academic year with a stronger, more supportive department, focused on student success.

math department chair hal schenck
Hal Schenck (Christopher Gannon/Iowa State University)


The department made truly transformational changes to our undergraduate classes, including a coordinated calculus program spearheaded by Steve Butler, Barbara J. Janson Professor of Mathematics. The core calculus sequence (Math 165, 166, 265) is the public face of the department, touching thousands of Iowa State students. The changes we’ve made reinvented large lecture calculus as a collaborative, flexible and accessible learning experience for both students and professors.

In order to broaden the pipeline of students prepared to enter graduate school in mathematics, the department launched a graduate certificate program to help students from under-represented groups hone their mathematical skill set. The program, developed by Bernard Lidicky and Michael Young, has been a resounding success. You’ll read stories from these students later in this issue, but be warned—you may get emotional. I know I did.

We also partnered with the Iowa State University Veterans Center on a number of programs to foster the success of our more than 600 Iowa State student veterans, including an intensive Math Boot Camp day led by Eli Stines at the start of the semester to refresh basic skills.


Last year we worked to broaden our pool of talented women faculty applicants, making connections and developing relationships that gave us more access to strong faculty candidates. These efforts paid off: Two of our five newly hired assistant professors are women.

Faculty and students are boosting the department’s research reputation in creative ways. With the launch of the Iowa State Math Research Teams (ISMaRT) program, undergraduate students have the opportunity to participate in high-impact math research. Teams of undergraduate students are paired with a graduate student and postdoctoral researcher mentor while collaborating on a research project. Thirteen undergraduates have had the remarkable experience. This is a centerpiece of our newly launched postdoc program.

The department has also made superb progress in obtaining external funding. Six department faculty received Simons Collaboration grants in 2018, the most awarded to any university, and we followed up with four awards in 2019—only good for third place, but still giving Iowa State the best two-year total! Over the last two years, we’ve more than doubled the dollar value of grant submissions, with a $13.4 million total for 2018-19. This spring saw us win the first seven figure grant in department history. A $1.5 million RTG (Research Training Groups in the Mathematics Sciences) grant from the National Science Foundation. The RTG team (PI Leslie Hogben and co-PIs Lidicky, Martin, Schenck and Young) built the project around the 2015 AMS award for an exemplary program in a mathematics department, which recognized the department’s work on broadening the mathematics pipeline.

Mathematics faculty are also making significant contributions to data science and actuarial science, two new degree programs on campus. Both are key programs at Iowa State, preparing students for careers in high-demand sectors across the nation.


Other notable milestones in the department were the promotions of Eric Weber to full professor and Paul Barloon, Jim Cliber and Adrian Jenkins to associate teaching professor.

Four faculty members were recognized with LAS awards: Jim Cliber for excellence in undergraduate introductory teaching, Michael Young for mid-career achievement in research, Hailiang Liu for outstanding achievement in research and Pablo Raul Stinga for Inclusive Excellence. Success doesn’t just happen. It’s been flourishing for many years in the department, and we say farewell to our retirees Cliff Bergman, Steven Hou and Wolfgang Kliemann; Cliff earned an exemplary faculty mentoring award on his way out the door! Fair winds and following seas.

Earlier this year I announced my own upcoming departure from the department. It was a very difficult decision, but the right move for my family. I know the momentum we’ve built in the department will continue; we have a terrific group of young faculty (10 hired in the last two years) as well as a group of seasoned folks in the tenured ranks.

I’d like to close with a heartfelt thanks to our alumni, for helping us create an environment where students, faculty and staff can thrive. Your support makes many of our efforts possible. As you page through this issue, I hope you take a moment to feel pride in yourself, in the mathematics department and in Iowa State. Go Cyclones!


Read all the 2019 Math Matters stories