The Numbers Game

By David Ford

Two students from Youngstown State University received national awards for excellence at the 2017 MathFest in Chicago. Two of the 15 students from YSU, Monica Busser and Christine Langer, received national awards for their research projects.

“The five years that I have been at YSU, every year these students have dominated the awards ceremonies,” Alicia Prieto Langarica, an assistant professor of mathematics and statistics, said.

MathFest is an annual conference where mathematicians from across the country go to present the research they’ve done for the last several months. Students from YSU presented for either the Mathematical Association of America or Pi Mu Epsilon, a national honors society for mathematics.

Every year, YSU takes a group of students to MathFest to present their research.

For the third consecutive year, Busser has won an award. In July, she presented her research titled, “Induced Representations.”

Langer received national recognition for her research titled, “Surprising Nontransitive Games,” which started back in early January. She also commented on the background of her research and why she chose to focus her project on her select topic.

“I want to be a high school math teacher, so originally this project of mine was going to be focused on probability and classroom activities,” Langer said. “Since probability is a topic that is less commonly understood in high school, I planned to create activities and lessons to make it easier to understand.”

Langer said the experience was extremely rewarding despite some nerves toward the beginning. Langer said she explored Chicago following the conclusion of her presentation and that the wait wasn’t as nerve-wracking as anticipated.

“I felt good about how my presentation went, but I didn’t get my hopes up. If I won, great. If I didn’t, I still had an amazing experience at this conference,” Langer said. “The wait honestly wasn’t too bad. There were only two days for the PME student presentations, and I presented on the second day.”

Langer also acknowledged her peers’ research projects and the vital role mathematics plays in our society.

“The research done by myself and my peers is extremely important,” Langer said. “Mathematics has huge applications to the world we live in; without it, we would not have the technology we do today, the advancements in medicine or the things we consider commonplace or important.”

Langer talked about the role her professors played in project and research development, believing it to be a crucial part of any student’s success.

Thomas Wakefield, an associate professor of mathematics at YSU, said the research can be extensive and strenuous, but the experience and hard work is all worth it.

“Some of the research projects have originated from research-intensive experiences in which students work nearly full-time to prepare,” Wakefield said. “For others, the students worked for a couple of hours a week for nearly a year or more on putting the research together.”

Wakefield said that any student who is interested and has worked with a faculty member on a research project is encouraged to attend MathFest and present their research.

“I definitely encourage all students to seek out research experiences and opportunities to present math to audiences,” Wakefield said. “These are important skills that make students more marketable and better prepared for their next step beyond YSU.”

According to Prieto Langarica, the opportunities to become involved with YSU STEM research projects are extremely beneficial and contain the invaluable one-on-one time students spend with faculty.

“Undergraduate students doing research used to be a novelty. Now, many graduate schools expect their applicants to have been involved in such activities,” Langarica said. “This to me is the biggest advantage YSU has over many other universities, the availability of opportunities like this for students at all ages in their careers.”

As for YSU’s involvement with MathFest, Prieto Langarica said students winning awards and gaining recognition not only benefits them but gives YSU some national spotlight.

“Whenever I go to other conferences or other universities, people comment about the great culture of undergraduate research at YSU and the great quality of our students,” Prieto Langarica said.

Prieto Langarica said a couple of her students are currently working on understanding the algorithms Amazon and Netflix use to recommend things you should buy or the next movie you should watch. The students plan to modify these algorithms and create new ones to recommend to students the classes they should take.

On top of winning awards for their research at MathFest, the YSU chapter of the Association for Women in Mathematics received the inaugural professional development award thanks to the efforts of past president Monica Busser, who was mentioned earlier for receiving a national individual award.