Four CSB/SJU students present research at MathFest

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August 19, 2019

Four students from the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University presented their research at the annual Mathematical Association of America (MAA) MathFest in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Andrea Doty, Max Hennen, Andrew Schmelzer and Emily Twardy gave presentations to conference attendees from July 31-Aug. 3 at the Duke Energy Convention Center.

Doty and Hennen each received MAA Outstanding Student Paper Session Presentation Awards.

MathFest is one of the nation’s largest mathematics conferences, with students, faculty and professionals from various industries all in attendance. During the four days, attendees can hear talks from speakers, professors and students, as well as connect about mathematics careers and education across the United States. Over 1,200 people attended this year’s gathering.

Since the inaugural MathFest in 2001, CSB/SJU has been sending a group of students and faculty to attend each year. Two of the students’ advisers, mathematics Professor Bret Benesh and Associate Professor Sunil Chetty traveled with the students to MathFest.

Benesh, chair of the Math Department at CSB/SJU, described the significance of the event.

“In order to speak at MathFest, the students must do serious work in mathematics. This alone is a feat.  The combination of doing research and presenting at a conference like MathFest is one of the top two things a math major can accomplish, as they are truly now part of the larger mathematical community after this experience,” said Benesh, noting that the other accomplishment would be publishing a paper in mathematics.

“MathFest was amazing,” said Twardy, a rising junior mathematics major at CSB, who was returning to MathFest after also presenting in 2018. “It was mathematical students and mathematical experts from all over sharing their research. There were multiple undergraduates giving oral presentations at any given time, as well as built in networking opportunities that almost always included ice cream.”

The students’ research covered a wide variety of topics, which included:

  • “Mathematical Modeling of Fish Populations Using Flow-Kick Dynamics.” Doty used a new (from 2018) mathematical tool called "flow-kick dynamics" to predict how many walleyes will be in Lake Mille Lacs in the next five years. Her adviser is Bob Hesse, associate professor of math at CSB and SJU. “Presenting my research to a crowd of people who were genuinely interested in hearing it was extremely uplifting after a summer of hard work,” said Doty, a rising senior biochemistry and math double major at CSB. “Hard work does pay off, and I am so proud to have been honored with an award for my presentation.”
  • “Permutation Groups and Error Correcting Codes.” Hennen applied the algebraic method of uncovering-by-bases to fix constant power issues that arise with sending internet signals through power lines. His adviser is Benesh. “To me, presenting at MathFest was rewarding and was a great way to have my summer research position end. It was nice seeing all the work put in over the summer come together,” said Hennen, a rising mathematics and economics major at SJU. “Winning an award made it that much better.”
  • “Generating Pythagorean Triples of Special Forms.” Schmelzer presented on a number theory problem, and was able to generate two infinite lists of Pythagorean triples. His adviser is Chetty. “The research was good. It was pretty independent, and I felt like it was sort of like math class except for I got to devise the math problems and then see if they were actually right or wrong,” said Schmelzer, a rising junior mathematics major and environmental studies minor at SJU.
  • “Games with Permutation Groups.” Intersecting abstract algebra and combinatorial game theory, Twardy studied a two-person game that is played with regular polygons, and then found winning strategies for each shape. Her adviser is Benesh. “This conference was the culmination of our summer research. All four of the students who went this year were employed to do research with a professor,” Twardy said.

“There are about 40,000 undergraduate math majors, and there only about 250 student speakers at MathFest. Thus, just giving a talk at MathFest is something that only about 0.625% (less than 1%) of students do,” Benesh explained.

“I can't thank the math department enough. This summer was truly a wonderful experience that I'll hold dear,” Doty said.