One city, two math conferences, three student presentations

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September 20, 2017

There are two Major League Baseball teams in Chicago – the Cubs and the White Sox.

It turns out there were two national math conferences this summer in the Windy City as well – and both included undergraduate presentations from College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University students.

CSB’s Abby Genereau presented her undergraduate research at the Mathematics Association of America MathFest July 26-29 in Chicago. CSB’s Lydia DeMorett and SJU’s Noah Froberg presented their research at the Pi Mu Epsilon (PME) Conference, which ran concurrently in conjunction with MathFest.

“All three students did good quality research this summer and were a joy to work with,” said Tom Sibley, professor of mathematics at CSB and SJU. He noted this was the 17th summer in a row CSB and SJU math students had conducted research and given presentations of their research at the national conferences.

“Every student has commented on how powerful it was to present at a national conference on a project they are proud to share,” Sibley said. “I find the summer research mentoring personally rewarding — I get to know the students beyond what can happen in the school year and, even better, help them grow academically in ways no class can provide.”

Sibley added that the two conferences operate much like the academic component at CSB and SJU. “The two conferences are funded separately, but the scheduling is done jointly so that students can go to talks at either conference,” he said.

Abby Genereau

Genereau took another step in understanding a disease she once had by presenting at MathFest. In her research, she modeled the relationship between white-tailed deer and black legged ticks and related the relationship to tick borne disease rates.

Genereau’s interest in her research was “borne” when she had Lyme disease as a child. This unfortunate experience pushed her to conduct research this summer.

The conference not only allowed Genereau to display her work, but to network with fellow students and graduate school representatives. In addition, she also got to see professional mathematicians in action.

“At basically any point of the day we were able to go and listen to some prominent mathematician speak about their groundbreaking research,” said Genereau, a senior biology major from Foley, Minnesota. “I had never had exposure to mathematics like that before.”

This summer’s research isn’t the last time that Genereau will work with diseases.

“I would definitely be interested in turning my research into something career related, because understanding diseases is something I'm really passionate about,” Genereau said. “I think applying mathematics to our understanding of disease prevalence and prevention is one of the biggest next steps in biology.”

Genereau is contemplating if graduate school or entering into the work force is the best way for her to continue her work with disease.

Lydia DeMorett

DeMorett, a junior from Waseca, Minnesota, who graduated from Caledonia (Minnesota) High School, presented research on modeling assortative mating patterns. The general model did not involve specific organisms.

“Biologically, our model was so simple that it’s difficult to model things,” said DeMorett, a mathematics major at CSB. “However, this is a next step in the project – that being trying to connect the model to real-world creatures.”

Before the presentation, DeMorett practiced for two to three weeks delivering her presentation to peers and advisers. With the help of her advisers and at least 15 practice presentations, she was well prepared for PME.

The experience of going to PME and MathFest was an exciting and enjoyable one for DeMorett.

“It was really cool,” DeMorett said. “There were lots of people from many different schools and it was awesome to represent CSB/SJU in Chicago. We also got to see a few renowned speakers and it was great to see that we are presenting just like they are.”

DeMorett hopes this experience will be a useful addition to her résumé and a good experience if she wanted to go to graduate school or get a summer fellowship.

“I was very fortunate to have had this opportunity,” she said.

Noah Froberg

Froberg, a senior math major from White Bear Township, Minnesota, gave a presentation titled “The Probability Generating an Abelian Group.” It dealt with answering an abstract algebra problem.

“I became interested in my research after reading a prior researcher's work on the topic,” Froberg said. He prepared on and off for about six weeks for his presentation.

“The problem is actually pretty simple, but is difficult to explain concisely given the lack of familiarity most people have with this particular branch of math,” Froberg said. “In simplest terms: For some groups, there are elements contained within that can generate the group itself. I found a formula to express the probability that randomly selected elements of a group may generate the group.”

Froberg said he was “intimidated” being around so many professionals in the mathematics field “who outweigh me by a wide margin in experience and intellect. “

But his experience was still strong.

“Most rewarding, I think, was having a definite conclusion to my research,” he said. “I had spent all summer on the topic, and could finally put it to rest after telling others about what I learned.”