Irena Mitrea / Mathematics

“mathematically demonstrated to be perfect!”

One expects to read this line at the end of a challenging and sophisticated mathematical proof much as Euclid and Archimedes would end their mathematical works with “quod erat demonstrandum”. Imagine the surprise, confusion, and then delight to read this in a farm book! Employing his knowledge of mathematics, which, when he was young, he considered the passion of his life) Thomas Jefferson designed a moldboard of least resistance for a plow, which he considered …”mathematically demonstrated to be perfect.”

My dream is to run a seminar in the Department of Mathematics at the University of Virginia centered around the idea of exploring the mathematical principles in Thomas Jefferson’s work as they appear in his designs of a spherical sundial land wheel cipher, his successful advocacy of a method for apportionment of representatives in Congress, his architecture. The seminar will involve women undergraduate students (a realistic number would be five) and will be a first step in an effort of supporting their interest in a career in sciences and mathematics. The particular theme of the seminar is uniquely suited for the University of Virginia and so far this link (women/mathematics/Jefferson), which bridges the humanities and the sciences, has not been fully explored.

The seminar will have a dual character: research and presentations. The goal is to get beyond the current status quo of such an activity and impact future generation of students interested in Mathematics at the university of Virginia. Some of the concrete things I plan to achieve with the Mead Endowment’s support are “ to take the students to field trips to Monticello and Poplar Forest; to teach the participants to utilize the research material in the mathematics department and university libraries to write historically oriented mathematical articles; to disseminate the findings through a seminar web page and undergraduate research journal publications; to support the participation of the students (with the necessary additional funds from my National Science Foundation Career award) to make presentations in appropriate sessions at the Mathematical Association of America meetings; to create a poster about the seminar theme to send to other universities (this will be good publicity for the mathematics program at the UVa and will hopefully help with recruiting talented undergraduate women in the sciences); to make a short movie that documents the students research process from the early beginning to the final stage; to present the movie at a Math Club meeting with the goal of developing awareness among the mathematics majors at UVa about the unique characteristics of the program they are pursuing.

Besides the five undergraduate students, I plan to involve in the proposed seminar activities my PHD student, Katharine Ott. The idea is to offer the students a role model closer to their age (in my experience this aspect makes a difference) with whom they can easily share questions and concerns about a successful career in the sciences. Katharine is a promising young graduate student who got involved under my supervision in her first research projects in the area of Partial Differential Equations. Katharine’s professional accomplishments since I came to UVa two years ago include securing summer support for 2005 and 2006 in the form of Aerospace Graduate Research Fellowship” funded by NASA, and writing (jointly with me) her first research paper which is to appear in the Proceeding of the American Mathematical Society. Katharine has recently participated in and given her first presentations at national conferences and local seminars, which were very well received by an expert audience. Among other things, she is currently l engaged in a collaborative effort on a research problem I suggested with an outstanding undergraduate student, David C. Isaacs, an Echols scholarship made the Dean’s List since Fall 2003. Both were recently awarded a Double Hoo Research Fellowship at the University of Virginia for the academic year 2006-2007, in support of their research project.

Katharine is also the recipient of a 2006 AAAS Mass Media Science and Engineering Fellowship (out of 14 awarded nation-wide this year) sponscered by the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics. Under the auspices of s fellowship she promoted mathematics and sciences in mass media at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel newspaper by publishing eight articles.

Over the years I have learned the great value of mentorship and role models. I feel that Katharine’s interests and expertise are well suited to the purpose of the proposed seminar and her participation will have a positive impact on the undergraduate students involved.

My Experience

The idea of the proposed seminar also dovetails nicely with my long-term goal of building a mentoring network for students interested in the sciences involving faculty and undergraduate and graduate students in mathematics at UVa. Concrete steps I already took in this direction include:

*The” Girls and Mathematics” summer outreach program that I have organized this summer at UVa which brought together 15 talented and enthusiastic middle school girls from the Charlottesville area to think outside the box and sharpen their problem solving skills (see the web page of the program at http/ )

 *The service as a mathematics major adviser of five undergraduate students: Erin Wolf, Dhananjay Chhatre, Sephanie Therese Trexler, Fabio Hildebrando Vanegas and Ezekiel Jackson. I take my role as an adviser seriously and I encourage my students to participate in a series of professional activities outside the classroom routine, During the past academic year Erin was selected one of the three recipients of the Floyd Prize in Mathematics at the University of Virginia. a member a member of the Pi Mu Epsilon National Honorary Society, and I have involved her as an instructor in the Girls and Mathematics Summer Program. With my support Ezekiel attended this summer a Research Experience for Undergraduates in Sustainability at Michigan Technological University, Summer 2006 and he was awarded a SEAS Endowed Scholarships at the University of Virginia for the academic year2006-2007. Ezekiel was also involved in a research project under my supervision and he currently serves as the president of the Math Club student organization at UVa. During the summer of 200, at my recommendation, Dhananjay has attended a program in computational Biology (funded by NSF-REU) hosted by the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

*My involvement with the Hues Leadership Network for Women of Color program at the Women’s Center at the University of Virginia, which seeks to provide business development and career-focused mentoring for undergraduate women of color. During the past academic year I mentored in this program. You-Jin Leea and Huiling Lai- two freshman women interested in a career in sciences. During Spring 2006 I involved You-Jin and Huiling in a series of informal lunch meetings to participate in the “Careers in Mathematical Sciences” event I organized as an outreach activity in the Department of Mathematics. Mr. Mead might like to know that I attended at You-Jin’s invitation, the University of Virginia Symphony Orchestra Concert on March 18, 2006 where You-Jin played violin1!

*My involvement as a faculty adviser with the Math Club in spring 2006. Math Club is an undergraduate student organization dedicated to promoting scholarly activity in mathematics among undergraduate students at the University of Virginia. My activities as an adviser included supervising the design of the club web page and linking it to the nationwide list run by the American Mathematical Society (see; advising and training Ezekiel Fugate as the new Math Club seminar organizer; advertising talks and recruiting undergraduate students for seminar attendance; supervising the design of the poster with the Spring activities and student feedback.

*The “Careers in Mathematical Sciences” event, which I organized during Spring 2006, which was centered on the idea of advertising career opportunities in the mathematical sciences to the undergraduate community at the University of Virginia. The participants were ten undergraduate students from my “Multivariable Calculus – Math 231” class, two of my mathematics major advisees, my two undergraduate mentees in the HUES Mentoring Program, four graduate students in mathematics and five faculty members from the Department of Mathematics and Material Sciences.

The Mead Endowment support would give me the opportunity to build on my experience and take it a step further in the challenging process of making the dream a reality.