Highly Selective NSF-funded Research Program Marks Third Year on Campus
The program, which is funded by the National Science Foundation, allows students to travel to Ursinus for eight weeks during the summer to work in teams of three on original research projects overseen by members of the mathematics, computer science, and statistics department, which this year includes Instructor of Mathematics Lisa Grossbauer, Assistant Professor of Mathematics Olena Kozhushkina, Assistant Professor of Statistics Leslie New, Associate Professor of Mathematics Christopher Sadowski, and Assistant Professor of Mathematics and Computer Science Eric Takyi.
“Ursinus is the perfect host for the REU because the program that we have developed is one that is built around the strengths of both the college and the department,” said Professor and Chair of the Mathematics, Computer Science, and Statistics Department Nick Scoville, who is also the principal investigator of the REU grant at Ursinus.
“What Ursinus does best is it changes lives of students and allows them to succeed in ways that they never thought possible. We’re able to see students do things that they didn’t think they could do on the college level, and that’s what we want to bring to our program: students who don’t think they’re cut out for math research, don’t think they can make it in computer science, and they learn things about themselves that they never knew that they had.”
The REU runs in conjunction with Summer Fellows, with the same start and end date. REU students give presentations alongside Summer Fellows and are invited to lunches and featured faculty talks. “They’re given essentially all the rights and privileges that an Ursinus Summer Fellow student has,” said Scoville.
In addition to the Summer Fellows programming, REU students participate in three workshops each week on topics such as writing, presenting, ethics, failure, and health and wellness. “The professional development program is one way that brings the liberal arts aspect to this program, which otherwise could just be pure math or pure statistics or pure computer science,” said Scoville.
It’s that exact reason that Margaret Cathcart, a senior at the University of South Carolina, applied to Ursinus’s REU program. “Ursinus seemed to really focus on investing in us as students,” whereas other REUs focus only on the research, she said. “Ursinus focuses on your individual development plan and [works] with you to see what you want to do. We met with Professor Scoville and he talked to us about our future plans … [Ursinus] is really interested in making us better mathematicians and working on our skills.”
That personal touch is also what brought Nihal Kumar to the Ursinus program. A recent graduate of Phoenixville Area High School, Kumar took two Ursinus classes as a senior and learned about the REU program from Takyi. “’Dr. T’ is pretty much the whole reason I’m here,” said Kumar. “He is a great professor and a great mentor for research.”
Kumar and Cathcart, along with Charles Ohanian of Muhlenberg College, are working on a mathematical biology project that uses differential equations and linear algebra to model a predator-prey relationship in a certain species.
Cathcart appreciates having access to the program’s other projects as well. “I really like this project, but I’m also interested in other things, so scoping out what is going on in research right now is also really helpful,” she said.
When selecting participants for the program, Scoville and his team evaluate how the REU might help each student grow and what they want out of it. “If they just want more publications, they’re probably going to get a publication, but that’s not really what we’re looking for. We want to have the students for whom this professional development program will be very beneficial to them, something that they haven’t seen before, something that they don’t get from their current home institution.”