Math Majors Organize Student-led Seminars: No Teachers Allowed (Sort of)

TCNJ mathematicians are satisfied with the proof that student-led seminars are back in action within the department, giving majors the opportunity to learn from each other while putting the fun back into numbers.

The seminars were the brainchild of math alum Brendan Kelly, and he says the benefits are twofold: to sharpen the presentation skills of student speakers showcasing their work and to offer the audience an inside look at research opportunities in the field. “Mathematics is a broad subject and, despite the best intentions, the typical curriculum does not delve into many beautiful areas that interest students,” said Kelly, now a Ph.D. graduate student in mathematics in his second year at the University of Utah. “So the seminars became a discovery point for the audience and almost a training ground for presenters looking to go on to national conferences.” MathStudentSeminars2010

This year, sophomore mathematics major Eric New organizes the seminars in conjunction with his role as president of the Math Club. “Math is a language you must keep listening to in order to develop,” explained New. “A bunch of students are working on some really interesting research papers and senior capstones that they would like to share with peers. The student seminars are a way to do so.”

Statistics majors Michele Meisner and Kati Lentz conducted a seminar last semester about their research in the field of Data Mining. Under the guidance of their faculty mentor, Dr. Chamont Wang, the pair worked to discover a model to increase prediction accuracy for a cancer dataset and a storm dataset. Meisner says her specific portion of the presentation dealt partially with the results of the storm project but primarily with describing her experiences presenting at national conferences, including the Joint Statistical Meeting in August and the M2009 SAS Data Mining Conference in October. “I think that the students who attended the presentation left with an appreciation for the type of research they could potentially do with a faculty adviser,” she said. “Some of the benefits of this type of large-scale research projects are the exposure to the research process as well as the opportunity to meet academic professionals in your field.”

Accompanying the full program of student-led seminars, Math Club membership has skyrocketed and, according to New, a great deal of excitement surrounds the weekly meetings. The agenda includes clever math jokes, problems the group can solve together, and question & answer sessions with a different faculty member each week. Other activities include pizza parties, a pumpkin picking excursion, and presentation of “Calculus the Musical” in the spring.

“I find it important to have a major where I can connect with my classmates,” said New. New is not the only one delighted with the club’s success, Dr. Aigli Papantonopoulou, head of the Mathematics and Statistics Department at TCNJ, has also expressed her satisfaction with the number of new members along with the executive board’s creative ideas. “I am very happy with the Math Club this year,” she said. “We have some great students in this department and I am pleased to see them get involved.”

Praising the Math Club as an excellent way for students to get to know their professors and learn more about research and graduate school opportunities, New urges those interested to stop by on Wednesdays. The club meets at 1:00 pm in the Science Complex, Room SCP-229, followed by the student-led seminars at 1:30 pm.

View article on TCNJ’s School of Science website

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