College undergrads attend elite math research program at FIU

FIU’s Department of Mathematics and Statistics welcomed 14 undergraduate students from across the United States for its first ever summer Research Program for Undergraduates (REU).

The Applied Mathematics REU allows students to participate in research programs in areas of differential equations and analysis with applications in other scientific disciplines.

For University of Tennessee Knoxville student Diana Son, applying to the program was an easy decision.

“I really liked how it highlighted minorities in women,” Son said. “I also liked how it focused on partial differential equations, specifically Fourier analysis.”

The National Science Foundation-funded program is led by Mathematics and Statistics Professor Svetlana Roudenko and is comprised of 14 undergraduate students from nine different colleges and universities. Of those students, 43 percent are female and 50 percent are Hispanic.

Students attended lectures during the first two weeks. After hearing from different scholars and professors on an array of topics, students split up into groups and got to work on their projects under the guidance of their mentors. FIU student Daniel Cabanez’s mentor Jose Medel was a teaching assistant for one of his previous classes. Together, along with FIU student Vlad Drezels, they studied the general cohomology theories – theories used to tell invariants between topological spaces.

“The theory can be rather elegant and rather beautiful and simplicial, but once you start calculating examples, it’s a whole other bag of tricks,” said Cabanez, who shares the program showed the trials and tribulations mathematicians go through in research.

Students didn’t face these tribulations alone. They worked through them with a diverse group of individuals. One of the nine mentors is Colombian and received his Ph.D. from Brazil.

“Hearing their point of view and the way they think was super interesting,” said Hannah Wubben, a student from Loras College in Iowa.

While students got to see mathematics through the lenses of others, they also learned a lot about themselves. Son came into the program not knowing whether she wanted to go straight into her career or continue academia.

“The information I gained here, I’ve never gotten anywhere else and I didn’t know to look for it,” Son said. “That’s going to be my biggest takeaway – just figuring out what mathematician I’d like to be.”

Research Experiences for Undergraduates are competitive summer research programs in the United States for undergraduates studying science, engineering or mathematics. The programs are sponsored by the National Science Foundation and are hosted at various universities. In addition to FIU, UT Knoxville and Loras college, the Applied Mathematics REU at FIU also hosted students from John Hopkins University, Otterbein University, Wake Forest University, University of Florida, Winona State University and University of Alabama.