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MAA Student Chapters Newsletters - Spring 2002

Chapter News

The Newsletter for Advisors of Student Chapters

of the Mathematical Association of America

Spring 2002


Be There In Burlington for MathFest 2002

The scenic splendor of Burlington, Vermont, will provide the backdrop for MathFest 2002. The summer gathering of the MAA will take place August 1-3 on the campus of the University of Vermont. Activities of interest to students will begin with the MAA/Pi Mu Epsilon Student Reception on Wednesday, July 31st. The MAA student paper sessions, student workshop, and student lecture will follow over the course of the next three days. See pages 3 and 4 for more information on these and other activities for students.

San Diego:

Sun and Balmy Breezes for the Joint Winter Meetings

The Joint Mathematics Meetings in San Diego (January 6-9) took place under perfect conditions. Temperatures ranged from the 60's in the mornings to low 80's in the afternoons, with sun and soft breezes to complement them. Activities for students at the meetings included an undergraduate student reception, the MAA Student Lecture, and the Minority Student Initiative. As always, the Student Hospitality Center provided students with a place to relax, meet others, and talk. See the San Diego Summary on page 2 for details.

What's inside?

San Diego Summary:

Undergrad Student Reception 2

Student Hospitality Center 2

Minority Student Initiative 2

MAA Student Lecture 3

Whassup in Burlington:

Student Paper Sessions 3

MAA Student Lecture 4

MAA Student Workshop 4

Other Student Activities 4

Contact Information 7

San Diego Summary

Undergraduate Student Reception

On Sunday, January 6, a reception for undergraduate students was held from 4:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. at the Student Hospitality Center. Fresh fruit and pastries were served to approximately 150 students and their advisors. Dick Jarvinen, chair of the Committee on Student Activities and Chapters welcomed the students along with Doug Faires and Robert Smith of Pi Mu Epsilon. The reception afforded the students a chance to congregate and meet with each other in an informal setting. Student receptions have been traditionally held at the summer meeting. The Committee on Student Activities and Chapters determined that this type of engagement is important and should be a part of the winter meetings was well. The turnout of students and advisors indicate that the reception was a great success.

Student Hospitality Center

The Student Hospitality Center in San Diego was located adjacent to the registration area for the joint winter meetings and was visited more than a thousand times. Undergraduate students found places to leave their belongings temporarily, free refreshments of fruit punch and bite-size treats, ongoing mathematics videos, copies of Math Horizons, and handouts pointing out activities of interest to them at the conference. The Student Hospitality Center also served as the venue for the annual Pi Mu Epsilon and MAA Student Chapter Advisors' Breakfast. The Student Hospitality Center has become an important part of the national meetings and is sponsored by the MAA Committee on Student Activities and Chapters. Undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, and advisors, as well as their guests, are welcome. Tables and chairs allow a place for meeting-goers to relax, meet, talk, and work on talks. Dr. Richard Neal and his wife, Araceli, are in charge of the Student Hospitality Center. For information about the Student Hospitality Center call Dr. Neal at 1-800-229-1725.

Minority Student Initiative

The Minority Student Initiative brought 52 students from ten different institutions to the joint winter meetings. This program of the Committee on Undergraduate Student Activities and Chapters seeks to encourage the mathematical pursuits of students from traditionally underrepresented groups by providing small travel grants to the students through a faculty sponsor/advisor. In San Diego the Minority Student Initiative also brought all 52 of the students together for a spaghetti dinner. The Committee on Undergraduate Student Activities and Chapters has rechristened this program as the Outreach Initiative for Underrepresented Students. This program runs once a year, either at the joint winter meetings or at the MathFest. Persons interested in information about future editions of the Outreach Initiative for Underrepresented Students should contact Jean Bee Chan at

MAA Student Lecture

Approximately 60 students and faculty attended the MAA Student Lecture on the evening of January 8th. Professor M. Elisabeth Pate?-Cornell spoke about Finding and Fixing Systems' Weaknesses: the Art and Science of Engineering Risk Analysis. Professor Pate?-Cornell is the Burt and Deedee McMurtry Professor of Engineering and Chair of the Department of Engineering at Stanford University. She described her own experiences in working on two significant risk analysis problems. One of these involved her work in analyzing patterns of failure in the tiles which cover the space shuttle in order to help NASA limit the risk of tiles being lost during the shuttle's re-entry into the earth's atmosphere. The other example was from her work in studying behavior of anesthesiologists and the contribution of this behavior to patient risk while under anesthesia. These examples were presented in a witty, anecdotal style that was both entertaining and very informative. This MAA Student Lecture provided students with a good understanding of the nature of the field of engineering risk analysis.

Whassup in Burlington

MAA Student Paper Sessions:
Call for Student Papers

The MAA Student Paper Sessions will be held on Thursday, August 2, and Friday, August 3, from 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Students who wish to present a paper in the MAA Student Paper sessions at the Burlington MathFest must be nominated by a faculty advisor who is familiar with the work to be presented. To propose a paper for presentation, the student must complete a form and obtain the signature of a faculty sponsor.

Nomination forms for the MAA Student Paper Sessions are located on MAA Online at under STUDENTS or can be obtained from Dr. Thomas Kelly ( at Henry Ford Community College or by phone at (313) 845-6492. Students who make presentations at the MathFest and who are also members of MAA Student Chapters are eligible for partial travel reimbursement. The deadline for receipt of applications is June 28, 2002.

MAA Student Lecture

On Saturday, August 3, Colin Adams of Williams College will give the MAA Student Lecture on "Blown Away: What Knot to Do When Sailing" By Sir Randolph "Skipper" Bacon III. This is a tale of adventure on the high seas involving great risk to the taleteller, and how an understanding of the mathematical theory of knots saved his bacon.

MAA Student Workshop Topics in Graph Theory

Graph theory is a subject that offers obvious applications and beautiful open questions, all within a context that allows beginners to get up to speed quickly. The workshop presented by Patti Frazer Lock of St. Lawrence University will explore some of the more interesting applications and open questions in graph theory today. This workshop should be interesting and understandable to all, from those who have never seen any graph theory to those with a solid background in the subject. The MAA Student Workshop is scheduled for Saturday, August 3, from 1:00 p.m. to 2:50 p.m.

Other Activities of Interest to Students at MathFest 2002

  • The Student Hospitality Center will be open Thursday through Saturday, 9:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. Students and other MathFest participants can meet for informal conversation, refreshment, and mathematical diversions. The Student Hospitality Center also provides programs for the student paper sessions, packets for student presenters, and information on MathFest activities of interest to students. Special information for students can be found on MAA Online at and at
  • MAA/Pi Mu Epsilon Student Reception: Wednesday, July 31, 5:30 - 6:30 p.m.
  • MAA Mathematical Contest in Modeling (MCM) Winners; Ben Fusaro, Florida State University, Thursday, August 1, 5:30 - 6:30 p.m.
  • Graduate Student Reception; Thursday, August 1, 5:30 - 6:30 p.m.
  • PME Banquet; Friday, August 2, 6:00 - 7:45 p.m. See the MathFest registration form for ticket information.
  • PME J. Sutherland Frame Lecture: Soap Bubbles: Open Problems; Frank Morgan, Williams College, Friday, August 2, 8:00 - 8:50 p.m.
Baltimore Bulletin

Mathematical Experiences Outside the Classroom

Although the third edition of this session scheduled for the San Diego meeting this past January had to be cancelled, the MAA Committee on Undergraduate Student Activities and Chapters plans to offer this session at the 2003 Joint Mathematics Meetings in Baltimore. Many people expressed disappointment at the cancellation, as interesting ways of drawing students into mathematics are of great interest. Below are a few samples of past presentations in this session. For further information contact Tom Kelley at and watch for the "official" announcement of the session in a future edition of Focus.

Some Sample Presentations From Past Sessions on Mathematical Experiences Outside the Classroom

Aaron K. Trautwein
Carthage College

Sine on the Dotted Line:
The Carthage College Journal of Undergraduate Mathematics

The students and faculty at Carthage College created their own undergraduate mathematical journal, "Sine on the Dotted Line," seven years ago. Since that time, eight issues have been published. This presentation gives the history of the journal, how the journal has effected changes and additions to the Mathematics Department curriculum, and the process by which each issue is published. In addition, examples of articles appearing in the journal will be given. The talk will conclude with a description of how the journal has enhanced mathematics learning outside the classroom at Carthage and an examination of some of the success and problems we have encountered.

Tracii Friedman
Benedictine University

Building a Successful Math Club

Three years ago, there were very few mathematics majors at my institution. Thus, a primary goal of departmental strategic planning was identified: increase the number of majors. The strategy included revitalizing the math club and generating student research projects. In order to have a strong, energetic program, it seemed essential to engage students outside of the classroom environment, providing them with a view of mathematics that is more than formulas, theorems, and number-crunching. In three years, the math club has become an exciting and motivating component of the mathematics department. We have also achieved much success with student research projects and have included student presentations of these projects as a regular math club activity. Generally, the math club sponsors several annual events that include mathematics competitions, outside speakers, and social events. There are biweekly and monthly events, such as the Math Club Challenge, a problem posted in the student newspaper. These events become familiar to the students and help to maintain momentum throughout the year. Also, each year, the officers of the club aim to devise at least one new, fun, and of course math-related event that helps to renew student interest in the club's activities.

Paul Fishback

Nurturing a Community of Students at a Large University

The Department of Mathematics and Statistics at Grand Valley State University (GVSU) offers many opportunities for our students to become involved in mathematical activities beyond the classroom. The Mathematics and Statistics Club/Student MAA Chapter activities over the past few years have included inviting career speakers, establishing problem solving groups, assisting the department in its interviewing of job applicants, advising the department on issues of student concern, hosting social activities, and organizing the Michigan Undergraduate Mathematics Conference. In addition to the club, the department actively promotes collaborative research between students and faculty. Some of these projects have focused on research problems in pure mathematics and have led to a recent NSF-REU grant. Others address problems in statistical consulting for a variety of clients in the region. These types of activities have done much to "fertilize" an undergraduate mathematics community within our department, a community that flourishes despite the large size of our institution (over 17,000 students). Important factors that make the creation of such an environment possible include the institutional commitment to teaching excellence, service, and scholarship as well as significant contributions made by a large number of motivated faculty.

Proposed by:
Paul Fishback, Grand Valley State University (
Jody Sorensen, Grand Valley State University (

James Yick

The Scarecrow Conjecture Activity

In the original movie version of The Wizard of Oz, when the wizard gives the scarecrow a diploma, a "Doctorate in Thinkology" or Th.D, to show the effect of his newly acquired degree, the scarecrow rattles off something that sounds somewhat like the Pythagorean Theorem but is not. He states, "The sum of the square roots of any two sides of an iscoceles triangle is equal to the square root of the remaining side." We will call this the Scarecrow Conjecture. For a disproof by counterexample, take an equilateral triangle with all sides of length 1. Since sqrt[1] + sqrt[1] does not equal sqrt[1], the conjecture is false.

The Crow Theorem: The sum of the square roots of any two sides of an isosceles triangle is not equal to the square root of the remaining side.

Proof by Contradiction: Consider any isosceles triangle with sides of lengths a, a, and b with 2a>b>0. Assume that the sum of the square roots of two sides of the triangle equals the square root of the remaining side. We consider two cases:

Case (i): sqrt[b] = sqrt[a] + sqrt[a]
Sqrt[b] = 2sqrt[a]
b = 4a>2a>b
b>b is false.
Case(ii): sqrt[a] = sqrt[a] + sqrt[b]
0 = sqt[b]
0 = b, a contradiction.

This experience can include a discussion about the symbolic nature of the scarecrow as representing uneducated farmers and why the scarecrow's conjecture may have been deliberately false.

Proposed by:
James Yick, President and Ana Rafiee, Vice-President of the Euclidean Society (MAA Student Chapter of MAA at ASU)

Contact Information

How to Reach the MAA

For Membership Information, Subscriptions, and Publications orders contact:

The MAA Service Center
P.O. Box 9112
Washington, DC 20090-1622
800-331-1622 or (301) 617-9415
(301) 206-9789-FAX

For the MAA Headquarters:

The Mathematical Association of America
1529 Eighteenth Street, NW
Washington, DC 20036-1385
800-741-9415 or (202) 387-5200
(202) 265-2384-FAX

To Contact the

Chapter News Editor

Suggestions, concerns, and/or contributions of articles for this newsletter may be sent to:

James P. Marshall
Illinois College
Department of Mathematics
1101 W. College Ave.
Jacksonville, IL 62650
(217) 245-3432
FAX: (217) 245-3034

May the MATH be with you!