Each of us had supervised independent research projects before, including one history project, but we had always worked with one student at a time. But when we heard colleagues describe their Research Experiences for Undergraduates programs, we were envious – of the field trips, the invited speakers, the seminar-like atmosphere, the collaboration, the fun. And so we decided to find four students to work with the two of us. We also decided to invite students with different levels of skill and experience; we did not want to work with four graduating seniors, only to have them leave the College, taking all of our collective knowledge with them. We introduced this scheme of “vertical integration” into the project by inviting students from different classes. In the end our group was composed of two students who had just graduated, one rising senior and one rising sophomore, and the two of us: one full professor who had previously done historical research, and one untenured assistant professor with no previous historical research experience.
The vertical integration gave us a variety of perspectives and experiences to draw upon. Our recent graduates had just completed a senior seminar in the history of mathematics, and could share their knowledge with the younger students. The rising senior was a double major in mathematics and economics, and so brought a different set of interests and knowledge to the group. And our rising sophomore was a potential mathematics major who had just finished calculus.
We pitched our idea for summer research to the appropriate committee, and after some discussion between us and the dean, we were granted Hood College funding for an eight-week research project, set to culminate with a trip to MathFest, the summer meeting of the MAA, in San Jose, California, that August. The students were given dorm rooms for the summer; students and instructors received a stipend.