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Section Visitors Program

Every MAA Section is eligible to have one Section Visitor per academic year from the Association leadership to attend and participate in a Section meeting, with all travel expenses borne by the MAA. Sections are not expected to provide the Visitor with an honorarium or stipend; the Section’s only financial obligation is to cover the registration fee and the cost of any associated social events. This popular program is a great way to find a dynamic speaker for your Section meeting, to energize your Section NExT group, to ask questions and share information with the Board of Directors.

Why invite a Section Visitor?

The goals of this program are to:

  • Provide the Association leadership with information about the unique features of the Sections they visit, with a more immediate sense of the concerns and issues facing the membership, and with a sense of the well-being of the Section, including how well it is fulfilling its mission.
  • Provide the Section leadership with a perspective on trends in the Sections of the Association, with perceptions on the effectiveness of the management of the affairs of the Section, and with recognition for noteworthy Section activities and practices.
  • Provide the members of the Section an opportunity to interact directly with the Association leadership though individual conversations and formal Section activities.

What does a Section Visitor do?

To achieve these goals, each Section Visitor will participate in as much of the Section meeting as possible. In particular, the Section Visitor is expected to:

  • Present at least one talk, workshop, or other activity agreed upon with the Section leadership.

These activities, and any other activities that the visitor is requested to lead, should be selected to align the experiences and talents of the Association leadership with the interests and needs of the Section.

  • Attend and participate in any business meetings of the Section, meetings of the Section officers, liaison meetings, chairs’ meetings, and Section NExT activities. (Please make sure the Visitor is placed on the agenda of each of these meetings.)
  • Participate in the social activities associated with the meeting.

After completing the visit, the Section Visitor will prepare a report for the MAA Board of Directors and the Committee on Sections, summarizing the activities that the visitor participated in or observed, noting those that should be shared with other Sections. The report should also reflect on the general health of the Section and areas in which the Section might improve. The Section Visitor will send a similar report to the Section officers and the Section representative.

How to schedule a Section Visitor

Because many Section meetings are scheduled for a short "window" in the spring, Section Visitors are in high demand at that time. Therefore, Section leaders should extend an invitation as early as possible to the Section Visitor whom they want. The MAA Secretary and Chair of the Committee on Sections will assist if a Section has problems in scheduling a Section Visitor, but early planning is essential. When you invite a Visitor to your Section, please make it clear that you are inviting him/her as a Section Visitor. In order to ensure that the reimbursements are processed correctly, please notify Susan Kennedy of your section meeting speaker plans as soon as arrangements are made.

Making your Section Visitor feel at home

Good advice for all invited guests

Each Section is asked to be a thoughtful host. In the crush of meeting details and the distribution of duties among Section officers and local arrangements folks, it is sometimes easy for responsibilities to fall through the cracks.

  • Please be sure to consider your Visitor’s arrangements for travel, lodging, meals, local transportation and registration. If your Visitor arrives the night before, or stays the night after, the Section meeting, it is especially cordial that the Section consider evening dining arrangements. At least give visiting speakers options ("Do you need a ride?" or “Can we arrange for a cab?”) for airport pickups, get-togethers at meals, etc.
  • Be sure to communicate fully about the schedule of events at your meeting.
  • Make sure the Visitor is on the agenda for the Section business meeting, executive committee meeting, and any other appropriate events.
  • Register your Visitor for the meeting! Prepare a name tag, meal tickets, and a program, and have them ready at the registration table.

Section Visitors, Pólya Lecturers, and Section Representatives

Finally, it is important to note the distinction between the roles of the Pólya Lecturers, the Section Representatives, and the Section Visitors:

  • Pólya Lecturers are leading members of the mathematical community, selected because they are outstanding speakers who are available to deliver an invited address during the Section meeting; they do not represent the leadership of the Association. Each Section may invite a Pólya Lecturer once every five years.
  • The Section Representative is the Section’s official liaison with the Association; he or she reports the official actions of the Congress to the Section and communicates issues from the Section directly to the Congress. Section Representatives are provided materials by the Association to assist in this communication.
  • Section Visitors are among the senior leadership of the Association and a primary purpose of their visits is to assist the Section leadership in maintaining healthy Sections by bringing to the Section leadership ideas of successful activities from other Sections and provide a means of communication between the leadership and the members.

The Association leaders who are currently designated as Section Visitors

Allen Butler, Treasurer, Board of Directors
Daniel H. Wagner, Associates,
Email: [email protected]
Available as a speaker through Spring 2025
 

Topics include:

Bayes’ Theorem – Making Rational Decisions in the Face of Uncertainty
A statement of Bayes’ Theorem (aka Bayes’ Rule) can be written very succinctly, but this belies its far-reaching consequences. In this talk, I will provide a little of the history behind Bayes’ Theorem, a derivation of the mathematical basis in probabilistic terms, and a description of the less formal basis where it is viewed as a form of evidential or inferential reasoning. I will illustrate the utility of Bayes’ Theorem by describing applications from the work of my former company, Daniel H. Wagner Associates, Inc. One of these resulted in the location and recovery of the “Ship of Gold”, the SS Central America, a side-wheel steamer carrying nearly six hundred passengers returning from the California Gold Rush, which sank in a hurricane two hundred miles off the Carolina coast in September 1857.

Students considering Non-Academic Careers? – Help!
Most professors have spent their entire careers wandering academic halls. It’s no wonder they sometimes struggle with the task of advising students on non-academic careers. In this talk, we’ll look at ways to help such students. What advice can you give students about finding the right jobs? How can students best prepare themselves to be successful, both in the interview process and in their new career? Are internships really valuable and how does a student get one? What can students expect when they transition from the classroom to the “real world”?

Building a Successful Company – With Mathematicians???
In 1963, Dr. Dan Wagner founded his eponymous company, Daniel H. Wagner, Associates, with two guiding principles in mind: hire young mathematicians, then train them to solve real-world problems; and teach them that the quality of the writing in the technical reports and briefings is nearly as important as the technical content itself. Through the years, the company developed an impressive reputation for mathematical analysis applied to the budding field of Search Theory (find the lost H-bomb, find the sunken treasure, find the enemy submarine, etc.), and this continues to be an area of expertise today. At the same time, the company demonstrated the breadth of its capabilities by working in areas as diverse as DNA sequencing, retirement planning, crane anti-sway, speech recognition, speaker verification, and random number generation on GPUs.
 

Edray Goins, Chair, Congress
West Pomona College
Email: [email protected]
Available as a speaker through Spring 2024
 

Topics include:

Clocks, Parking Garages, and the Solvability of the Quintic: A Friendly Introduction to Monodromy
Imagine the hands on a clock. For every complete the minute hand makes, the seconds hand makes 60, while the hour hand only goes one twelfth of the way. We may think of the hour hand as generating a group such that when we ``move'' twelve times then we get back to where we started. This is the elementary concept of a monodromy group. In this talk, we give a gentle introduction to a historical mathematical concept which relates calculus, linear algebra, differential equations, and group theory into one neat theory called ``monodromy''. We explore lots of real world applications, including why it’s so easy to get lost in parking garages, and present some open problems in the field. We end the talk with a discussion of how this is all related to solving polynomial equations, such as Abel’s famous theorem on the insolubility of the quintic by radicals.

A Dream Deferred: 50 Years of Blacks in Mathematics
In 1934, Walter Richard Talbot earned his Ph.D. from the University of Pittsburgh; he was the fourth African American to earn a doctorate in mathematics. His dissertation research was in the field of geometric group theory, where he was interested in computing fundamental domains of action by the symmetric group on certain complex vector spaces. Unfortunately, opportunities for African Americans during that time to continue their research were severely limited. "When I entered the college teaching scene, it was 1934," Talbot is quoted as saying. "It was 35 years later before I had a chance to start existing in the national activities of the mathematical bodies." Concerned with the exclusion of African Americans at various national meetings, Talbot helped to found the National Association of Mathematicians (NAM) in 1969.
In this talk, we take a tour of the mathematics done by African and African Americans over the past 50 years since the founding of NAM, weaving in personal stories and questions for reflection for the next 50 years.

A Survey of Diophantine Equations
There are many beautiful identities involving positive integers. For example, Pythagoras knew $3^2 + 4^2 = 5^2$ while Plato knew $3^3 + 4^3 + 5^3 = 6^3$. Euler discovered $59^4 + 158^4 = 133^4 + 134^4$, and even a famous story involving G.~H.~Hardy and Srinivasa Ramanujan involves $1^3 + 12^3 = 9^3 + 10^3$. But how does one find such identities?
Around the third century, the Greek mathematician Diophantus of Alexandria introduced a systematic study of integer solutions to polynomial equations. In this talk, we'll focus on various types of so-called Diophantine Equations, discussing such topics as Pythagorean Triples, Pell's Equations, Elliptic Curves, and Fermat's Last Theorem.

Indiana Pols Forced to Eat Humble Pi: The Curious History of an Irrational Number
In 1897, Indiana physician Edwin J. Goodwin believed he had discovered a way to square the circle, and proposed a bill to Indiana Representative Taylor I. Record which would secure Indiana's the claim to fame for his discovery. About the time the debate about the bill concluded, Purdue University professor Clarence A. Waldo serendipitously came across the claimed discovery, and pointed out its mathematical impossibility to the lawmakers. It had only be shown just 15 years before, by the German mathematician Ferdinand von Lindemann, that it was impossible to square the circle because $\pi$ is a transcendental number. This fodder became ignominiously known as the "Indiana Pi Bill" as Goodwin's result would force $\pi = 3.2$.
In this talk, we review this humorous history of the irrationality of $\pi$. We introduce a method to compute its digits, present Lindemann's proof of its irrationality (following a simplification by Mikl{\'o}s Laczkovich), discuss the relationship with the Hermite-Lindemann-Weierstrass theorem, and explain how Edwin J.~Goodwin came to his erroneous conclusion in the first place.
 

Emille Davie Lawrence, Officer-at-large
University of San Francisco
Email: [email protected]
Available as a speaker through Spring 2023
 

Topics include:

Exploring Mathematics Across Civilizations
Close your eyes and ask yourself, “Who are the greatest contributors to modern mathematics?” Do you have your answer? There is a good chance that one of Newton, Gauss, Euler, Galois, Cauchy, Cantor, or Noether appeared on your list. While these are indeed important figures in today’s mathematical landscape, what is largely absent from our mathematics education are the contributions of African, Indigenous, Oceanic, and people from other non-European cultures. The aim of this talk will be to provide thought-provoking insight into the mathematics of cultures that are often overlooked in American schools and universities. We will also highlight how these ideas can be presented in our own teaching as we work towards culturally responsive ways to engage students and towards presenting mathematics as a diverse human experience.
 

Lisa Marano, Chair, Committee on Sections
West Chester University
Email: [email protected]
Available as a speaker through Spring 2024
 

Topics include:

Mathematics and Service Learning
First-year seminars, learning communities, service-learning courses, undergraduate research projects, and capstone experiences are among a list of high-impact educational practices compiled by George Kuh (2008), which measurably influence students’ success in areas such as student engagement and retention. It is recommended that all college students participate in at least two of these HIPs to deepen their approaches to learning, as well as to increase the transference of knowledge (Gonyea, Kinzie, Kuh, & Laird, 2008). In Mathematics, if a student participates in service-learning, it is typically in the form of tutoring, in conjunction with a school or with an after-school program, or consulting for a non-profit by modeling or performing statistical analysis. I discuss a number of service-learning projects which were developed for mathematics courses, neither of which involves these traditional opportunities. I also describe my current research project which has potential impact on my community and yours.
 

Nancy Ann Neudauer, Associate Secretary
Pacific University
Email: [email protected]
Available as a speaker through Spring 2026
 

Topics to be announced.

Michael Pearson, Executive Director
Mathematical Association of America
Email: [email protected]
 

Topics on request.

Jenny Quinn, President
University of Washington Tacoma
Email: [email protected]
Available as a speaker through Spring 2024
 

Topics include:

Solving Mathematical Mysteries
Much as mysteries in fiction consider evidence, find common patterns, and draw logical conclusions to solve crimes, mathematical mysteries are unlocked using the same tools. This talk exposes secrets behind a numerical magic trick, a geometric puzzle, and an unknown quantity to find a fascinating pattern with connections to art, architecture, and nature.

Epic Math Battles: Counting vs. Matching
Which technique is mathematically superior? The audience will judge of this tongue-in-cheek combinatorial competition between the mathematical techniques of counting and matching. Be prepared to explore positive and alternating sums involving binomial coefficients, Fibonacci numbers, and other beautiful combinatorial quantities. How are the terms in each sum concretely interpreted? What is being counted? What is being matched? Which is superior? You decide.

Digraphs and Determinants
In linear algebra, you learned how to compute and interpret n × n determinants. Along the way, you likely encountered some interesting matrix identities involving beautiful patterns. Are these determinantal identities coincidental or is there something deeper involved?
In this talk, I will show you that determinants can be understood combinatorially by counting paths in well-chosen directed graphs. We will work to connect digraphs and determinants using two approaches: Given a “pretty” matrix, can we design a (possibly weighted) digraph that clearly visualizes its determinant? Given a “nice” directed graph, can we find an associated matrix and its determinant?
Previous knowledge of determinants is an advantage but not a necessity.

Proofs That Really Count
Every proof in this talk reduces to a counting problem---typically enumerated in two different ways. Counting leads to beautiful, often elementary, and very concrete proofs. While not necessarily the simplest approach, it offers another method to gain understanding of mathematical truths. To a combinatorialist, this kind of proof is the only right one. I have selected some favorite identities using Fibonacci numbers, binomial coefficients, Stirling numbers, and more. Hopefully when you encounter identities in the future, the first question to pop into your mind will not be "Why is this true?" but "What does this count?"
This talk is a “Choose your own adventure”™ where the content is guided by the input and desires of the audience.
 

Adriana Salerno, Vice President
Bates College
Email: [email protected]
Available as a speaker through Spring 2024
 

Topics include:

The stories we tell
Stories are how we make sense of our world and ourselves. In a mathematics classroom, whether we notice it or not, we tell stories -- about what mathematics is and who it’s for. Additionally, each person in that classroom (teachers and students) brings in their own stories and experiences with mathematics. In this talk, I will share how acknowledging and making room for different stories has shaped my classroom and my own growth as an educator. And of course, there will be stories.

Language, probability, and cryptography
What rules define a language? Can we use this information to decrypt secret messages? In this talk, we look at the application of Markov Chain Monte Carlo (MCMC) methods to decrypt different types of substitution ciphers. By studying the state changes in consecutive letters of a particular language, one can program a computer to make exceptionally ‘smart’ guesses as to what an encrypted message actually says. We will discuss some famous examples, and how this can be made into a particularly interesting undergraduate research project.

Higher dimensional origami constructions
Origami is an ancient art that continues to yield both artistic and scientific insights to this day. In 2012, Buhler, Butler, de Launey, and Graham extended these ideas even further by developing a mathematical construction inspired by origami — one in which we iteratively construct points on the complex plane (the “paper”) from a set of starting points (or “seed points”) and lines through those points with prescribed angles (or the allowable “folds” on our paper). Any two lines with these prescribed angles through the seed points that intersect generate a new point, and by iterating this process for each pair of points formed, we generate a subset of the complex plane. We extend previously known results about the algebraic and geometric structure of these sets to higher dimensions. In the case when the set obtained is a lattice, we explore the relationship between the set of angles and the generators of the lattice and determine how introducing a new angle alters the lattice. (Joint work with Deveena Banerjee and Sara Chari.).

Arithmetic Geometry: From Circles to Circular Counting
In this talk, I will show you a glimpse of one of the most exciting facets of research in modern number theory: arithmetic geometry. We will start with a (gentle) introduction to this area of research through some familiar examples. Then we will move on to a not so familiar example where we count solutions of equations mod p. I will end by answering two of the oldest and most mystifying questions in mathematics: how does this work fit into the bigger picture, and who cares?

Rehumanizing Mathematics Department
In this talk, I will share some of the work I have been engaging with as chair of the mathematics department at Bates College to rehumanize our program and change departmental norms. In particular, I will share some of the curricular changes at large and smaller levels that we have been working on, some of the challenges, and how we're leveraging a large institutional grant to further this mission. I will also share some of the common struggles within the Science and Math division and beyond, and the transformative potential of collaborating across disciplines.

The mathematician as public intellectual
We commonly think of mathematicians primarily as researchers and teachers. This is natural, as these have historically been the aspects of our job that are most prominent. However, previously reclusive mathematicians are starting to develop public personae with recent widespread use of social media (tweets, blogs, facebook posts, op-eds, etc.) and gaining both notoriety and admiration. In this talk, I will highlight some of the social benefits of making public the scholarship of mathematicians the boundaries that some have pushed, the conversations that have been sparked by controversy, my own journey into a life as public mathematician, and some of the backlash that some people have had to endure. In particular, we will explore the question: What are the rights and responsibilities of mathematicians as public intellectuals?
 

Deirdre Longacher Smeltzer, Senior Director of Programs
Mathematical Association of America
Email: [email protected]
 

Topics include:

Spherical Inversions and Applications to Geometry
Standing on the deck of a cruise ship in the ocean and looking off into the horizon, it's easy to understand how our ancestors thought the earth was flat. While an infinite plane and a bounded sphere look completely different to an observer from afar, the spherical earth appears flat when standing upon it. In inversive geometry, the informal notion of visualizing a plane as a sphere with an infinite radius is made precise mathematically, and the distinction between spheres and planes disappears. Furthermore, spherical inversions can be used to provide elegant solutions to geometry problems involving spheres.

Monovariants and Invariants: Can I get there from here?
Many games and puzzles consist of attempting to change a given configuration from one state to another using a prescribed set of permissible moves. Interesting mathematics arises from asking questions such as "Can Player 1 beat Player 2 in six moves?" and "Can a 10 x 10 square grid be tiled with 25 copies of a 1 x 4 tile?" The notions of invariants (that is, properties that remain fixed when moving from one permissible state to another) and monovariants (properties that change monotonically when moving from one permissible state to another) can often be utilized to provide a clever solution to such questions.

Lessons from the Dark Side
What useful skills does training in mathematics provide for an academic dean? What does a faculty member learn when the curtain is pulled back after moving into full-time academic administration? And, what are the general leadership lessons that can be gained from the faculty-to-administrator career path?

Hortensia Soto, President Elect
Colorado State University
Email: [email protected]
 

Topics include:

Diverse Assessments
Diverse assessments can inform us about students’ understanding of undergraduate mathematics and can shape our teaching. Oral assessments such as classroom presentations and individual student interviews can paint a better picture of students’ conceptions as well as their misconceptions. Reading assignments with structured questions allow students to get a glimpse of new content and their responses can be used to structure the classroom discussion. Perceptuo-motor activities offer opportunities for students to feel, experience, and be the mathematics. In this talk, I will share numerous diverse assessments that I have implemented, the benefits of such assessments, and the challenges in implementing these assessments.

Intentionally Bringing Diversity Awareness into the Classroom
We are in an era where we are intentionally trying to address the need to embrace diversity, especially in the STEM disciplines. Initiatives to address this need include hiring faculty of color, inviting speakers of color to national meetings, having mission statements that address diversity, etc. These are all wonderful efforts that support diversity. In my presentation, I discuss the value of identifying with others, looking inward, and reflecting on how our own experiences can be used to support diversity in STEM disciplines. Specifically, I will share my efforts to do this with my history of mathematics students, who are prospective secondary teachers and have an opportunity to influence generations to come.
 

Cindy Wyels, Secretary
CSU Channel Islands
Email: [email protected]
Available as a speaker through Spring 2026
 

Topics to be announced.