By Mario Martelli
The Undergraduate Student Poster Session will be one of the highlights of the Friday afternoon, January 17, activities at the Joint Meeting of the AMS, MAA and AWM in Baltimore, Maryland. If the participation of the last two years in New Orleans (2001) and San Diego (2002) and the posters already received are any indication of what the Baltimore session will be like, then we will once again see at least 80 posters presented by an enthusiastic crowd of at least 200 undergraduates from all over the country. Each poster will be carefully evaluated by three professional judges. The fifteen best posters will receive a prize of $100 each (the prizes are provided by the MAA, AMS, AWM, CUR and private donors). Refreshments will be served for the students, the judges and the visitors. If you’d like to participate, send your poster as soon as possible to Mario Martelli, Mathematics Department, Claremont McKenna College, Claremont, CA, 91711 (909-607-8979) firstname.lastname@example.org). Space is limited and will be allocated on first come, first serve basis.
The Undergraduate Student Poster Session started very modestly at the beginning of 1990. I still remember the sessions in Cincinnati (1994) and San Francisco (1995), organized by John Greever of Harvey Mudd College. There were about 15 participants in each session. John provided the prize money out of his own pocket. Judith Palagallo organized the poster sessions in Orlando (1996) and Baltimore (1998). Some prize money was offered by the MAA and Judith was able to add a few more prizes with private donations. She also printed nice booklets with titles and abstracts of all posters. Both sessions were a resounding success. I organized the poster session in San Diego (1997) and despite my efforts, the number of participants was modest. Aparna Higgins took over the organization of the poster session in San Antonio (1999). I was supposed to co-organize the session with her, but Aparna did most of the work. She devoted an enormous amount of time and energy to it. Her efforts paid off. The number of participating posters rose to about 40. In 2000 (Washington DC), 2001 (New Orleans), 2002 (San Diego) I organized the session and streamlined the evaluation of the posters. AMS, MAA, AWM and CUR contributed prize money, thanks to the efforts of Joe Gallian and Colin Adams. There were over 60 posters in Washington, and over 80 both in New Orleans and San Diego.
REU programs have consistently contributed to the success of the poster session. Judging is now in the hands of about 100 professional mathematicians who donate their time and expertise. Many of them get in touch with me way ahead of the session to ask if they are going to be in the group again. Organizing the session is time-consuming and absorbs my winter break entirely, but doing it is a rewarding experience. The organizers of the joint meeting have made significant changes to acknowledge the growth, both in numbers and in importance, of the Poster Session. Refreshments are now provided, and the Undergraduate Student Lecture has been moved to early Friday afternoon.
We are still working on securing financial support to help those students who are not funded by their institutions. Thanks to the efforts of Dan Schaal we should receive a three-year grant from NSF to pay at least 50% of the traveling and accommodation expenses for 30 students. I consider this just the first step in the right direction. We obviously need a more stable source of income, like an endowment, to ensure that no student will be kept away for financial reasons only. Next spring I will write an article describing in detail how the session is organized, how judging takes place, and how prizes are awarded. Hopefully, some mathematician who really believes in undergraduate research will step forward and offer to replace me in this task. I am not tired of it and I can continue, but I feel that somebody with bold ideas and more energy can bring the session to a new level of importance and recognition.
Mario Martelli, who teaches at Claremont McKenna College, has been involved with the student poster sessions at the winter Joint Meetings for several years.