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The Undergraduate Student Poster Session in Phoenix

The Undergraduate Student Poster Session in Phoenix

By Mario Martelli

With 110 teams from all over the country — an unprecedented number — the Undergraduate Student Poster Session increased its already well-established role in the Joint Meeting of the American Mathematical Society, the Mathematical Association of America, and the Association for Women in Mathematics. Thanks to the efforts of Jim Tattersall, Associate Secretary of the MAA, we were assigned half the Ballroom of the Phoenix Convention Center and we filled it up! Over 115 professional mathematicians participated in the evaluation of the posters and thirty-two $100 prizes were given to the posters that received the highest marks. As in past years the prize money came from the AMS, MAA, AWM, and CUR. This year, for the first time, and with welcomed generosity, we received a considerable contribution from the Educational Advancement Foundation.

Mario Martelli and Colin Adams together with the authors of the winning posters.

Before adding more details to this report, I want to reinforce in the minds of our students that they should be extremely proud of just being accepted as presenters. The recognition given by the judges is important, but the actual ranking is frequently affected by unpredictable and uncontrollable variations. First, let me mention that the points received ranged from 66 to 98. The prizes went to posters ranked between 84 and 98. However, even in this category there were sometimes significant differences between the evaluations of the three judges. For example, one poster received 35 (out of 35) from one judge, 34 from another judge, and 21 from a third judge. More variations were observed among posters that did not get a prize. The most surprising case was a poster that received 35 points from one judge, 24 from a second judge and 13 from a third judge! Opinions can be very different, even among experienced mathematicians. Therefore, I want all presenters to be convinced that the most important prize of the Undergraduate Student Poster Session is to have been recommended by their advisors and to have been accepted by the organizers.

Mario Martelli and Carolyn Staples tabulate the scores.

This year, for the first time in its history, the Poster Session had three judges who had been poster presenters in the past: David Marshall, Jessica Sidman, and Sarah Spence. David presented a poster on Stability and Attractivity for Discrete Dynamical Systems at the January, 1994 Joint Mathematics Meeting (JMM) in Cincinnati. Jessica's poster on Splitting Numbers was presented at the 1997 JMM in San Diego. Sarah presented a poster on A Study of Factoring and Cyclic Codes, Reed-Muller and Kerdock Codes at the 1996 JMM in Orlando, and a poster on Stratified Graphs and Distance Graphs at the 1997 JMM in San Diego. David is now at the University of Texas, in Austin, Jessica is at Mount Holyoke College, and Sarah is at Olin College. Congratulations to all three and many thanks for their contributions to the success of this initiative.

David Marshall, Jessica Sidman, and Sarah Spence, veteran poster session presenters, were back this year as judges.

I am not going to list here all of the posters that received a prize. A complete list can be found online at /news/winningpostersJan04.html. I will simply mention the two posters that received the highest marks. The next poster after these two was three points away from their total. The two posters evaluated so favorably were:

A Conjecture on Homogeneous Ideals presented by Melissa Kraus of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Her advisor was Dr. Ben Richert from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.

Subgraph Summability Number of a Graph presented by Josh Whitney from Arizona State University. His advisor was Dr. Sivaran Narayan from Central Michigan University.

Both projects were done at REU programs, at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and at Central Michigan University.

Aaron Arvey and David Nichols, both sophomores at Claremont McKenna College, with their poster on Period and Asymtotically Periodic Solutions of First Order ODEs.

I would like to extend special thanks to the group of six judges from Pepperdine University. I suspect that the entire department was at the Poster Session! I also want to thank all Project NExT fellows for the outstanding contribution to the success of the initiative. They came to my rescue with enthusiasm and dedication. I want to recognize other people whose help was crucial and was greatly appreciated. Several members of CUSAC (Committee on Undergraduate Student Activities and Chapters), including Richard Neal, Chair of the Committee, came to help me with the non-trivial organizational details. My students Aaron Arvey, David Nicholls, and Carolyn Staples helped me in carrying four boxes of booklets (very heavy! No booklets were left after the Poster Session!) from my hotel room to the ballroom and in setting up the place before the presenters came. I want to thank Fernando Gouvêa for taking many pictures, Robin Hagan Aguiar and Donna Salter from the AMS-MAA registration for generously providing all materials needed by the students to set up their posters, and my secretary Patty Castro for typing the booklet and taking care of the printing. And I cannot forget Aparna Higgins who announced the winners with a booming voice from an unstable platform, and Colin Adams who brought the prize money.

Aparna Higgins, along with Colin Adams and Mario Martelli, announces the prize-winning posters.

It has been an incredible and exciting event! Some people said that a lot of merit is mine, but I firmly believe that most of the merit should go to the presenters and to their advisors. Dear friends, presenters, advisors, and judges, I hope to see you all at the Undergraduate Student Poster Session in Atlanta in January, 2005!

Mario Martelli teaches at Claremont McKenna College. He can be reached at

News Date: 
Thursday, January 1, 2004