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The Undergraduate Research Poster Session

Joyati Debnath

This is an extended article from the April/May issue of MAA FOCUS.

The MAA undergraduate poster session at the 2011 Joint Mathematics Meetings in New Orleans marked another great year, with 260 posters and close to 300 presenters from 163 institutions across 38 states, Canada, U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico.

The undergraduate research poster session contained 260 entries this year (photo courtesy of Kerry Sullivan)

The poster session has grown over the last 15 years to become one of the largest and most popular events of the Joint Meetings. And no wonder; just entering the (enormous!) ballroom where the event was held, you could feel the energy and excitement of the students.

Aside from the scale of the poster session, the quality and range of mathematical topics impressed those of us who spent time looking at the posters and talking to the students. If you haven’t yet visited this event, I encourage you to put it on your list of things to do at next year’s meeting in Boston.

Better yet, volunteer to serve as a judge—we’re always looking for help as we try to ensure that student presenters have ample opportunity to get faculty feedback on their work and ideas for future mathematical pursuits. To preview what you might see, browse the abstract book from this year’s session (pdf).

Each poster was evaluated on three criteria: mathematical content, answers to questions, and poster design. Thirty-five awards were given this year for best poster presentations. The award-winning posters covered a wide breadth of topics, including algebra, hydrodynamics, computations, graph theory, mathematical biology, complex analysis, probability, statistics, number theory, modeling, and cryptography.

Thirty-five awards were given for undergraduate research posters at 2011 JMM (photo courtesy Joyati Debnath).

The presenters who won awards represented institutions ranging from small liberal art colleges to top research institutions. A full list of the winners and outstanding posters can be found here.  

The undergraduate poster session is organized each year by the MAA Committee on Undergraduate Student Activities and Chapters (CUSAC), and MAA’s Committee on the Undergraduate Program in Mathematics (CUPM) Subcommittee on Research by Undergraduates.

In addition, this year’s session was sponsored by a generous donation from the Siemens Foundation. Funds were also provided by the American Mathematical Society, the Association for Women in Mathematics, the Center for Undergraduate Research in Mathematics, the Educational Advancement Foundation, Pi Mu Epsilon, the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics, and the Joint Mathematics Meetings.

Faculty across mathematics and the sciences have come to see undergraduate research as an essential element of higher education. According to the CUPM curricular guide, a research project “for which a student must read, write and orally present significant mathematics develops the communication skills that are vital in the workplace and in future study.” The MAA undergraduate poster session is a great place to hone these skills for undergraduate students and faculty mentors.

It has been a great pleasure for me to serve as an organizer of the undergrad research poster session for the 2011 JMM. Along with my co-organizers--Robert Vallin and Mike O’Leary from CUSAC, and Michael Dorff from the Subcommittee on Undergraduate Research--I want to extend sincere thanks and appreciation to all students, faculty, attendees, and presenters for making this event a great success. A major event like this cannot be run efficiently without help from hundreds of others and their willingness to make some adjustments. Meeting and working with people is the highlight of this experience. We hope to see everyone again at 2012 JMM in Boston!

Joyati Debnath is a professor of mathematics at Winona State University.

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