Alice T. Schafer Prize for Excellence in Mathematics by an Undergraduate Woman 2006

AWM is pleased to present the Fourteenth Annual Alice T. Schafer Prize to Kimberly Spears, University of California, Santa Barbara.

Additionally, AWM was pleased to recognize Karola Meszaros, a junior mathematics major at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Jennifer Novak, a senior mathematics major at Texas A&M University as Runners-Up in the Schafer Prize competition as well as Elena Grigorescu, a senior at Bard College with a double major in mathematics and computer science, and Ariel E. Barton, a senior mathematics major at Harvey Mudd College, who received Honorable Mentions.


Schafer Prize Winner: Kimberly Spears

Kimberly Spears is a senior at the University of California, Santa Barbara. As a junior, her “dedication and passion” led her to excel in advanced sequences in abstract algebra and real analysis, courses populated mostly by incoming graduate students. During the following summer she did research with Jeffrey Stopple at UCLA as a participant in the UCLEADS program (Leadership Excellence through Advanced Degrees). Her project resulted in a generalization of Gauss’s Law of Quadratic Reciprocity to general (nonabelian) groups. Kimberly was “highly motivated and enthusiastic about learning” and “had to master a lot of new material on group representation theory to even understand the question.” Kimberly’s senior thesis addresses the question of classifying discriminants d with one class per genus. Her proof that assuming a conjecture about the Grand Unitary Ensemble (GUE), no discriminant greater than d66 (the smallest with 66 prime factors) has one class per genus “would satisfy the minimum required for a Ph.D. thesis” at USCB. Kimberly’s subsequent presentation in the UCSB Arithmetic and Geometry Seminar left the faculty audience “flabbergasted.” “No undergrad had ever given a talk before, much less on original research,” and “the breadth of material she has mastered astonished them.” Papers on both of Kimberly’s research projects will be submitted to journals this fall. Her recommenders also praise Kimberly’s “remarkable ability to absorb the highlights and essential concepts of broad areas of mathematics quickly” and write that “Kimberly is without any doubt the best student I have ever seen in my 16-year career.”

Response from Kimberly Spears

I am pleased to receive the 2004 Alice T. Schafer Prize. I would like to thank the Association for Women in Mathematics for encouraging me to continue doing what I love. Every day I have had to do research and learn more math is one that I have enjoyed.

I would like to thank my mentor Jeffrey Stopple who has been crucial to my development into a young mathematician. His dedication and support are indescribable. I would also like to thank William Duke for his mentoring and James McKernan. I would like to thank Sarah Dillingham and the UCLEADS program. Thank you to the mathematics department at UCSB for all their congratulations and support.

Schafer Prize Runner-Up: Karola Meszaros

Karola Meszaros is a junior mathematics major at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. After her first semester of her freshman year at MIT, she embarked on a research project in combinatorics. “In a remarkable tour de force of intricate reasoning,” Karola successfully disproved a conjecture, found the correct formulation, and solved the given problem. The result was described as “a worthy Ph.D. thesis.” Karola has another paper ready for publication, on Latin squares and a conjecture of Mahdian and Mahmoodian. While writing two papers in her first two years at MIT, Karola Meszaros has also been putting in outstanding performances in several difficult mathematics courses.

Response from Karola Meszaros

I am honored to be recognized by the AWM as a runner-up for the Alice T. Schafer Prize. I am extremely grateful for all the encouragement I have received in exploring the beauties of mathematics. I would like to express my deepest thanks to Professor Richard P. Stanley for his support and guidance since my first year at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The opportunity of doing mathematical research in the vivacious atmosphere of MIT is of great importance to me, since for me, research represents the most refined charm of mathematics and science in general.

Schafer Prize Runner-Up: Jennifer Novak

Jennifer Novak is a senior mathematics major at Texas A&M University. Jennifer is the current President of the TAMU Math Club, garnering praise from TAMU professors for her outstanding work in undergraduate as well as graduate math courses. She spent the summer of 2003 in an NSF-sponsored REU on Knot Theory at Williams College. The students’ research project was successful, producing a paper predicted to “be of great interest to knot theorists, geometers and topologists.” Jennifer was “critical to the success of the paper.” Jennifer also won one of the top two awards for her talk on this research at the 2003 MathFest in Boulder. In the summer of 2002 Jennifer Novak participated in an REU/VIGRE program at Texas A&M on mathematical modeling in ecology. Her mentor there remarked that Jennifer rapidly “grasped the heart of the problems.” Her nominators describe Jennifer Novak as creative, independent, enthusiastic, and tenacious.

Response from Jennifer Novak

I am pleased and excited to receive the exceptional honor of being named a runner-up for the Alice T. Schafer Prize. The Associate for Women in Mathematics has made phenomenal progress for women in math by supporting programs throughout their careers, in the work place and in their personal lives. I am especially grateful for AWM’s constant efforts to encourage young female mathematicians by providing them opportunities and recognizing their achievements. I would like to give special thanks to Dr. Susan Geller for her overabundance of support, encouragement, and guidance throughout college; Dr. Colin Adams for showing me the beauty of mathematical research and the possibilities afforded by determination; and Dr. Keri Kornelson for going out of her way to help women succeed in mathematics. I would like to thank the entire faculty in the Texas A&M math department for their continuous support and encouragement of undergraduates determined to become mathematicians. Finally, I would like to thank my family and friends for their constant encouragement and assistance in my life.

Honorable Mention: Elena Grigorescu

Elena Grigorescu is a senior at Bard College with a double major in mathematics and computer science. She has twice participated in the REU program in Duluth, Minnesota and subsequently had two articles on graph theory accepted for publication. Of this work, it has been predicted, “these results will be often cited.” Elena has also completed a senior thesis on Hilbert series of monomial ideals in several variables. In addition, she participated in an internship with IBM and was the recipient of the IBM/APS Research Internship Award.

Response from Elena Grigorescu

This award represents a real encouragement for me towards a career in mathematics-related research. I thank the Association for Women in Mathematics for rewarding me, and I hope I will prove myself worthy of such an honor. I would very much like to thank Professor Joseph Gallian for his wonderful Duluth REU and for his assistance given to undergraduate students. Also, I am grateful to the faculty in the Mathematics and Computer Science Departments at Bard College for making my undergraduate years an exciting experience. In particular, I thank Professor Lauren Rose for her nomination.

Honorable Mention: Ariel E. Barton

Ariel E. Barton is a senior mathematics major at Harvey Mudd College. Her senior thesis is entitled “Convergence of Domains and Harmonic Measure Distribution.” She is described as having “an excellent grasp of the overall structure of the problem” but is also adept at proving the “gritty technical results.” She has also completed a summer research project that involved applying Hestenes’ classic treatment of Bolza’s control problem. Ariel has excelled in numerous upper division mathematics courses and had an outstanding performance on the Putnam Exam.

Response from Ariel E. Barton

I am honored that the Association for Women in Mathematics has chosen me to receive an honorable mention for the Alice T. Schafer Prize Competition. I would like to thank the mathematics department at Harvey Mudd College for their support over the past three years, in particular Lesley Ward, my research advisor, and Michael Moody and Arthur Benjamin, who have advised me so many times.