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

AWM is pleased to present the Sixteenth Annual Alice T. Schafer Prize to Alexandra Ovetsky, Princeton University.

Additionally, AWM was pleased to recognize Allison Bishop, Princeton University, who was selected as runner-up in the Schafer Prize competition. AWM was further pleased to recognize Ellen Gasparovic, College of the Holy Cross, as an honorable mention recipient in the Schafer Prize competition.

Schafer Prize Winner: Alexandra Ovetsky

Alexandra Ovetsky is a senior at Princeton University. A Goldwater scholar, Ovetsky is also the recipient of the Princeton math department’s Andrew H. Brown prize for outstanding research in mathematics as a junior. Her coauthored paper “Surreal Dimensions” has been published in Advances in Applied Mathematics.

In the summer of 2004, Ovetsky participated in the REU program at the University of Minnesota at Duluth. There she wrote a professional-level paper about well-covered graphs, turning the idea around and showing that the property of being not well-covered behaves well under Cartesian products. In the summer of 2005, Ovetsky participated in the Director’s Summer Program at the National Security Agency. There she tackled three problems and made significant progress on all three. This work is being published internally at NSA.

For her junior paper at Princeton, Ovetsky proved a result in graph theory, generalizing a famous theorem of Claude Shannon from 1948. Ovetsky’s theorem relates the chromatic number to the clique number for quasi-line graphs. One recommender reports, “She already has the research capabilities of an advanced graduate student or junior faculty member.”

Response from Alexandra Ovetsky

I am greatly honored to be this year’s recipient of the Alice T. Schafer prize. I would like to thank the AWM for being such an encouragement to women in mathematics, in particular those at early stages of their careers.

I became passionate about mathematics at a very early age; however I only discovered the true beauty of this subject when I was introduced to mathematical research by Dr. Ted Chinburg of the University of Pennsylvania. I would like to thank him for his inspiration and patience in working with an enthusiastic but inexperienced high school student. I would also like to extend my gratitude to Joe Gallian for giving me the opportunity to interact with a group of the nation’s top young mathematicians that he gathers at his REU at Duluth, Minnesota. Finally, I would like to thank Maria Chudnovsky, my thesis and junior independent work advisor at Princeton University, for encouraging me to continue working in the field of graph theory and for her excellent guidance of my research endeavors with her. The support of many other faculty members of the Princeton math department has also been invaluable.

Schafer Prize Runner-Up: Allison Bishop

Allison Bishop is a senior at Princeton University. She is a Goldwater scholar and in 2003 she was the recipient of Princeton’s Shapiro Prize for Academic Excellence. Bishop’s strengths in—and passion for—mathematics are evident in a wide variety of fields, including game theory, classical analysis, number theory, and algebraic geometry. In her coursework and her research endeavors, Bishop’s versatility, creativity and tenacity earn high praise. She is described as a natural leader and also a team player.

In Summer 2004, Bishop participated in the REU program at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Her project mentor writes of Bishop’s ingenuity as well as her remarkable mathematical sophistication. Allison Bishop’s research project used game theory to study the evolution of cooperation; that is, the probability of a single cooperator taking over in a non-cooperating population. This work generalizes previous studies, modifying a fixed population to a growing one. At the NSA’s Director’s Summer Program in Summer 2005, Bishop’s performance was again exceptional. Of her project, one advisor writes, “By the midpoint of the summer program, Ms. Bishop had demonstrated a solution far better than the project mentor had anticipated.”

Bishop’s senior thesis at Princeton is an undergraduate mathematics textbook, which aims to introduce readers to the fundamental concept of mathematical proof, while demonstrating the wide variety of mathematical fields, the connections between them, and their applications.

Response from Allison Bishop

I am very honored to be recognized by the Association for Women in Mathematics. The support and encouragement of female mathematicians has been a crucial element of my positive experiences in mathematics and I am glad that the Association provides such support for other women in the field. In particular, I am greatly indebted to Wendy Hines at the University of Nebraska, as well as Alice Chang, Ingrid Daubechies, and Alina Cojocaru at Princeton University, all of whom have guided me through my mathematical studies and research. I would also like to thank Jamie Radcliffe at the University of Nebraska and Jordon Ellenberg for his wonderful teaching and encouragement in my first semester at Princeton. Last, but certainly not least, I would like to thank my high school calculus teacher, John Kotmel, who first taught me that mathematics could be creative to a degree far beyond my expectations. My mathematical interests came a bit late and unexpectedly in my academic life, but I have been very lucky in having great advisors and fellow students to help me learn and discover mathematics. I am very excited about continuing my studies and pursuing a mathematical career.

Honorable Mention: Ellen Gasparovic

Ellen Gasparovic is a senior mathematics major in the College Honors Program at the College of the Holy Cross, where she has been a Dana Scholar for three years and a recipient of the “Rising Star” Award. During her junior year, Gasparovic undertook research with professor Sharon Frechette related to the theory of partitions and presented her results at the Seventh Annual Nebraska Conference for Undergraduate Women in Mathematics. She has been named one of only three Fenwick scholars in the class of 2006 at Holy Cross. This special status affords her the opportunity to spend her spring semester studying the group of Lie sphere transformations, imported subgroups, and their recent applications under the tutelage of Professor Thomas Cecil.

In addition to Gasparovic’s mathematical rhymes, her letter writers comment on her enthusiasm and love for the subject. Her willingness to share mathematics with others through wonderful talks is valued by her colleagues and teachers.

Response from Ellen Gasparovic

I am thrilled to be selected as the honorable mention recipient for the Alice T. Schafer Prize. I thank the Association for Women in Mathematics for this tremendous honor and for the outstanding opportunities the organization provides for women in mathematics. Through this award, the AWM demonstrates its commitment to recognize and support young women with a passion for mathematics, and I am excited to be a part of this wonderful endeavor. Thank you to the entire College of the Holy Cross community for the excellent education I have received. In particular, I am grateful for the unique opportunity I have had this year to design a year of independent study, providing me with a strong foundation for a career in mathematical research and education. Deepest thanks go to professor Thomas Cecil, my research advisor, mentor, and nominator. He is an incredible source of inspiration and encouragement for me, and I am so grateful to work with such a remarkable professor. Furthermore, I appreciate very much the great wisdom and support of professors Sharon Frechette, Cristina Ballantine, and Steven Levandosky of the Holy Cross mathematics department. Finally, I thank my parents for introducing me to a love of learning and for never ceasing to remind me of my potential as a woman in mathematics.