Alice T. Schafter Prize for Excellence in Mathematics by an Undergraduate Woman 2008

AWM is pleased to present the Eighteenth Annual Alice T. Schafer Prize to Galyna Dobrovolska, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Alison Miller, Harvard University.

AWM was further pleased to recognize Naomi Brownstein, University of Central Florida, Reagin Taylor McNeill, Smith College, and Mary Wootters, Swarthmore College, as an honorable mention recipient in the Schafer Prize competition.

Schafer Prize Co-Winner: Galyna Dobrovolska

Galyna Dobrovolska is a senior who is an outstanding mathematics major at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Her coursework there has been exceptional: she has exhausted the undergraduate offerings in the Mathematics Department while earning the highest possible grade in every class. Dobrovolska is now moving through the graduate mathematics curriculum at MIT with the same success.

Dobrovolska has further distinguished herself through her impressive and original mathematical research. Her research is focused in algebra, and would be considered broad even for a mathematician much further along in their career. Her research in algebraic combinatorics has resulted in a co-authored publication solving the Support Containment Conjecture. This paper resolves a significant open problem, and as such has drawn notice from researchers in the field. Dobrovolska is currently pursuing an active research program in the theory of lower central series quotients of an associative algebra. Here she has, yet again, already obtained impressive theoretical results in confirming a conjecture of Feigin and Shoikhet.

In addition to winning a gold medal at the International Mathematics Olympiad, Dobrovolska won the top prize in 2006 in the Summer Program of Undergraduate Research at MIT. Her ingenious solutions to difficult problems have earned her descriptions as “a star student” and “absolutely outstanding.”

Response from Galyna Dobrovolska

I am greatly honored to be a co-winner of the Alice T. Schafer prize this year, and I would like to thank AWM for this honor.

I am thankful to Professor Pavel Etingof for doing research with me and nominating me for this prize. I would like to thank Professor Michael Artin for teaching Algebra so inspirationally and for directing me to do research with Professor Etingof. I would also like to thank Professor Victor Guillemin for his support and advice to continue working on my research this summer. I want to thank Pavlo Pylyavskyy who did research with me during the SPUR program at MIT. I am very thankful to my high school mathematics teacher Mikhail Yakir and his student Maksym Fedorchuk for encouraging me to apply to MIT from Ukraine. I am also grateful to Mikhail Yakir because he taught me mathematics which enabled me to go to the IMO and win a gold medal so that I could come to study to MIT. Finally, I want to thank my parents for their support and patience with me in every stage of my life.

Schafer Prize Co-Winner: Alison Miller

Alison Miller is a senior at Harvard University and has already published important research in number theory. She was a member of the 2004 United States International Mathematical Olympiad team, and was the first ever U.S. female to win a gold medal at the IMO. She won the Elizabeth Lowell Putnam award for outstanding performance by a woman in the Putnam Competition in 2005 and 2006.

In the summer of 2006, Miller participated in an REU at the University of Wisconsin, where she coauthored two papers on infinite product expansions of modular forms. The first of these papers, which answered a deep and difficult question originating in the Fields Medal work of Borcherds, has appeared in theProceedings of the American Mathematical Society. The second paper, currently in preprint form, is expected to be very influential in this area of number theory.

In the summer of 2007, Miller wrote an independent research paper on the super-pattern problem as part of an REU program at the University of Minnesota, Duluth. In this paper she developed a new technique and used it to solve a problem that had been open, and widely discussed, since 2002. Her work has been cited as “the best thing that happened to our field since November 2003.”

Response from Alison Miller

I am very honored to have been chosen as a co-winner of the AWM Schafer Prize. I wish to thank the AWM; not only for this prize, but for everything else they have done to encourage women in their mathematical endeavors.

I have been blessed with many teachers and peers from whom I have learned much, and I would like to thank the many people who have helped me get this far on my mathematical journey. First, my parents, who encouraged my mathematical explorations from the beginning. I also thank my instructors and classmates at the Math Olympiad Program who showed me so much mathematics as a high school student. I thank Joe Gallian for giving me an engaging problem to spend a summer thinking about, and for his ongoing encouragement. I also thank Ken Ono for an unforgettable REU experience from which I learned a lot. I must also thank all my advisors and peers at both REUs, particularly my co-authors at the Madison REU, Carl Erickson and Aaron Pixton. As well, I thank everyone in the Harvard math department for their inspiration and support, and for all I have learned. I am especially indebted to Wilfried Schmid for providing me with a solid base from which to start my mathematical explorations, and to Elizabeth Denne for her encouragement and support.

Schafer Prize Honorable Mention: Naomi Brownstein

Naomi Brownstein is a senior at the University of Central Florida, pursuing Bachelor’s degrees in Mathematics and Actuarial Science. In addition to a record of outstanding course work at the University of Central Florida, she worked on complex problems in several Research Experiences for Undergraduate (REU) programs. This work has resulted in an original research publication as well as invitations to speak at conferences. Her intellectual curiosity, enthusiasm and motivation have been further rewarded with an Honorable Mention Citation from the Barry M. Goldwater Foundation.

During her REU experience at the University of North Carolina, Brownstein investigated properties of partial words; in particular she and her co-worker explored the concept of unavoidability. Their original and ingenious work resulted both in a published paper and a preprint that has been submitted to a refereed journal. Brownstein demonstrates great enthusiasm and excitement towards mathematics, as well as an impressive amount of intellectual curiosity and drive. In the words of one of her recommenders: “Brownstein was born to do mathematics.”

Response from Naomi Brownstein

First of all, I would like to thank the Association for Women in Mathematics for recognizing outstanding female mathematicians. I am honored to be this year’s Honorable Mention recipient. It is humbling to be recognized among so many talented female undergraduate mathematicians. I would like to acknowledge the University of Central Florida for its generous financial, academic, professional, and emotional support throughout my undergraduate career. Thank you to Lisa Sklar and Kelly Astro of the Burnett Honors College for guiding me into these research opportunities. I would also like to recognize to Dr. Pensky for her constant academic and personal support throughout our research over the past two and a half years. Her patience and guidance has undoubtedly been a critical component of my mathematical development. Thank you to my REU professors, Dr. Doytchinov and Dr. Blanchet- Sadri, for challenging and supporting me throughout the summers. Further, thank you to Dr. Blanchet-Sadri for pushing me to always work hard, persist, and especially, to apply for this very award. Finally, I am grateful to my family for their constant unconditional love and encouragement, now and always.

Schafer Prize Honorable Mention: Reagin Taylor McNeill

Reagin Taylor McNeill is a senior mathematics and astronomy major at Smith College, where she is writing an undergraduate honors thesis on knot theory. During her time at Smith she has impressed her professors with the depth of her understanding, her mathematically adventurous spirit, and her rapid progress through and beyond their curriculum. Her recommenders describe watching McNeill “fall in love with mathematics” during her undergraduate years and confirm that her performance has matched her ambitions. She plans to enroll in a Ph.D. program in mathematics next year.

In the summer of 2007, McNeill was selected to participate in the Oregon State University REU in Mathematics. There she was one of a group of three students who found explicit constructions of normal subgroups of the free group on two generators avoiding certain words. These results have been described as “enormous progress” towards the goal of finding finite index covers of the figure eight space in which a given word does not lift to a loop. McNeill spent the summer of 2006 doing research as well, but in astronomy, at an REU at the Lowell Observatory. There she did exploratory data analysis for several different projects; her advisor describes her as a “real colleague,” and two papers co-authored by McNeill have been accepted for publication.

Response from Reagin Taylor McNeill

I am incredibly pleased to receive honorable mention for the Alice T. Schafer Prize. Having been an undergraduate at a women’s college I have seen the difference having a community of women doing mathematics has made in the confidence I have in my mathematical ability. The importance of promoting women in the sciences and mathematics is greatly underestimated. I would like to thank the AWM for providing encouragement to women in math, particularly to those women just starting their mathematical careers. I am very grateful for their support. I would like to thank my family in the Smith College math department. My professors and peers have consistently challenged me to attempt beyond what I believed I was capable of achieving and have been endlessly supportive in seeing that I accomplish what I set for myself. I have been extraordinarily lucky to live and work in such an ideal environment these four years. I would also like to thank my research advisors. Their excitement and creativity with their work has truly inspired me. These research experiences have not just showed me how to do mathematics. They have shaped the way I communicate about mathematics, both in my enthusiasm for the subject and my appreciation the views of others.

Schafer Prize Honorable Mention: Mary Wootters

Mary Wootters is a senior at Swarthmore College, where she is in the honors program in both mathematics and computer science. She has taken many upper-level mathematics classes and has impressed her instructors with her insight, creativity, and diligence, as well as her love of thinking and doing mathematics. She spent the Fall of 2006 in the Budapest Semesters in Mathematics program.

In the summer of 2006, Wootters was awarded a research fellowship from Swarthmore College, and obtained some ingenious original results on configuration spaces of linkages. She presented this work in a talk at the 2007 Conference for Undergraduate Women in Mathematics at the University of Nebraska. In the summer of 2007, she was selected to participate in the SMALL REU at Williams College. There she worked on three projects in knot theory, all of which are being written up for publication in mathematics research journals. She presented her work on alpha-regular stick knots at MathFest 2007 in San Jose, where she won a prize for the quality of her research and its presentation.

Response from Mary Wootters

I am honored to be selected as an honorable mention for this year’s Schafer Prize, and I thank the Association for Women in Mathematics for everything they do to encourage and support young women in mathematics. I would also like to thank the Swarthmore math department, which has been supportive and inspiring throughout my math education; in particular I would like to thank Professor Don Shimamoto and also Professor Colin Adams at Williams College for giving me opportunities to do research and for guiding me through it.