Alice T. Schafer Prize for Excellence in Mathematics by an Undergraduate Woman 2009

AWM is pleased to present the Nineteenth Annual Alice T. Schafer Prize to Maria Monks, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

AWM was further pleased to recognize Doris Dobi, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Nicole Larsen, Georgia Institute of Technology, and Ila Varma, Caltech, as an honorable mention recipient in the Schafer Prize competition.

Schafer Prize Winner: Maria Monks

Maria Monks a junior mathematics major at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has already written six research papers; one has been accepted for publication by the Journal of Combinatorial Theory Series A, three have been submitted to leading research journals, and the other two are in nearly final form. On five of these six papers she is the sol author. Her outstanding work is already so widely known in the mathematical research community that she gets invitations to speak at mathematics meetings and in research departments. At the same time, Monks does exceptional work in her classes at MIT and has achieved a perfect grade point average. She has furthermore contributed phenomenal service to the mathematics community, for example by coaching the USA China Girls’ Math Olympiad team.

Monks wrote her first research paper while in high school and has since worked on diverse topics in combinatorics and number theory. She has impressed her recommenders with her amazing growth as a research mathematician. One of her projects concerns Freeman Dyson’s partition ranks and has earned her such praise as “dramatically beautiful” and “really sensational”. A key consequence of her work is a fully combinatorial explanation of the fact that Q(n), the number of partitions of n into distinct parts, is divisible by 4 for almost every n. One of her recommenders writes that this work is “right in the mainstream of a really hot area” and “reveals […] startling insight.”

Maria Monks’ outstanding research abilities, her exceptional course work and her great leadership in the mathematics community make her this year’s winner of the Schafer prize.

Response from Maria Monks

I am very honored to receive the 2009 Alice T. Schafer Prize. I am grateful to the Association for Women in Mathematics for their encouragement and recognition of women in mathematics. Many people have helped make my mathematical journey possible thus far. First and foremost, I thank my father, Ken Monks, for his continual support and encouragement in all of my mathematical endeavors. He opened my eyes to the beauty of mathematics and served as a coach, teacher and mentor throughout my childhood, inspiring me to pursue my love of mathematics to the best of my ability. I am also grateful for the love and support of my mother, Gina Monks, and my brothers, Ken and Keenan Monks, and I am thankful for the countless mathematical discussions and problem-solving sessions that our entire family has had together.

I thank Joe Gallian for nominating me for this prize and for his mentorship at the Duluth REU in the summers of 2007 and 2008. I also thank Ricky Liu, Reid Barton, and Nathan Kaplan for their help, insights, and proofreading of my papers at the Duluth REU. I am grateful for Ken Ono’s help and direction during my visit to Madison in the summer of 2008. I also thank Zuming Feng for giving me the opportunity to be a coach of the Girls’ Math Olympiad team this year. Finally, thanks to my teachers at MIT for making college a wonderful educational experience so far.

Schafer Prize Honorable Mention: Doris Dobi

Doris Dobi is a senior mathematics major at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and has done research in two summer REU programs, applying quaternion arithmetic to billiards on a tetrahedron, and investigating a generalization of a problem of Kaneko and Zagier concerning supersingular elliptic curves. The latter research project led to a paper that has been accepted for publication in the International Journal of Number Theory. One of her recommenders describes the work as “highly nontrivial” and says she “has the ability to digest deep material and ask the ‘right natural’ questions.”

One of Dobi’s professors describes her as “extremely devoted to mathematics,” and more than half her coursework at MIT is in mathematics courses.

Response from Doris Dobi

I am honored to be recognized as an honorable mention for the Alice T. Schafer Prize from the Association for Women in Mathematics. I would like to thank AWM for their continuing encouragement, recognition and support of women in mathematics. I would also like to thank the MIT math department for providing a stimulating, challenging and exciting environment in which to do mathematics. I would like to thank my advisor Professor. Richard Stanley for his guidance throughout my undergraduate career. I would also like to thank Professor. Victor Guillemin for his support and belief in my abilities. Professor Steven Kleiman has also given his time to help me with my graduate school decisions; for this I am very grateful. Prof. Ken Ono’s REU in Drinfel’d Modules proved to be a rewarding and memorable experience, and I thank him for his devotion to this program and to the students he mentors. Primarily, I would like to thank my parents and my brother Kledin for their unbounded faith and vision.

Schafer Prize Honorable Mention: Nicole Larsen

Nicole Larsen is a senior at the Georgia Institute of Technology with majors in both applied mathematics and physics. As “one of the top undergraduates at Tech,” she was awarded an Astronaut Foundation Fellowship for her outstanding academic performance. She has been involved in two research projects: one on enumerating pseudo-knotted RNA secondary structures, the results of which are being prepared for submission, and another in physics.

Larsen has also been active in the mathematics community at Tech. She has been an undergraduate teaching assistant for several semesters and was the only undergraduate judge for the 2008 Georgia Tech High School Math Competition. Her professors describe her as “top-notch” and a “natural leader”; one adds that Larsen’s “talent for mathematics and physics, and her drive to succeed, know few bounds.”

Response from Nicole Larsen

I am tremendously proud and grateful to be this year’s Honorable Mention for the Alice T. Schafer Prize. It is a great honor to be recognized by the Association of Women in Mathematics. The support and encouragement that they provide for women mathematicians is invaluable, and I am excited to be a part of this wonderful tradition. My warmest thanks go out to the AWM for this opportunity and for their commitment to this field. I would also like to thank my college, the Georgia Institute of Technology, for providing an environment in which I could learn and grow as a mathematician. The classes that I have taken and my interactions with the professors here have only served to increase my passion for mathematics. In particular, I would like to thank Dr. Christine Heitsch of the Georgia Tech School of Mathematics for introducing me to mathematical research and for her invaluable support and advice throughout the past two years. I am also thankful to Dr Michael Lacey for his guidance and support, and to Dr. James Gole (of the Georgia Tech School of Physics) and Dr. Julia Thom (of Cornell University), both of whom mentored me and gave me the opportunity to do research in areas outside mathematics. Finally, I would like to thank my family for their constant love and support, and for always pushing me to succeed. It is through my parents that I first learned the importance of learning.

Schafer Prize Honorable Mention: Ila Varma

Ila Varma is a senior at Caltech who since her freshmen year has held Caltech’s prestigious President’s Fellowship for her academic breadth and diversity. Varma’s outstanding course work, demonstrated both by the number and variety of her classes as well as through her excellent grades has prompted her professors to pronounce her the “best senior in pure mathematics at Caltech”.

Varma has worked on two summer research projects: One project focused on finding mathematical models for simulating the neuronal networks in insects, in particular relating with their odor sensory. In another project, Varma has worked on a new method for explicitly calculating class numbers for Abelian extensions over imaginary quadratic fields. She is hoping to publish her findings in a mathematics research journal.

Varma’s professors judge her “already better than many of the graduate students at Caltech”, “very motivated”, and in summary “a fantastic, budding mathematician”.

Response from Ila Varma

I am very honored to receive the certificate of Honorable Mention for the Alice T. Schafer Prize. I would like to thank the Association for Women in Mathematics for this award as well as for recognizing outstanding female mathematicians and encouraging a strong community of women in mathematics. The generous support I have received from family, friends, and teachers has been invaluable to me, and I am lucky to have been surrounded by extraordinary mentors and peers during all stages of my life. In particular, I would like to thank Professor Dinakar Ramakrishnan for his continued encouragement and guidance throughout my time at Caltech. I would also like to extend my gratitude to Professor Matthias Flach for giving me the opportunity to do this wonderful project in number theory and to Professors Tom Graber and Elena Mantovan who have challenged and engaged me in their courses this past year. I am incredibly grateful for the support from Professor Glenn Stevens. His PROMYS program opened my eyes to pure mathematics as a high school student, and each summer, I continue to find more reasons to spend my life studying this beautiful subject. Finally, I would like to thank my parents. My mother is an incredible source of inspiration for me, and my father motivates me to constantly work hard and persist through all my endeavors. Words cannot express my appreciation for their unconditional support and encouragement.