Alice T. Schafer Prize for Excellence in Mathematics by an Undergraduate Woman 2013

AWM is pleased to present the twenty-third annual Alice T. Schafer Prize to MurphyKate Montee, University of Notre Dame.

Citation: MurphyKate Montee

MurphyKate Montee is a senior Honors Mathematics Major at University of Notre Dame and a member of its Seminar for Undergraduate Mathematics Research Program. At Notre Dame, Montee has consistently excelled in mathematics classes at both the undergraduate and graduate level and has received numerous merit scholarships rewarding her extraordinary ability and promise.

Montee has participated in multiple undergraduate research projects at Notre Dame and in two summer NSF-REU programs. Her time at the Louisiana State University REU led to a co-authored paper on the recursive behavior of ribbon graph polynomials. The following summer, Montee attended the SMALL program at Williams College, where she produced two papers. The first was a single-authored paper “with lots of clever geometric arguments” predicted to appear in a strong mathematics research journal. The second, “Knot Projections with a Single Multi-Crossing,” is hailed by her advisor as “perhaps the best work I have ever done with students”, containing results that will have a significant influence on future knot theory research.

Montee’s mentors uniformly praise her motivation and “infectious” enthusiasm for the subject, calling her “one of the most mathematically mature students I have ever known” and “exceptionally gifted”. Those who have worked with Montee expect that she will have many more “impressive results” and an “amazing career” ahead of her, in part because of her uncanny ability to get right at the heart of a problem.

Response from MurphyKate Montee

I am honored to be selected as the recipient of the Alice T. Schafer Prize. I would like to thank the AWM for offering this award to support young women in mathematics, and the selection committee in particular for choosing me. I am incredibly grateful to so many people for helping me get here; to my family and friends for their constant support, and to the Notre Dame math department, as well as to the REUs at LSU and Williams College. Special thanks to Mr. Cliff Wind, for going above and beyond for me in high school; his obvious love of math and brilliant teaching inspired me to pursue a career in mathematics. To Prof. Neal Stoltzfus, who mentored me in my first research experience, and who helped me find my own mathematical style. To Prof. Colin Adams, whose endless stream of interesting questions is exciting and inspirational, and whose support and encouragement means more to me than I can say. To my advisor, Prof. Frank Connolly, who has worked with me since my sophomore year to keep me challenged, and who has always pushed me beyond what I thought myself capable of.

Runner-Up: Yuhou (Susan) Xia

Yuhou (Susan) Xia is a senior at Bryn Mawr College, but has also taken courses at Haverford College, Swarthmore College, and at the University of Pennsylvania. She has won scholarly awards at Bryn Mawr from both the mathematics department and the college. Her recommendation letters call her a “tenacious problem solver”, and rave about her exceptional mathematical writing. She is repeatedly lauded for her mathematical maturity, evidenced both by her understanding of deep topics and her clear expositions.

Xia has completed graduate-level coursework at the University of Pennsylvania, and is currently pursuing an independent study there for her honor’s thesis. Her work in the graduate courses has been “as good as those of the best Ph.D. students in the class”, and she is praised for her enthusiasm and excitement for new mathematical ideas.

Xia participated in an REU at Michigan, achieving results on “longstanding and much-studied” problems related to Diophantine equations and complex polynomials. She took on the difficult case where the polynomial is reducible, building up skills from Galois theory to tackle the problem. Her contribution was “at the level of a world-class professional mathematician”. The results from her group were termed “major breakthroughs” which will result in articles submitted to high-level research journals.

Response from Yuhou (Susan) Xia

I am deeply honored to be the runner-up of the 2013 Alice T. Schafer Prize. I would like to thank AWM for offering this prize and for its continuous support for women in mathematics. There are many people who helped me along the way during my pursuit of mathematics and I am grateful for them all. I would like to thank three people in particular. I want to thank Professor Mike Zieve, my advisor at the University of Michigan REU, for his meticulous hands-on guidance during the program. He is extremely prolific and efficient as a research mathematician and shows great care for his students. I am also very appreciative of my major advisor, Professor Josh Sabloff, who has always been supportive of my goals and encouraged me through some tough times. Finally, I would like to thank Professor David Harbater. He opened me to many opportunities and also gave me a lot of encouragement and valuable advice by sharing his own experience. I would not be where I am today if it were not for him.

Honorable Mention: Thao Do

Thao Do is a junior at Stony Brook University, where in her fifth semester she has already mastered the undergraduate curriculum and is enrolled in several graduate level courses. As a high school student, she medaled in the International Mathematical Olympiad; at Stony Brook, she has received “impressive” scores on the Putnam exam and in her freshman year earned the top individual score on the Garden State Undergraduate Mathematics Competition. Do’s nomination packet was filled with superlatives from her letter writers–describing her as “the strongest undergraduate I have come across in some forty years”, “one of the engines of the math club”, “the best problem solver”, “the top achiever”–and her mentors view her more as a “valued colleague” than as a student.

Do often provided original, alternate proofs to homework problems and theorems from lecture that were often more efficient and more general than the standard arguments. Do exhibited the same knack for honing in on more elegant proofs in her research as well, enabling her to “find much simpler and shorter arguments for results from previous papers, and then to use her new insights to solve the vastly more difficult problem at hand.” Do played a “crucial” role in her summer undergraduate research group at Michigan in obtaining “results of the highest caliber, which will comprise three long papers that will be submitted to the Annals of Mathematics.”

Response from Thao Do

It is a great honor for me to receive honorable mention for the Schafer Prize. I would like to thank the Association of Women in Mathematics for this. I am deeply grateful to my REU mentor, Prof. Michael Zieve, whose guidance has shaped my interest in math. Two months working with him was a wonderful experience and changed the way I look at math. I am also thankful to the Mathematics Department of Stony Brook University, to Prof. Moira Chas, Prof. Dennis Sullivan, Prof. Jason Starr and Prof. David Ebin for their great help and support. Finally, I want to thank my parents for their constant love and understanding and all my friends for their encouragement, especially those in the StonyBrook math club.

Honorable Mention: Rebecca Gleit

Rebecca Gleit is a senior mathematics major at the University of Michigan. Her research career, already well underway, lies at the interface of mathematics, biology, and medicine. Through an REU, independent research courses, and a position in a medical lab, Gleit has been working on human sleep patterns. On the mathematical side, she has been developing models of the neuronal control of sleep-wake regulation. On the clinical side, she is investigating the long-term medical and psychosocial outcomes among pediatric liver transplant recipients.

Gleit has also distinguished herself as a leader of young women in mathematics. She is the co-founder of Michigan’s Women in Math club, a highly successful program with over 100 members in just its second year.

Her mentors all note an intellectual capacity and maturity beyond her years. They remark that “she exudes intellectual curiosity and is fueled by the excitement of new discovery” and that she is “deeply passionate about combining mathematics and biology to advance our understanding of both fields.” She is currently working on two articles to be submitted for journal publication.

Response from Rebecca Gleit

I am flattered and grateful to have been selected as an honorable mention for the Shafer Prize. I would like to thank AWM for its continued encouragement for women in mathematics and for the award. There are many people who have encouraged and supported my endeavors in mathematics. Ms. Jennifer Sobczynski, my high school calculus teacher, was the first to encourage me to enjoy mathematics and Dr. Djordje Milicevic encouraged me to pursue it. I would like to thank the entire Mathematics Department at the University of Michigan for all of the wonderful opportunities they have provided me, especially Drs. Gavin LaRose, Victoria Booth, and Daniel Forger for their classes which exposed me to mathematical modeling. I am grateful for the assistance of Drs. Stephen DeBacker and Hala Al Hajj Shehadeh in founding the Women in Math Club. I would also like to thank my research mentors Drs. Victoria Booth and Emily Fredericks for their continued support, help, and advice. Your encouragement has made a large impact on my college experience. Lastly, I would like to thank my parents their constant love and support.

Honorable Mention: Yangzhou Hu

Yangzhou Hu is a senior at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology majoring in mathematics and economics. She received an Honorable Mention on the 2011 William Lowell Putnam Competition and has excelled in her many undergraduate and graduate mathematics courses.

Hu has participated in two research programs at MIT. In 2011, as part of MIT’s Summer Undergraduate Research Program, she wrote two papers on topics in combinatorics and was “an absolute star of her summer”. She explored the enumeration of semiorders, and “found an elegant new bijection between semiorders and plane trees”. In 2012, she began a project with a team of economics professors at MIT in agricultural economics, impressing them not only with the speed with which she mastered their techniques but also by making independent contributions to the arguments and exposition of their work.

Hu’s professors praise her “rare ability […] to modify an overly difficult problem into something tractable” and expect her to have a “phenomenally successful career.”

Response from Yangzhou Hu

I am deeply humbled and honored to be this year’s Honorable Mention for the Alice T. Schafer Prize. I am grateful to AWM for their continuing efforts to encourage and support women in mathematics. Many people have helped make my mathematical journey possible thus far. First and foremost, I thank my parents for their constant love, understanding and support. It would not have been possible for me to make it to MIT without them. I also thank the MIT Math Department for providing a stimulating and challenging environment, which has offered me many interesting classes and profound research opportunities. I have had a great time throughout my undergraduate career, interacting with extraordinary peers and faculty. Specifically, I would like to thank my research mentor and nominator, Professor Stanley, for his invaluable inspiration, continuing encouragement, and great guidance along the whole way. He did everything from suggesting the interesting combinatorics problems to giving his time to help me with my research paper. I thank Professor Jerison for leading the undergraduate summer research program, which proved to be a rewarding and memorable experience. I thank Professor Brubaker for his constant encouragement and belief in my abilities. I also thank to Professor Costinot and Professor Kim for their great help, guidance and support. Finally, special thanks are also due to Ruipeng Li, Suiqian Luo, and Hong Huang, who were my fellow teammates on my middle school and high school math team, for helping and encouraging me over the past ten years.