Alice T. Schafer Prize for Excellence in Mathematics by an Undergraduate Women 2015

AWM is pleased to present the twenty-fifth annual Alice T. Schafer Prize to Sheela Devadas, MIT.

Citation:  Sheela Devadas

Sheela Devadas is majoring in mathematics at MIT. As a sophomore in high school, Devadas joined a
research group for high school students at MIT (PRIMES), where she was assigned a project on
Cherednik algebras. As a 15-year-old, she quickly mastered the basics of representation theory,
commutative algebra and computer algebra systems.  In 2011, the Advantage Testing Foundation Math
Prize for Girls announced the names of 19 “astonishingly accomplished young women,” including Silver
Medalist, Sheela Devadas.

After completing her junior year of high school, she began studying at MIT, taking many advanced
mathematics courses, including Fourier analysis, arithmetic geometry, discrete mathematics, and
graduate-level courses in randomness and computation, representation theory, cryptography and
commutative algebra.

Continuing her work in representation theory, she is now coauthor of a paper to appear in the Journal of
Commutative Algebra.  Her mentors comment that this is an “excellent paper” and her work is at a level
far beyond her age.  Devadas shows great breadth by also engaging in research in theoretical computer
science, specifically homomorphism testing.  These results are currently being written for publication.
Sheela Devadas, who has the “highest level of imagination and skill” is an “outstanding student” who is
“brilliant, and at the same time very hard working, mature, and motivated. This is surely a winning
combination.” She “has a bright research career ahead of her” and of the “many amazing MIT
undergraduates, Sheela is second to none.”

Response from Sheela Devadas

I am very honored by my selection as the winner of the 2015 Schafer Prize. I was first introduced to
complex mathematics by Ms. Tatyana Finkelstein, my middle school math teacher; she has given me
interesting problems to work on, encouraged me to pursue opportunities like the MIT-PRIMES program,
and always provided inspiration. I would like to thank the MIT-PRIMES program for enabling me to do
research in representation theory in high school and my research mentor Dr. Steven Sam for his
invaluable teaching and guidance in my first experience with research. I am grateful to my advisor
Professor Pavel Etingof for suggesting my PRIMES research project and for his continued guidance,
advice, and teaching. At the PROMYS program at BU I was able to listen to the engaging lectures of
Professor Glenn Stevens and make a connection with a greater mathematical community. I am grateful
to Professor Ronitt Rubinfeld for suggesting and guiding me through research in linearity testing. MIT
not only offers wonderful classes, but also provides ample opportunities for undergraduate research.
Finally, I would like to thank my family for their support in all my endeavors.

Runner-Up: Samantha Petti

Samantha Petti is a senior mathematics major at Williams College. She is lauded by the faculty for her
excellent performance in advanced courses, including a class in upper-level knot theory in her first
year.  As a student in Tiling Theory, she also served as a teaching assistant for the course. She took a
tutorial course in topology in which her weekly presentations “displayed her strong understanding of
the material and strong expository skills.”
Petti participated in the SMALL REU at Williams College. Her group produced two research papers, both
expected to be published in strong research journals. She also spent a summer working on research at
the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, where she worked on an open problem about convergence
conditions for the Markov Clustering Algorithm.  As a researcher, she was praised for her “originality,
confidence, and healthy self-awareness.” She has presented her work at MathFest and UnKnot, an
undergraduate knot theory conference. She participated in the Budapest Semester in Mathematics and
was awarded a 2014 Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship.

Petti’s recommendation letters tout her communication skills, focus, and enthusiasm. Additionally, she
“has the intellectual firepower, the organizational skills and the fire in the belly to do amazingly strong

Response from Samantha Petti

I am honored to be named the Alice T. Schafer Prize Runner-up. I would like to thank the AWM for
encouraging women to pursue mathematics in many ways, including the offering of this prize. There are
many people I need to thank for contributing to my mathematics education and inspiring me to be a
researcher. In particular, I would like to thank Professor Adams for sharing his contagious excitement for
research and providing me with opportunities to begin research early, Professor Silva for challenging me
in several key courses, Dr. Ferragut for his valuable research guidance this summer, and Professor
Devadoss for advising my senior thesis. Additionally, I am thankful for the entire math faculty at
Williams College, who make the department an inviting and exciting place to learn. I would also like to
thank the folks at the Summer Math Program at Carleton College for introducing me to a great
community of women mathematicians. Finally, I am grateful for all the support provided by my family
and friends through the years.

Honorable Mention: Madeline Brandt

Madeline Brandt is a senior mathematics major at Reed College.  She has distinguished herself through
research, coursework and service. Both at Reed College and in the Budapest semesters in mathematics,
she has completed advanced course work with near perfection.  Her professors recognize her “Unusual
gift for problem-solving, creative thinking, and adeptness at absorbing new mathematics.”
Brandt has participated in two summer REU programs.  At Grand Valley State University she worked in
geometry on circle packing on tori. This work is currently being written for publication.  Her second REU
was at the University of Minnesota at Duluth.  At Duluth she worked in number theory on packing
polynomials.  The resulting work will be presented at the joint mathematical meetings and has already
been submitted for publication.  Her mentors promote her immense potential for research and her
excellence in communication of mathematics. She is a “brilliant and self-motivated” student who is also
an excellent expositor of mathematics, a leader and community builder, and she is well respected by her
teachers and peers. She has “outstanding potential for a successful and influential career in

Response from Madeline Brandt

I feel greatly honored to receive honorable mention for the 2015 Alice T. Schafer Prize. I would like to
thank the AWM for their efforts in encouraging women and girls to pursue careers in mathematics, and
for offering the Alice T. Schafer Prize. In addition, I would like to acknowledge the people who have
supported and encouraged me. First, I would like to thank Irena Swanson, who has been a wonderful
mentor, both sparking and solidifying my interest in mathematics. I would also like to thank my REU
advisors, William Dickinson and Joseph Gallian, for providing me with opportunities for mathematical
research and for always offering encouragement and advice. Lastly, I would like to thank my family for
always supporting my interests and pursuits. UC Berkeley, and in particular Drs. Kenneth Ribet, Elena
Fuchs, and Lauren Williams for their generous guidance and advice. Lastly, I want to thank my parents
and friends for their support, both mathematically and personally.