Alice T. Schafer Prize for Excellence in Mathematics by an Undergraduate Woman 2016

AWM is pleased to present the twenty-sixth annual Alice T. Schafer Prize to Mackenzie Simper, University of Utah.

Citation: Mackenzie Simper

Mackenzie Simper is a senior mathematics major at the University at Utah where she received the Calvin
Wilcox Scholarship, one of the department’s most prestigious scholarships. After a flawless academic
performance at Salt Lake Community College, Simper transferred to the University of Utah where she
has impressed the faculty as a student “with a stellar academic track record, proven ability to do original
mathematical research, [who] is keenly committed to excelling in her mathematical career, and is highly
praised as a student and a colleague” with “research ability … never witnessed before in someone so

In just one year, Simper has participated in three research projects: two at an REU at the University of
Utah, one of which derives a “surprisingly general model for the equilibrium distribution of the Bak-
Sneppens model of evolution.” The results will appear in a paper that is currently in preparation. “Given
the mathematical depth and the technical difficulty of the problem, this is an extraordinary achievement
for a 17-year-old undergraduate student.” Simper also participated in a third REU in the Applied
Mathematics Department at Brown University, where her performance was “simply amazing.” The
resulting paper is also in preparation and expected to be submitted to a top dynamics journal.
Simper’s mentors agree that she is “passionate about mathematics and one of the most creative and
advanced undergraduates” with whom they have worked.

Response from Mackenzie Simper

I am honored to be selected as the winner of the 2016 Alice T. Schafer Prize and I would like to thank the
AWM for encouraging and supporting women in mathematics. Nothing has contributed more to my
success than the many wonderful people who have helped me on my journey, including my amazing
family. Kyle Costello at Salt Lake Community College was the first to encourage me to pursue math, for
which I am tremendously grateful. I am also grateful to the entire math department at the University of
Utah, for creating a welcoming and stimulating environment in which to explore this spectacular subject.
I very much appreciate everyone involved in the REU at Brown this past summer, for the great
experience and all of the advice. Specifically, I am thankful to John Gemmer, for supervising my project,
which was an absolute blast, and Professor Bjӧrn Sandstede, for creating countless opportunities to
learn. Finally, I would like to thank Professor Tom Alberts, who was the first to expose me to the
fascinating realm of mathematical research and has continually provided guidance and inspiration since

Runner-Up: Sarah Tammen

Sarah Tammen is a senior at the University of Georgia where she received the Strahan award, the
department’s award to honor the outstanding undergraduate mathematics major. She is “incredibly
gifted, deeply passionate about mathematics and truly driven to succeed.” Her academic performance
has been exceptional, including her performance in the graduate-level real and complex analysis

Tammen participated in the SMALL REU program, where she was an “outstanding member” of the
SMALL undergraduate research Geometry Group. Her research culminated in a “major theorem”
generalizing the isoperimetric inequality in Rn with density rp. The resulting paper has been submitted
for publication. At the University of Georgia, she is currently preparing a longer version of this for her
honors thesis. Her mentors describe her as “a mathematics star in the making.” Tammen also
participated as a teaching assistant/counselor in the SIMUW program for motivated high school
students at the University of Washington.

Tammen is “very independent and already a remarkably careful and precise mathematician.” In addition
to her talent from mathematics, she “also has something extra: guts, determination and creativity.”

Response from Sarah Tammen

It is an honor to be the Runner-up for the Alice T. Schafer Prize. I am thankful for all of the teachers and
mentors who have helped me to become the mathematician I am today. I am thankful for Ted Shifrin,
who told me, “you should be doing challenge problems,” after the first week of his multivariable
calculus class. I am thankful for Frank Morgan and for his guidance during the SMALL REU. I am
thankful for all of the professors who have taught me at UGA, and I am glad to be representing their
students as the Schafer Prize Runner-up.

Honorable Mention: Kaavya G. Valiveti

Kaavya G. Valiveti is a senior mathematics major at the University of California, Berkeley, where her
“outstanding transcript” reflects “spectacular achievement,” and she has excelled in graduate
coursework. She has been a “wonderful student, someone you dream to have in your class.”
Valiveti has spent two summers at research programs. In 2014, she participated in the REU at Kent State
University. Her work on a Lie algebra version of the Lvov-Kaplansky problem, co-authored with two
other students, has appeared in Linear Algebra and its Applications and has “already got some serious
attention.” The paper uses “highly sophisticated combinatorial techniques” and it is “hard to imagine it
was written by undergraduate students.”

Valiveti spent the summer of 2015 at Cornell’s Summer Program for Undergraduate Research working
on a project in harmonic analysis on Stiefel manifolds, leading to a result “far exceeding… expectations
on the project.”

Valiveti’s mentors describe her as a “natural born mathematician” who has “discovered her calling… it is
mathematical research.” They laud her “outstanding analytic and logical skills,” “knowledge and
understanding of mathematics, that is far ahead of what one usually expects from an undergraduate
student,” and “brilliant research potential.”

Response from Kaavya G. Valiveti

I am humbled to receive an honorable mention of the Alice T. Schafer Prize from the AWM and thank
them for their tireless dedication to fostering gender equality in mathematics over the past five
decades. I would firstly like to express my deepest gratitude to Prof. Jenny Harrison, whose constant
encouragement and infectious passion for mathematics are among the main reasons I am now pursuing
the subject, as well as Prof. Marc Rieffel, Prof. Nicolai Reshetikhin, and Prof. Mariusz Wodzicki for the
support and mathematical inspiration they have given me at Berkeley. I would also like to thank my REU
advisors, Prof. Mikhail Chebotar of Kent State and Prof. Raul Gomez of Cornell for their tremendous
generosity during and beyond the programs and for suggesting such interesting questions to study.
Lastly, I thank my family and friends for their unwavering support, without which nothing would

Honorable Mention: Madeleine Weinstein

Madeleine Weinstein is a senior mathematics major at Harvey Mudd College. She has been recognized
by the faculty with two departmental honors, the Giovanni Borrelli Mathematics Prize and the Robert
James Prize. She is “extraordinarily talented, has a great work ethic, is creative, and has remarkable
mathematical maturity.”

Weinstein participated in three very competitive REU programs: the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute, the
SMALL REU at Williams College, and University of Minnesota, Duluth. As a sophomore in the SMALL REU
she worked on three different projects: Ramsey Theory, Zeckendorf Decompositions, and Benford’s law.
Her work resulted in two papers accepted, one paper in revision, and three more under review. At
Duluth, she proved stronger invariance properties of the Sprague-Grundy function that encompass three
conjectures of Fraenkel and Ho. Her work resulted in a single author paper submitted to Integers. She
has given numerous presentations at national conferences and received an Outstanding Presentation
Award at the Joint Mathematics Meetings in 2014. She also participated in the Budapest Semester in

Weinstein’s letters emphasize her broad research ability. “She is detail oriented, diligent, and
structured. Maddie is ready to question, scrutinize, and work hard to see a project through.”

Response from Madeleine Weinstein

I thank the AWM for providing opportunities to women in math. I am grateful to Steven Miller for his
constant support and extreme generosity in devoting time to his students, Nathan McNew for his
extraordinarily skillful advising of the Ramsey Theory project, and Caroline Turnage-Butterbaugh for her
expert guidance on the Zeckendorf projects. I wish to thank Joe Gallian for building the Duluth research
community that has been transformative to the careers of so many young mathematicians. I would like
to thank the Harvey Mudd math department, and in particular, Art Benjamin, Dagan Karp, and Talithia
Williams, for their dedication to teaching and for making Mudd such a wonderful place to grow as a
mathematician. I am grateful towards my kind, gentle friends and brilliant, hard-working coauthors at
the SMALL and Duluth REUs. Lastly, I warmly thank the foxes, deer, ducks, turtles, and corvids of the
Bagley Nature Area in Duluth for being my research companions.