UA receives $3.5 million to improve advanced math education

October 24, 2006

The way people in industry and academia are using mathematics is changing, so there is a need to change the way mathematicians are trained.

Industry and academia need more people who are well versed in advanced mathematics.

However, the United States is currently not training enough people properly in these areas.

The National Science Foundation has awarded The University of Arizona in Tucson a $3.5 million grant over the next five years to satisfy these needs and improve the quality of advanced mathematics education.

"The NSF feels like there is a crisis, a looming shortage of people with advanced mathematical training," said principal investigator Douglas Ulmer, a UA professor of mathematics and associate head for the graduate program in the UA's department of mathematics.

"For example, biology is becoming much more mathematically sophisticated. Biologists are using more mathematical techniques than they did even 10 years ago," Ulmer said.

The grant, shared by the department of mathematics and program in applied mathematics, is to support a project called VIGRE, Vertically InteGrated Research and Education.

The project will institute changes that affect everyone from high school students to postdoctoral students to professors. The program will "vertically integrate" the way mathematics is taught. Students will not be confined to interacting only with people who have similar levels of training.

Creating more collaborations in research and education will help develop the essential characteristics that today's professional mathematicians need to work in an interdisciplinary manner and on a variety of problems.

Students at various levels of training will be encouraged to interact and cooperate with other colleagues in the math and science community to broaden the students' expertise and ability to work cooperatively on problems.

Each year, the project will support 12 graduate students, two postdoctoral fellows, and 20 undergraduates.

Undergraduates will have new opportunities to increase their involvement with faculty and also pursue research interests during summer programs. The research projects will focus on topics like cryptography, mathematical modeling, the mathematics of fluids and number theory.

"They can work on four-week research projects that will not only be fun, but might get them interested in going to graduate school," Ulmer said.

For graduate students, the grant provides funding so they can focus more on doing high-level research in current mathematical fields and improve their professional and communication skills.

In addition to increasing vertical integration of mathematics training, the project will also increase horizontal integration. Horizontal integration means going beyond geographical and institutional boundaries to provide support to other organizations involved in mathematics education.

The UA will cooperate with other colleges and programs in the Southwest to develop students' interest in mathematics and the resources necessary to support their education.

In Tucson, speakers from the UA math department will go to local high schools and discuss the advantages of pursuing advanced mathematics with students taking advanced placement calculus classes.

This is the second time the UA has been awarded such a grant. "This is a really prestigious honor for the UA math and applied math programs," Ulmer said.

Ulmer said that receiving the grant will be catalytic in nature, because it provides an opportunity to make influential changes in the training of mathematicians that will last long after the grant is over. In support of that goal, the UA has made a commitment to provide 10 new graduate fellowships after the expiration of the grant.
The co-principal investigators on the grant are: Nicholas M. Ercolani, professor and head of UA's department of mathematics; William G. McCallum, University Distinguished Professor in the department of mathematics; Michael Tabor, professor and head of UA's program in applied mathematics; and William Y. Velez, University Distinguished Professor and associate head for undergraduate affairs in UA's department of mathematics.

Related Web sites:

VIGRE Program

UA Dept. of Mathematics

UA Program in Applied Mathematics

This release was prepared for the UA Office of University Communications by Ryan Krug. University of Arizona news is online at

University of Arizona

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