People at desks
People at table in room

I hear and I forget / I see and I remember / I do and I understand
Chinese proverb

Math in the City is an interdisciplinary course in which students engage in a hands-on learning experience using mathematical modeling to understand current major societal issues of local and national interest. The course is run in collaboration with local businesses, research centers and government organizations that provide data and act as consultants throughout the course thus creating strong connections between academia and industry, while engaging students in a learning and discovery process.

In contrast with other university-industry partnerships, the design of the projects and the choice of topics and problems is primarily student-oriented. The instructor for the course will choose a relevant and timely topic of national and local interest. Such topics frequently appear as "front page news" and generate strong interest on the part of the students. The relevance of the topic is important both for recruiting students to enroll in the course and to maintain high motivation levels throughout the semester.

The students work in teams of 3--5 students, meeting weekly with the instructor. The students also meet with the local business partner at his or her workplace and keep in regular contact by phone and email. Each team constructs a model that captures the salient features of the proposed problem; populate the model with the data provided by the local collaborator, transformed as necessary; analyze the model using appropriate computer software; and draw conclusions from the model that addresses the proposed problem.

To conclude each project, the students communicate their results in both written and oral form. Each team prepares a detailed written report describing the problem, the team's model and analysis, and the conclusions that they reached. At the end of the semester, each team gives a public presentation describing their work in front of an audience formed by mathematics faculty members, undergraduate and graduate students, the local collaborator and other members of the business community. Students may also present posters explaining their model and conclusions at UNL's Annual Research Fair held every spring, and/or present posters at regional or national conferences (such as the annual Joint Mathematics Meetings). Selected reports may be submitted for publication to undergraduate research journals.

Supported by National Science Foundation award DUE-0941132. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

PI: Petronela Radu

Article: Local businesses partner with students to analyze data from new perspective

Previous courses

Spring 2006: P. Radu

  • Risk for Heart Attacks, in collaboration with Jane Meza, University of Nebraska Medical Center
  • Water Levels in Lake McConaughy, in collaboration with Shuhai Zheng, Nebraska Department of Natural Resources

Fall 2006: P. Radu

  • Traffic Models in Lincoln, in collaboration with Schemmer Associates
  • Performance of the Lincoln Housing Market during 1995-2005, in collaboration with Michelle Slack, Lancaster County Assessor's Office

Fall 2008: P. Radu, 3 projects on sustainable design in collaboration with Jim Dyck and Deb Hansen from The Architectural Partnership

  • Cost effectiveness of green features at the Nature Center in Pioneers Park
  • Cost effectiveness of green features at the Earth House at the Prairie Hill Learning Center
  • Green benefits of sustainable design of LEED-certified buildings

Fall 2010: P. Radu and S. Hartke (GTA M. Uhrig), 3 projects on recycling with Gene Hanlon, Recycling Coordinator for the City of Lincoln, with Von Busch and Sons and Recycling Enterprises

  • Route optimization for recycling drop-off sites in Lincoln
  • Route optimization for Lincoln city and Lancaster county buildings
  • Cost versus environmental benefits of recycling

Fall 2011: A. Hariharan (GTA L. Keough), 3 projects on investing and finance with Melinda Jones, City Treasurer of Lincoln and Sherry Wolf-Drbal, Budget Analyst, Finance Department of Lincoln

  • Investment analysis for the city of Lincoln
  • Cash flow management for the city of Lincoln
  • Public safety expenditures and allocation of police stations

Fall 2012: P. Radu and S. Holay (GTA J. Geisbauer), 3 projects on the Lincoln housing market, with Michelle Slack, Lancaster County Assessor's Office

  • Performance and assessment of the Lincoln housing market during 2006-2012
  • Impact of economic factors on the Lincoln and national housing markets
  • Analysis of new developments in the Lincoln housing market

Student feedback

I liked the fact that we didn't know what we were capable of doing until we did it.

Have fun and enjoy the experience because although at times the course may seem stressful or like a lot, in the end it really pays off and is a great experience and something totally different from anything you've ever done in a course before. Being able to get up there and present at the workshop and feel confident in your results and your project is the best feeling ever.

It made you think. A lot.

How to value different raw data is one of the most important skills I learned. I also gained some skills to pick and choose goals that are reachable from goals that cannot be finished.

No specific answer to the problems. Instead of like a normal textbook, you just open up the back to see if you got it right, in this course you have to decide if you think it is right or not.

Experience working with a group on a much larger project than what could be done by an individual.

Workshop 2010

Workshop 2010 group


  • Petronela Radu, Stephen Hartke, Michael Uhrig


  • Gene Hanlon, Recycling Coordinator of City of Lincoln
  • Bruce Von Busch, Von Busch and Sons Refuse
  • Chris Zegar, Recycling Enterprises


  • Austin Barnes, Casey Blaser, Anne Bradford, Brittany Bunker, Wei Li, Wen Luo, Zhi Qu, Dennis Rogers, Dustin Walker, Daniel Wiechert, Jacob Williams


  • David Auckly, Associate Director of MSRI and Kansas State University
  • Stephen Billups, University of Colorado Denver
  • James A. Dyck, The Architectural Partnership, Principal, AIA, LEED AP, AMS
  • Martha Gregg, Augustana College
  • Jason Grout, Drake University
  • Gene Hanlon, Recycling Coordinator of City of Lincoln
  • Ananth Hariharan, University of Lincoln-Nebraska
  • Sandeep Holay, Southeast Community College
  • Alexei Kolesnikov, Towson University
  • Glenn Ledder, University of Lincoln-Nebraska
  • Jane Meza, Chair of Biostatistics Department, University of Nebraska Medical Center
  • Stephen Pankavich, US Naval Academy
  • Richard Rebarber, University of Lincoln-Nebraska
  • Ksenija Simic, Pacific Lutheran University
  • Ben Stewart, Partners for Pollution Prevention, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
  • Becky Swanson, Nebraska Wesleyan University

Workshop 2011

Workshop 2011 group


  • Ananth Hariharan, Lauren Keough


  • Melinda Jones, City Treasurer, City of Lincoln
  • Sherry Wolf-Drbal, Budget Analyst, Finance Department, City of Lincoln


  • Jessica Burow, Cale Hadan, Corrine Hodges, Benjamin Hoffman, Alex Houston, Timothy Marti, Philip Onyeforo, Ryan Saenz, Christopher Seidholz, Kamara Wright


  • Eddie Fuller, West Virginia University
  • L. Leslie Gardner, University of Indianapolis
  • Martha Gregg, Augustana College
  • Gene Hanlon, Recycling Coordinator, City of Lincoln
  • Sandeep Holay, Southeast Community College
  • Glenn Ledder, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
  • Amy Lewis, Augustana College
  • Kerry Ojakian, Queens College, C.U.N.Y.
  • Luca Petrelli, Mount Saint Mary's University
  • Paul Roback, St. Olaf College
  • Richard Rebarber, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
  • Alexandra Seceleanu, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
  • Maria Siopsis, Maryville College
  • Bart Snapp, Ohio State University
  • Janet Striuli, Fairfield University
  • Rebecca Swanson, Nebraska Wesleyan University
  • Karla Welding, Superintendent of Solid Waste Operations, City of Lincoln

Workshop 2012

Workshop 2012 group


  • Petronela Radu, Sandeep Holay, Joe Geisbauer


  • Michelle Slack, Modeling and Statistical Analyst, Lancaster County Assessor


  • John Delong, Joe Lenzo, Chaoyu Liu, Lis Morton, Matt Shuman, Molly Stukenholtz, Sihan Sun, Jian Ju (Justine) Yeo


  • Michael Dorff, Brigham Young University
  • David McCune, William Jewell College
  • Lori McCune, Missouri Western State University
  • Ellen Panofsky, Temple University
  • Adrian Tudorascu, West Virginia University
  • Ellen Veomett, Saint Mary's College of California
  • Jeffrey Paul Wheeler, University of Pittsburgh
  • Anne Yust, Birmingham-Southern College

Workshop 2013

Workshop 2013 group


  • Alexandra Seceleanu, Katie Haymaker


  • Dick Ehrman, Water Resources Specialist, Lower Platte South Natural Resources District


  • Haley Dosch, Anthony Duren, Drenin Hingst, Seth Jameson, Matthew Kottwitz, Xiaoluan Li, Yu Li, Angie Loong, Sebastian Nabb, Katie Pawlowski, Helen Pitts, Tony Presnell, Gabriel Richards, Matthew Smith, Lichao Sun, Jacqueline Voss, Pei Wang, Dong Xu, Shalima Zalsha, Yang Zheng


  • Petronela Radu, Alexandra Seceleanu


  • Rachel Bayless, Agnes Scott College
  • Elizabeth L. Bouzarth, Furman University
  • Jill Bigley Dunham, Hood College
  • Nickolas Hein, University of Nebraska at Kearney
  • Robin Lovgren, Belmont University
  • Nathan Pennington, Creighton University
  • Will Traves, United States Naval Academy
  • Kathryn Weld, Manhattan College