MATH 435 students with staff from the Lancaster County Assessor's Office

MATH 435 students with staff in the Lancaster County Assessor's Office, fall 2022. Image courtesy Levi Heath.

Math in the City (MATH 435) is an interdisciplinary, hands-on course in which students utilize mathematical modeling to understand current social issues of local and national interest. Participants collaborate with local organizations that provide data and act as consultants.

The learning and discovery process connects academia and industry. Unlike other university-industry partnerships, the design of the projects and the choice of problems is primarily student-oriented, within a timely, "front page news" topic provided by the instructor.

Teams of 3-5 students meet weekly with the instructor and keep in regular contact with the organization after meeting at their workplace.

Each team:

  • constructs a model that captures the salient features of the proposed problem
  • populates the model with the data provided by the local collaborator, transformed as necessary
  • analyzes the model with computer software
  • draws conclusions from the model that addresses the proposed problem

To conclude projects, results are communicated in two ways:

  • a detailed written report describing the problem, the team's model and analysis, and the conclusions that they reached
  • a public presentation in front of an audience of faculty, 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 organized by the American Mathematical Society. Reports may also be selected for submission to undergraduate research journals.

Previous Projects

Topic: Investing and finance
Collaborators: City Treasurer of Lincoln and Finance Department of Lincoln


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

Topic: Lincoln housing market
Collaborator: 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
  • and analysis of new developments in the Lincoln housing market

Topic: Recycling
Collaborators: Recycling Coordinator for the City of Lincoln and 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

Topic: Sustainable design
Collaborator: The Architectural Partnership


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

Topic: Risk for Heart Attacks
Collaborator: University of Nebraska Medical Center

Topic: Water Levels in Lake McConaughy
Collaborator: Nebraska Department of Natural Resources

Topic: Traffic Models in Lincoln
Collaborator: Schemmer Associates

Topic: Lincoln housing market, 1995-2005
Collaborator: Lancaster County Assessor's Office

Student Feedback

Students working at a computer

It 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.

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.

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

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.