View from the Chair

The view from these chairs is pretty good! Margreta Kuijper of the University of Melbourne, Australia, and Judy Walker take a conference break, with UNL math graduate student Jessalyn Bolkema (standing left), in Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada, and enjoy the Red Chair Experience Program provided by Parks Canada.

It is a gorgeous fall day here in Lincoln: the leaves are in brilliant yellows, oranges and reds, and the sun is shining. Shadows are growing long, and mornings are quite brisk, but I am sitting outside in 77 degree weather as I write this. Those of you who haven’t been in downtown Lincoln for a while would see some real changes. The Historic Haymarket District has been expanded to the west – the railroad tracks have been moved to allow this – and the new Pinnacle Bank Arena is bringing a steady stream of shows to our city. Two blocks south of campus, P Street has been redesigned with wider sidewalks, more landscaping, and a new park at the corner of 13th. It’s a beautiful city, and exciting things are happening here.

Exciting things are happening in our department, too. Our current group of assistant professors is exceptionally strong, and each of them is on track to a stellar career at UNL.  We currently host five postdoctoral fellows, each of whom is contributing to multiple aspects of the department’s work. Jim Lewis will be recognized with one of the highest awards given by the Mathematical Association of America – the Gung and Hu Award for Distinguished Service – at the Joint Mathematics Meetings in January. Mark Walker was named a Willa Cather Professor, joining a group of five other named professors in the department. John Meakin just finished his term as a Fulbright-Nehru Teaching and Research Scholar. Mark Brittenham and Petronela Radu both won College of Arts and Sciences distinguished teaching awards, and Petronela was also the recipient of the McClymont Award – she is the second of our faculty in two years to be recognized with this honor. Aubrey Thompson, who completed her undergraduate mathematics major from our department in May, was awarded an NSF graduate fellowship. And Math Day will celebrate its 25th year later this fall.

Chancellor Harvey Perlman has declared goals for our campus of increasing enrollment, from 25,000 to 30,000, and of increasing the six-year graduation rate for our undergraduate students. Of course our department is central to the campus’s abilities to meet these goals: this semester, the department is teaching 13.3 percent of all classes taught at UNL, and 67.4 percent of all freshmen are currently taking a mathematics course. We are responding to this challenge with a renewed focus on our 100-level mathematics courses that includes substantial professional development opportunities for the graduate students teaching these courses. In this issue of Math News are two stories related to these efforts: one on the renovated classrooms we are using to facilitate the active, collaborative learning we want to see in these classrooms, and one on the changes to the classes themselves and the opportunities for graduate students that go along with these changes.

Our faculty and students are traveling the world. New to this issue of Math News is “Sylvia’s Journal,” which gives an accounting of Sylvia Wiegand’s trip to the International Congress of Mathematicians held in Seoul, Korea in August. Stephen Hartke and John Meakin just completed Fulbright Fellowships in Hungary and India, respectively, and two undergraduate students found opportunities to study mathematics in Russia. These trips are just a sampling of the international travel UNL mathematicians do each year to participate in conferences and workshops and collaborate with colleagues around the globe. We would love to be able to document the travel of department faculty, students, alumni, and friends through photos of these travelers wearing Math Department T-shirts in faraway places. If you don’t yet have a Math Department T-shirt, please contact Liz Youroukos at to order one.   And then wear it whenever – and wherever – you can, taking pictures along the way.