View from the Chair - Tom Marley

Greetings, friends of the department. I hope this newsletter finds you well, and that 2016 has been a happy and successful year.

As you probably are aware, it has been a year of transitions at Nebraska, starting at the top with the appointment of IANR Vice Chancellor Ronnie Green as UNL’s new chancellor. The ripple effects of this appointment eventually made their way to our department, with former Chair Judy Walker’s appointment as interim associate vice chancellor for academic affairs, and subsequently my appointment as interim chair of the department.

The dominoes continued to fall, as Associate Professor Petronela Radu then took over my former post as undergraduate faculty adviser. Despite this upheaval, we are fortunate to have a very seasoned staff (Tom Danaher, Marilyn Johnson, Lori Mueller and the great new addition of Alex Kudrna) as well as exceptional faculty in key administrative roles in Vice Chair Allan Donsig and Graduate Chair Susan Hermiller. All of these people have been instrumental in making our department’s transition go as smoothly as one might hope. In particular, I want to thank Judy not only for her terrific service as chair of our department for the past five years, but also for the many hours she has generously given me over the past few months to help get me up to speed in this new role.

We had a tremendously successful year in hiring, with three outstanding faculty joining our department in the fall: Assistant Professors Huijing Du, Tri Lai, and Xavier Perez Gimenez. We are delighted to welcome them to our department.

The department continues to be a vibrant place where new research discoveries are made and showcased in seminars, colloquia and distinguished speaker series. Last spring the department community was treated with an outstanding talk by Professor Jordan Ellenberg of the University of Wisconsin, who spoke about how the apparently irrational decisions of slime molds are leading to new insights in decision science. And this past fall, Dr. David Saltman from the Center of Communications Research gave a talk on the mathematics behind the German Enigma machine and brought with him one of the actual Enigma machines employed during World War II.

Our undergraduate program has continued to grow and prosper, with a record number of students declaring mathematics as a major – over 220. Of course, one of the truly exciting events this past year was the opening of our new Undergraduate Math Lounge located in the basement of Avery Hall. The lounge is highlighted by a beautiful mural designed by UNL math alum Jenny May with help from graduate student Nick Owad. This lounge was a much-needed space for our undergrad math majors to collaborate, study, hang out or nap!

Our education reforms, both at the undergraduate and graduate level, continue to receive national recognition and be awarded federal grants. The NSF SEMINAL grant is aimed at helping other institutions make improvements in precalculus and calculus instruction, using successful models developed at UNL, Colorado-Boulder and San Diego State. The UNL team consists of Allan Donsig, Wendy Smith and Nathan Wakefield. And on the graduate education front, Judy Walker will lead a new project funded by the NSF INCLUDES program aimed at increasing the number of U.S. women earning doctorate degrees in mathematics. As many readers of the newsletter know, our graduate program is nationally recognized for its efforts to foster an environment in which both women and men can succeed at high levels. Judy’s investigative team will research ways to enhance these efforts, not only locally, but also on a national scale.

Finally, I want to thank all of our many friends who have supported and continue to support our program. Much of what we do would not be possible without your generosity. Because of your donations, many of our bright undergraduate majors are on scholarships, our graduate students are able to travel to conferences, our outreach programs have adequate support, and our faculty are better able to collaborate and disseminate their research discoveries. If you find yourself on campus and want to stop in Avery and say hello or introduce yourself, please know that you are always welcome. I hope you enjoy this newsletter, and I wish all of you a happy holiday season and New Year.