2018 Ph.D. class breaks records with many firsts

The department’s biggest graduating class of 2018 doctorates since 1898 includes (from left to right, back row) Erica Miller, Matt Mills, Jessalyn Bolkema, Carolyn Mayer, Rachel Kirsch, Allison Beemer, Eric Canton; (middle row) Jessica De Silva, Corbin Groothuis, Kelsey Wells, Laura White, Cory Wright, Nick Kass, Jessie Jamieson; (front row) Areeba Ikram, Neil Steinburg, Scott Gensler, Seth Lindokken, and Mohsen Gheibi.

2018 marks the 120th year since Albert Candy earned the first Ph.D. in mathematics awarded by the University of Nebraska. It would take 55 years for Clinton Burke Gass to become the mathematics department’s 10th Ph.D. in mathematics and 65 years for Mildred Gross to become the first woman to earn a Ph.D. in mathematics. That year, 1963, was a banner year as the Department awarded four Ph.D.s, including the Department’s 19th Ph.D.

It is interesting to contrast the Department’s early doctoral education history with 2018, a year in which 19 outstanding graduate students earned a Ph.D. from the Department of Mathematics. This was the most Ph.D.s ever awarded in one year, breaking the record of 15, which was set in 2015.

The 2018 Ph.D. class is unusual in several ways. First, the majority of the class is female (10). This compares well with the fact that, nationally, only about 26% of new Ph.D.s are women, and continues the Department’s reputation as being a place where female graduate students are successful. The new Ph.D.s come from 14 different states and one foreign country, which is unique for a discipline where approximately 50% of new Ph.D.s are international students.

Another first is that Erica Miller became the Department’s first Ph.D. graduate whose research is in mathematics education. Dr. Miller is now a tenure-track faculty member at Virginia Commonwealth University. Two of this year’s Ph.D.s, Jessica De Silva and Jessie Jamieson, arrived at UNL with a prestigious National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship in hand.

Ten women earned their mathematics Ph.D. in 2018. It is noteworthy that the Department did not award its 10th Ph.D. to a woman until 1995 when Ferhan Atici, Nancy Campbell, Betty Harmsen, and Kristin Pfabe earned their degrees. Now, 92 women have earned the Ph.D. from the mathematics department, including 45 in the past 10 years. Looking ahead, it is reasonable to predict that in 2020 the Department will award its 100th Ph.D. to a woman.

The Department’s doctoral education could not have such a successful year without dedicated work by the faculty teaching graduate courses, mentoring students, and supervising doctoral dissertations. The 19 new Ph.D.s were supported by 16 different faculty members serving as their advisor or co-advisor. Three of the faculty, Jamie Radcliffe, Petronela Radu, and Mark Walker, were each the advisor or co-advisor for three students, while Christine Kelley, Al Peterson, and emeritus professor Roger Wiegand each had two students.

The Department encourages and supports its graduate students by offering awards and supplemental fellowships funded by donations to the University of Nebraska Foundation. For example, there are cash awards to the outstanding first-year student and the outstanding qualifying exam, as well as two teaching awards named for Don Miller and Walter Mientka. The Emeritus Faculty Fellowship fund honors the Department’s emeriti faculty (over 112 graduate students have received an Emeritus Faculty Fellowship since 1991), and the Grace Chisholm Young and William Henry Young Award honors emerita faculty member Sylvia Wiegand’s grandparents who also were mathematicians. The two newest awards of this type are the Amy Bouska GTA Leadership Award and the Linda Bors Fellowships. Click here for the list of funds that support the Department of Mathematics.

To date, the Department has awarded 320 Ph.D.s. The 100th was awarded in 1986, the 200th in 2008, and the 300th in 2017. The 2010s will stand out for the dramatic growth of the Department’s Ph.D. program. With one year to go, 103 students have been awarded the Ph.D. in mathematics. Thus, with another strong year in 2019, the total number of Ph.D.s awarded in the 2010s might double the previous high of 56 Ph.D.s in the 1990s.

- Jim Lewis