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Mathematics at the 2012 SACNAS National Conference

The 2012 National Conference of the Society for Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) was held in Seattle, WA, October 11-14. The theme was Creating a Healthy World through Science, Diversity & Technology. The conference featured keynote speakers, sessions and symposia, awards, undergraduate poster presentations, graduate oral presentations, mentoring, field trips, and social events--and mathematics continues to be a significant component of the program. Honorable Christine O. Gregoire, Governor of the State of Washington, issued a proclamation officially recognizing and honoring the organization at the national conference.

Erika T. Camacho, Arizona State University, received the 2012 Distinguished Undergraduate Institution Mentor Award for involving "students in her work at the interface of mathematics and its applications to biology and sociology."

Ricardo Cortez, Tulane University, long-time co-organizer of the mathematics program at SACNAS national conferences, gave a plenary presentation, "Insights to Success: Real-Life Adventures of SACNAS Scientists," Mariel Vazquez, San Francisco Sate University, gave the Modern Mathematics Keynote Address, "DNA Unknotting and Unlinking," and Steven Strogatz, Cornell University, gave a keynote address,"Moments of Truth."

Undergraduate Student Poster Presentations in Mathematics

The student poster presentations, held in the exhibit hall, were a highlight of the conference. Below is a slideshow of presenters in the mathematical sciences.

The following undergraduate students received awards for mathematics posters:

  • Raghda Abouelnaga, University of California, Berkeley, for "Characteristic of the dual space of $l^\infty$"
  • Samuel Cavazos, University of Texas-Pan American, for "Arithmetic of Free Group Character Varieties"
  • Kyle Dahlin, University of Hawaii at Manoa, for "Competition Model of Brassica Tournefortii and Native Plants in the Sonoran Desert"
  • Betty Garcia, University of Texas-Pan American, for "Advanced Factorization Methods"
  • Marissa Loving and Katherine Todd, University of Hawaii at Hilo, for "Non-Stable K-Theory of an Arbitrary Graph Algebra"
  • William Tressel, Simpson College, for "Within-Host Dynamics of Antibiotic Resistance in Gonorrhea"

Many of the mathematicians at the conference served as mentors and poster judges at the 2012 National SACNAS Conference. Many have volunteered to serve as a judge each year, and some are featured in the SACNAS Biography Project.

The AMS gave each student poster presenter a bag with Numbers and Functions: From a classical-experimental mathematician's point of view, by Victor H. Moll (Tulane University), and some small gifts in appreciation of their work.

There were Graduate Student Oral Presentations in Mathematics as well. Awards were given to Claus Kadelka, Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State University, for "Understanding the Robustness of Gene Regulation via Derrida Values," Gina-Maria Pomann, North Carolina State University, for "Computationally Efficient Change Detection for Functional Data," and Matthew Oremland, University of Texas at Austin, for "Mathematical Analysis of Agent-Based Models: Discrete and Heuristic Methods."

The Conversations with Scientists - Mathematics Section on Thursday evening provided a great opportunity for undergraduate and graduate students to share experiences with each other and with mentors, as well as discuss mathematics, courses, graduate programs and careers in the mathematical sciences. There was a mentor at each table to answer questions and guide the discussions.

Steven Strogatz Keynote Address: "Moments of Truth"


On Friday, Steven Strogatz of Cornell University gave a plenary lecture to about 3000 attendees in which he communicated the emotional side of doing mathematics. He had intended to pursue a degree in math as an undergraduate but others advised him to take pre-med courses. During one semester break he returned home and his mother sensed something was wrong. She asked him, "What if you could just take the courses that would make you the best mathematician you could be?" and suddenly he felt a great weight had been lifted from him and he followed his dream. Strogatz advised the students to do what it takes to find their passion and "really go for it." It may not work out for them, but at least they should try. Several students waited in line to speak with him after his talk, and he later viewed the undergraduate student mathematics posters and spoke with the presenters. Strogatz was so moved by the atmosphere at the conference that he donated nearly 100 copies of his most recent book, The Joy of x: A Guided Tour of Math, from One to Infinity, to attendees.

AMS Exhibit

The AMS was among the Specialty Sponsors and was among the institutes, colleges, universities, associations, hospitals, companies and government agencies that provided information about educational programs and career opportunities in the sciences. The AMS exhibit drew undergraduate and graduate students, mathematicians, and mentors. AMS Public Awareness Officers Mike Breen and Annette Emerson answered questions about the Society's programs and services, graduate school programs in the mathematical sciences and careers in mathematics.

The AMS provided visitors with materials including:

The Society also displayed resources from the American Statistical Association on careers, awards and scholarships, membership, meetings and publications.

Who Wants to Be a Mathematician


Nearly 60 undergraduates took the qualifying test for the AMS Who Wants to Be a Mathematician game. Approximately 1000 attended the breakfast and saw six undergraduates compete for prizes:

  • Jessica De Silva, California State University, Stanislaus
  • Gabriel Dorfsman-Hopkins, Dartmouth College
  • Vanessa Rivera Quiñones, University of Puerto Rico-Rio Piedras
  • Claire Merriman, Vanderbilt University
  • Stefan Klajbor, University of Puerto Rico-Rio Piedras
  • Schuyler Veeneman, San Francisco State University

Gabriel Dorfsman-Hopkins (left) won US$2500 in cash from the AMS and a TI-Nspire CX calculator from Texas Instruments.

More Mathematics Sessions and Events on the program:

  • Modern Mathematics Workshop
  • Undergraduate Minicourse in Mathematics - Sage Software Workshop
  • Undergraduate Minicourse in Mathematics - Inferring Gene Regulatory Networks: An algebraic Geometry-Systems Biology Connection
  • NSF Mathematics Institutes Panel Presentation
  • Modern Mathematics Keynote Address
  • Mathematics Reception
  • Computational and Mathematical Models: Leading the Fight Against Infectious Disease (Symposium)
  • A Mathematical Invitation to Knot Theory (Symposium)
  • Mathematics Teaching that Matters! Re-focusing Teacher Attention to Mathematics Education Needs of Our Students, Communities and Families
  • Theory and Applications of Random Matrices
  • Up-to-the-Minnute Reports on Mathematical Epidemiology

NSF Mathematics Institutes supported many of the mathematics sessions and events.

The AMS congratulates all the SACNAS student participants and appreciates all the mathematicians who organized the mathematics sessions, gave talks, served as mentors, and judged posters at the conference.

Read Highlights of the 2011 SACNAS National Conference, and watch for announcements about the 2013 SACNAS National Conference in San Antonio, TX, when SACNAS will celebrate its 40th anniversary.

--- Annette Emerson, AMS Public Awareness Officer