Lesley Wiglesworth, associate professor of mathematics, recently completed a yearlong collaborative research project with Centre College and Murray State University students. This opportunity was made possible by grants through the Center for Undergraduate Research in Mathematics (CURM) and the National Science Foundation (NSF).
“My proposal partners with Dr. Elizabeth Donovan,” Wiglesworth said. “The grant provides funding for an academic year undergraduate research group with students from Centre and Murray State. The goal is for these groups to develop student enthusiasm for the mathematical and computational sciences, provide mentorship to support students through graduation and develop essential research skills to prepare them for success in graduate school and their careers.”
In November, the student groups met for a weekend research retreat in Crofton, Kentucky. Wiglesworth said this was a fantastic experience, and it provided them the opportunity to meet face-to-face and work while physically in the same room. This weekend was also instrumental in contributing to the progress the students made and greatly enhanced the collaborations.
Wiglesworth said undergraduate research in mathematics differs from undergraduate research in the sciences.
“Research in pure mathematics involves the students spending a lot of time in quiet thought and then communicating their ideas to their peers,” she explained. “They are not helping perform experiments and collecting data, as you might find in other disciplines within Division III. I like to think of pure mathematics research as trying to answer open-ended questions, similar to puzzles, but our ‘puzzles’ address deep questions about mathematical systems.”
For the project, there were eight students from Centre and three from Murray State. Together, they formed four different research groups. The students worked collaboratively on their topic and had to communicate regularly with one another. In addition, each group wrote a paper for a peer-reviewed journal.
As a result of the work through the grant, the students submitted five publications—four research and one expository article. In addition, all of the students presented their work at the Kentucky Section of the Mathematical Association of America’s regional meeting.
“This was many of these students first experience with undergraduate research,” Wiglesworth added. “They were able to engage in, and produce, original work. It also allowed the students to gain experience in exploring open questions, as well as making and testing conjectures. Additionally, the students improved the preciseness of their mathematical writing. In order to successfully partner together, the Centre and Murray State groups had to communicate frequently and effectively.
“We have really great students,” she continued. “When faculty work with students in this way, we develop different types of relationships. I am quick to praise these students’ work, but I am also fairly critical at points. The students quickly learned the importance of failure in the research process. I think several found it initially unsettling that I did not have all the answers. For this project, I was almost a peer collaborator.”
Wiglesworth said that both the students and faculty benefited in tangible and intangible ways from this experience.
“The opportunity to work with students from a different institution helped the students build relationships and a network that will hopefully last beyond the 2018-19 academic year,” she concluded.
by Kerry Steinhofer
May 28, 2019