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Newsletter June 2021

From the Chair

Photo of Department Chair Charles Moore

Dear Alumni, Friends, Colleagues, and Students,

Welcome to the department's 2020-2021 newsletter.

Due to COVID, classes at WSU have been online since March of 2020. Professors are still teaching, and students are still coming to class, but all of this is being done with Zoom. In our newsletters we usually report on a variety of activities in the department. There are fewer of these this year, so this newsletter is a little shorter than usual.

Still, much is happening—students and faculty in the department have received awards and honors. Students have participated in research projects with faculty, given talks at virtual conferences, and participated in virtual mathematics competitions. We have kept in touch with online social events, and clubs are meeting online.

The pandemic has been stressful for everyone. Students have fallen ill with COVID and some have lost loved ones. Most students have been sheltering with family, sometimes under crowded conditions, and some have struggled to obtain the technology necessary to participate in virtual classes.

In spite of these difficulties, and as you would expect, the entire WSU community has pulled together to keep each other safe and connected. The administration has held frequent meetings to keep us apprised of new developments, and students have reached out to offer help and support to one another. Our department continues meeting regularly via Zoom, and we’ve had department-wide virtual social events. We have been constantly checking on each other and providing help whenever it’s needed. I am thankful to be a part of such a supportive and caring community.

We are planning to be back on campus and in real classrooms by the start of the academic year in August. Nothing can match the excitement of the classroom, and nothing online can compare to the college experience on an active and vibrant campus. Students and faculty are eager to get back to normal.

I hope you enjoy this newsletter. Please send a note or an email to let us know of the recent, and even no-so-recent events in your life and career, as we are very interested in hearing from you.

We appreciate our alumni, friends, and all who are associated with the department in some way. You all have contributed to the success of department and the students we teach.


Charles Moore
Professor and Department Chair

Welcome New Faculty Member Daryl DeFord

photo of Daryl DeFord

In August 2020, we were joined by our newest faculty member, Professor Daryl DeFord. However, he was not new to many of the faculty nor was WSU new to him since he obtained his undergraduate degree in mathematics from WSU in 2013.

After graduating from WSU, DeFord earned a doctoral degree in mathematics from Dartmouth College in June of 2018. While at Dartmouth he received college-wide awards both for his teaching and scholarly work. He subsequently held postdoctoral positions at Tufts University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. During his postdoctoral appointments he worked with researchers from both universities to investigate mathematics involved in redrawing voting districts. With them, he developed the open source software GerryChain that can detect gerrymandering in redistricting plans. This has received media attention, including from the New York Times and Harvard Data Science Review, and has generated interest from several U.S. states as they work on redistricting.

This summer, DeFord will be directing an undergraduate research project of Elliot Kimsey. Elliot won a research scholarship from the College of Arts and Sciences to pursue research in malapportionment in legislative districting, using Washington state as a case study. DeFord will also supervise a research team funded through the University of Washington's Data Science for Social Good Program.

If you would like to know more about DeFord’s work please visit his web page. You will also find more information in this department article, and this WSU News article.

Newly Published Faculty Authored Books

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The 6th edition of Professor Judi McDonald's book Linear Algebra and Its Appplications, 6th Edition has been published by Pearson. Co-authors are David C. Lay, University of Maryland, and Steven R. Lay, from Lee University.

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Professor Michael Tsatsomeros is co-author of the book Matrix Positivity, published by Cambridge University Press. Co-authors are Charles R. Johnson, College of William and Mary, Virginia, and Ronald L. Smith, University of Tennessee, Chattanooga.

International Workshop on the Success of Women in STEM

Photo of Elissa Schwartz

In November, 2020, faculty member Elissa Schwartz organized an online meeting “Remedying the Leaky Pipeline for Women in STEM” that brought together mentors and trainees from across the globe. Participants in this workshop, mentoring, and networking event discussed the barriers women and other underrepresented groups face in pursuing science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) careers and ways of overcoming these hurdles.

The three-part, three-hour interactive forum featured live mentoring by women scientists and mathematicians as well as scholars in WSU’s Program in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies (WGSS). The keynote address was presented by Professor Seema Nanda, a mathematician and founder of the nonprofit Leora Trust, which promotes the empowerment of women in India through education.

“The story of Professor Nanda’s career journey and the obstacles she overcame to become a mathematician and start her educational nonprofit foundation is deeply inspiring,” said Elissa Schwartz, an associate professor in both the Department of Mathematics and Statistics and the School of Biological Sciences.

In 2006, after attending college and living in the U.S. for many years, Professor Nanda moved back to her homeland India and was struck by the heartbreaking gender inequality that persists within the patriarchal culture. Recognizing her own good fortune motivated her to set up educational support for girls, Schwartz said.

The goal of Nanda’s presentation and the broader workshop was to connect women and other underrepresented STEM trainees at WSU and abroad – particularly in India and Nepal – with professional development opportunities, mentoring, and other types of support.

“We wanted to empower the participants by connecting them to mentors, sponsors and role models in leadership positions who can help them advance their career ambitions, prospects and intellectual development in STEM fields,” Schwartz said. “Through breakout discussions and brainstorming, we continued laying a course to mend the leaky pipeline.”

Schwartz proposed and won a grant to develop the workshop from the WSU Center for Arts and Humanities Douglas L. Epperson Social Justice Fund as a joint venture with WGSS and the ADVANCE at WSU program. The fund was established by WSU alumni Laurie Johnson (’78, political science) and Dawn Smith (’82, botany) to help advance the education, equality, and empowerment of underserved segments of society.

Expanding STEM Education Worldwide

Schwartz has demonstrated her commitment to increasing the number of women in STEM fields through a number of domestic and international activities in recent years.

In spring 2017, she traveled to the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences in Cape Town, South Africa, where she organized workshops, panels and group discussions on STEM careers to promote retention of women in mathematics. She matched mentor–mentee pairs between professionals and female graduate students in mathematics for informal career discussions. Participants hailed from more than a dozen African countries from Egypt to Madagascar.

In summer 2019, Schwartz served as a lecturer and small-group research facilitator for a 10-day summer school on mathematical biology in Kathmandu. Her role included teaching the basics of mathematical epidemiology to about 50 doctoral and master’s degree students from Nepal, India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Philippines, and the U.S.

A member of the board of directors of the Society for Mathematical Biology, Schwartz co-directs a mentoring program and organizes small working groups and training webinars for scholars in mathematical biology from undergraduate through postdoctoral and faculty levels.

Her interdisciplinary research combines experimental, mathematical and computational techniques to study the epidemiology of infectious diseases, including HIV and COVID-19. Her approach aims to advance basic understanding of disease mechanisms and to lead to new therapeutic strategies.

The Department of Mathematics and Statistics wishes to acknowledge that much of the content of this article was taken from an article in the WSU Insider authored by Adriana Aumen.

2021 Outstanding Senior

Photo of Sean Swalling

The department's 2021 Outstanding Senior Award is given to Sean Swalling, from Anchorage, Alaska, who graduated summa cum laude in mathematics with an emphasis in mathematics teaching. Sean writes “I initially chose WSU to simply leave my home, but not be too far away from family. I have since come to find a family right here in Pullman and would choose WSU again in a heartbeat.”

Sean entered WSU with 33 advanced placement credits, starting the mathematics major in Calculus 3, and finished his bachelor's degree in three years. In addition to coursework he wrote an honors thesis titled "Effects of Bilingual Learning on Fraction Comprehension in Mathematics."

He also became involved in a number of clubs on campus. He was a member of the Film Club, was secretary for the Pre-service Teachers of Mathematics Club, and served as president of the Catholic Student Organization. Additionally, he worked as a residential advisor for WSU Housing, held a tutoring position, and an educational assistant position.

Department faculty member Kevin Cooper writes of Sean “He is simultaneously curious and intelligent, yet very personable, helpful, and genuine. In my class I encouraged collaboration among students, and Sean often helped others. He was very effective and patient about explaining things, and his pleasant personality made his fellow students seek him out.”

Of his choice to become a teacher, Sean notes "I have always connected with mathematics due to its logic and straightforward conclusions that help life to be a little less confusing. Also, my summer jobs have always been directed towards camp counseling or tutoring of some sort, and I have found great passion in sharing knowledge with others. Upon choosing an area of study, I looked to combine these two paths and, in such, chose secondary mathematics education. The classes offered to me in this path by the math department have been exceptional and have further cemented my career desires.”

Sean’s future plans include completing the Master’s in Teaching Program at the University of Portland, and teaching algebra in Catholic education.

100-hour International Math Modeling Competition

Two student undergraduate teams, Team Dodgen and Team WSU, represented WSU in a 100-hour math modeling competition that spanned four days and four hours. The teams were competing with over 26,000 other teams from around the world to solve one of six given problems. Both teams chose the same problem - to develop a financially efficient way to incorporate drones in wildfire fighting. From the start of the competition it was clear that the students enjoyed working together.

Members of Team Dodgen
Team Dodgen. Above, left to right: Barret Floyd, Martin Bekk, and Meghna Dutta.

Team Dodgen (named after the WSU Nuclear Science Center), consisted of Meghna Dutta, a.k.a. "Hacker Woman" (computer science), Bekk Martin, a.k.a. "Smokey" (economics), and J. Barret Floyd a.k.a. "Intarray", or Int[[ for short (chemical engineering). Eager for the competition, they started their team off by doing pushups every 34 minutes. Team member Megna confirmed that Bekk and Barret did over 200 pushups on the second day of the competition. A little punch drunk toward the end when discussing deaths and property destroyed by wildfire, they realized they'd written in their report, “These tragic occurrences need to be minimalized.” Fortunately they caught their error and changed “minimalized” to “minimized!” Team Dodgen members developed a strong bond and were saddened that two of their team members will be leaving WSU next year.

Tired team members of Team WSU
Above, Team WSU members Wendy Yu and William Frantz.

Team WSU, consisted of Wendy Yu (chemical engineering), Rebecca Hsieh (bioengineering), and William Frantz (bioengineering). This was the third competition for Wendy and Rebecca and they felt it was by far their most sophisticated model. They developed a data driven model using statistical regression to predict the frequency and size of fires followed by a sensitivity analysis. For their hard work Team WSU finished higher than any previous WSU team in the past five years. The team received a meritorious rating which meant they ranked in the top 9 percent of the 3,100 world-wide teams who chose to solve the same problem.

Members of Team Dodgen
Team Dodgen. Above, left to right: Barret Floyd, Martin Bekk, and Meghna Dutta, holding up their final report before submitting it.

Each team came up with a projected wildfire budget of 20-22 million during their problem solving. Interestingly, this happens to be only a small percentage of the actual amount Australia (in particular Victoria) spent on its 2019 wildfire fighting efforts.

Congratulations to both teams for representing WSU so well. Special thanks to Professor Lynn Shreyer who serves as the advisor to our math competition teams.

Department Members Receive Awards

College of Arts and Sciences Awards
In March 2021, five members of our department were honored by the College of Arts and Sciences. This is the same number of awards we received in 2020, which was the most ever in our department. Both years we received more awards than any other department in the college. Unfortunately, due to COVID restrictions the college could not hold an awards reception as is customary.

All of our awardees are most deserving, and we are very proud of their achievements.

Staff member Debbie Brudie received the Outstanding Career Staff Achievement Award, which recognizes and honors staff members who exemplify excellence in performing their individual duties, demonstrate a commitment to teamwork, and who inspire excellence in others.

Professor Nairanjana "Jan" Dasgupta was the recipient of the Interdisciplinary Catalyst Award. This recognizes faculty or staff who have demonstrated the sustained capacity to bring colleagues together across disciplinary and institutional boundaries in service of shared accomplishments in research, scholarly and creative activity, and/or teaching.

Professor Sergey Lapin received the Mid- Career Achievement Award – Career Track. This recognizes faculty who have developed a record of leadership in teaching; scholarship, research, or creative activity; and/or service, and who have influenced the research and/or creative activities of students.

Graduate student Jakob Streipel received the award for Excellence in Teaching by a Graduate Student. This award recognizes a graduate student who exhibits exemplary teaching performance in the classroom.

Professor Michael Tsatsomeros was honored with the Excellence in Graduate Advising and Mentoring Award, which recognizes faculty who are effective graduate advisors and mentors; enrich the student-professor relationship through outstanding support, guidance, and knowledge within the discipline; and enable their students to complete their degree programs in a timely and scholarly manner.

More Awards

In April, Teaching Assistant Professor Mark Lesperance received an Access Center Faculty Award "for being a strong advocate for students with disabilities at WSU."

Scholarly Associate Professor Dean Johnson will receive a certificate and award of $750 for the "Challenging Collaborations and Lessons Learned" session he has organized for the upcoming American Statistical Association (ASA) Joint Statistical Meetings to be held August 7-12, 2021. The session was selected by the executive committee of the American Statistical Association's Statistical Consulting Section as the best topic contributed session for the consulting section.

Graduate Student News

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Enrique Alvarado
(Ph.D. '21, Mathematics)

Enrique Alvarado has completed his doctoral degree in mathematics and will be joining the Department of Mathematics at University of California, Davis as a Krener Assistant Professor where he will continue his research program in pure and applied aspects of geometric analysis, topology, and chemistry. Enrique was jointly advised by Associate Professor Kevin Vixie and Professor Bala Krishnamoorthy. Enrique also worked closely during the last two and a half years of his Ph.D. program with Professor Aurora Clark in the WSU Department of Chemistry.

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Elizabeth Amona
(M.S. '21, Statistics)

Elizabeth Amona has completed her master's degree in statistics. She will join the Ph.D. program at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia, this fall. Her advisors are Associate Professor Elissa Schwartz and Assistant Professor Yuan Wang.

photo of Jordan Broussard
Jordan (Miller) Broussard
(Ph.D. '21, Mathematics)

Jordan (Miller) Broussard has completed her doctoral degree in mathematics and has accepted an assistant professor of mathematics position at Whitworth University in Spokane, starting fall semester 2021. Her advisor is Associate Professor Matt Hudelson.

photo of Joel Corser
Joel Corser
(M.S. '21, Mathematics)

Joel Corser has completed his masters's degree in mathematics and has accepted a position as a computing research scientist at the Naval Nuclear Laboratory in Niskayuna, New York. His advisor is Associate Professor Lynn Schreyer.

photo of Jordan Culp
Jordan Culp
(Ph.D. '21, Mathematics, M.S. '21, Statistics)

Jordan Culp has completed his doctoral degree in mathematics along with a graduate minor in statistics, and will start a postdoctoral associate position at the University of Calgary this summer. Jordan was also awarded a Pacific Institute for the Mathematical Sciences (PIMS) postdoctoral fellowship. His advisor is Associate Professor Xueying (Snow) Wang.

Photo of Debasmita Das
Debasmita Das
(Ph.D. '21, Statistics)

Debasmita (Deb) Das has completed her doctoral degree in statistics. She has accepted a research scientist position with the NIH funded Baptist Memorial Healthcare Center in Memphis, Tennessee. She will be working on analytical projects as they relate to the work of thoracic oncology research, which will include technical writing and structured analytics work for project abstracts, manuscripts, and grants. Her advisor is Professor Nairanjana "Jan" Dasgupta.

Photo of Ashutosh Kumar
Ashutosh Kumar
(M.S. '21, Statistics, Ph.D. '21, Economics)

Ashutosh Kumar has completed his master's degree in statistics and doctoral degree in economics. He has acceped a position with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia, as a Prevention Effectiveness Fellow/Health Economist. His advisor is Professor Nairanjana "Jan" Dasgupta.

photo of Henry Ogu
Henry Ogu
(M.S. '21, Applied Mathematics)

Henry Ogu has completed his master's degree in applied mathematics. He will join the Ph.D. program at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia this fall. His advisor is Associate Professor Elissa Schwartz.

photo of Damilola Olabode
Damilola Olabode
(Ph.D. '21, Applied Mathematics, M.S. '20 Statistics)

Damilola Olabode has completed her doctoral degree in applied mathematics and a master's degree in statistics (2020). She will join the clinical pharmacology and quantitative pharmacology group at AstraZeneca in February 2021 as a clinical pharmacometrician in research. Her advisor is Associate Professor Xueying (Snow) Wang.

Kellan Toman
(Ph.D. '21, Mathematics)

Kellan Toman has completed his doctoral degree in mathematics. He has accepted a position as a data scientist with Microsoft in Redmond, Washington. While completing his doctoral degree, this past year he has worked as a WSU research consultant. His advisor is Associate Professor Nikos Voulgarakis.

Student Clubs Active During 2020-2021 Academic Year

Our student organizations have been very active during this academic year despite the pandemic. Even though students and faculty have been physically separated, these organizations have helped maintain the department’s strong sense of community and camaraderie.

The current president of our student chapter of the American Mathematical Society (AMS) is graduate student Paula Kimmerling. Officers of the chapter applied for and were granted $1000 from WSU’s Graduate and Professional Student Organization, and used the funding to host speakers and events. The AMS chapter hosted two virtual colloquia for our department. On October 1st, Professor Chris Godsil from the University of Waterloo spoke on “Continuous Quantum Walks on Graphs”, and on March 4th, Professor Natasha Morrison from the University of Victoria described “The Typical Structure of Sets with Small Subset”.

The AMS chapter also hosted a series of workshops. In the fall, graduate student Jakob Streipel led a two-part LaTeX workship. In February, club officers Rachel Perrier, Ryan Whitehead and Paula Kimmerling led a workshop on MATLAB. In April, the chapter led a workshop on the learning management system Canvas, which will be implemented university–wide in September. The AMS chapter continued its tradition of weekly teas, and held several game nights – all in a virtual format.

Our graduate student chapter of the American Statistical Association (ASA) has also been active this academic year. The chapter president is graduate student Swarnita Chakraborty and the chapter is advised by faculty member Professor Nairanjana "Jan" Dasgupta. The ASA chapter organized a colloquium in October featuring Assistant Professor Katherine Banner from Montana State University who gave a talk on “Bats and Stats: Improving our Understanding of North American Bats through Listening in the Dark”. She explained how bat acoustic data can be analyzed to establish baseline estimates of bat species distributions.

In December, the ASA chapter hosted a 3 Minute Thesis competition in our department. Participants had three minutes to present their research to a panel of five faculty members who decided on the top three presentations. The winner was nominated to present at the College of Arts and Sciences level 3 Minute Thesis competition.

In the midst of the pandemic and social distancing, new graduate students hadn’t had the opportunity to meet the more senior students. To help them the ASA chapter organized a meet-n-greet event at the beginning of spring semester. The ASA chapter also opened an online forum among statistics students to discuss research, conferences, workshops, internship opportunities, and the graduate qualifying exams.

In April, the chapter conducted an introductory data analytics workshop, supervised by Professor Nairanjana "Jan" Dasgupta, for members of the North Central Washington Tech Alliance. This alliance is a non-profit organization of about 200 small and medium-size businesses across the region.

The ASA chapter supported a workshop for fifth-grade students that investigated data on the native sage grouse population. The project was led by Associate Professor Lisa Gloss of the WSU School for Molecular Biosciences. Finally, the chapter supported a workshop for school math coordinators to learn how to plan a small data analysis project that can be included in school curriculums.

The Association for Women in Mathematics (AWM) is an organization that promotes and encourages women in mathematics. Our student chapter president is graduate student Jordan Broussard. The AWM hosted a Halloween-themed Trivia Night in the fall. Trivia Night was such a success that the AWM hosted three more trivia nights in the spring.

Perhaps the most popular event of the year was the Zoom December holiday party, cohosted by the AMS, ASA, and AWM chapters. This included an ugly sweater contest, several games and an exchange of holiday recipes. The party culminated with a reading of “The Night before Christmas” by department chairman Professor Charles Moore.

The Pre-service Teachers of Mathematics (PreToM) is a student organization for students interested in teaching mathematics. The club president is Hannah Holman and faculty advisor is Scholarly Associate Professor Kimberly McGinley Vincent. During fall semester 2020 the club invited educator Eric Price to share his experience teaching elementary school and middle school math. He also shared experience working as a principal, and his work on curriculum development with the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. Mr. Price is currently teaching math methods to future elementary school teachers. PreToM also hosted a panel of teachers to discuss teaching online or with hybrid models and how they adapted to the pandemic.

News Briefs

  • Professor Nairanjana "Jan" Dasgupta recently shared her history of working with data in the Tableau for Teaching's new "Data is Interdisciplinary" series. Tableau is an American interactive data visualization software company focused on business intelligence that is headquartered in Seattle, Washington.
  • Scholarly Professor Sergey Lapin collaborates with engineers, scientists, medical experts, and mathematicians from around the globe to solve interesting problems. Read the WSU College of Arts and Sciences "More than just numbers" article about Sergey's most recent endeavors and successes. Learn the impetus behind his mathematical career in the Daily Evergreen article, WSU Professor integrates Russion history, mathematics into lessons.
  • Associate Professor Mark Schumaker and Professor Bob Dillon both retired this year.
  • Assistant Professor Leslie New has accepted a position at Ursinus College near Philadelphia, PA.
  • Teaching Assistant Professor Lydia Oliver welcomed Elliott Anne into her family on Sunday, June 6, 2021. Elliott Anne weighed 7 lbs 5 ounces.
  • Assistant Professor Will Hall welcomed Eliot Owen Hall into his family on Saturday, June 12, 2021. Eliot was 7 lbs and 19 inches long.
  • Alumna Jillian Glassett (Ph.D.'19 Mathematics), is employed by Emsi Burning Glass (formerly known as Emsi) in Moscow, ID as a data product analyst for job postings and profiles. Her graduate advisor is Professor Judi McDonald.