Newsletter masthead with an image of 3 graduating math students
   Math graduates outside Beasley Coliseum before the 2018 commencement ceremony.

Newsletter, June 2018

From the Chair

Photo of Department Chair Charles Moore

Dear Alumni, Friends, Colleagues, and Students,

WSU is growing, as well as the general recognition of the utility of mathematics in all areas of science and technology. As a result, our department is growing rapidly. The last two years have seen enrollment in mathematics and statistics courses increase by 10 percent and 4 percent, respectively. The department now has over 160 majors and 110 graduate students, exceeding previous highs.

In collaboration with the Computer Science Department, the department has created an undergraduate major in data analytics. Consisting of courses in mathematics, statistics, computer science, and an area of application such as actuarial science, economics, biology, or business, the major will prepare students for a career in this quickly developing field. Within a year we should have the program available on-line.

Our newly created Ph.D. in applied statistics has attracted a lot of student interest. In addition to graduate courses in statistics, students in the program take courses in another field so that they will be able to develop statistical methods for solving data challenges in that area.

A group of faculty members has been working to develop the curriculum in our foundational mathematics classes. These courses now involve more active learning with students working in class on worksheets and projects, often in a group setting. These also include a new peer-mentoring program in which qualified undergraduate students are available to help students outside of class. Such methods have been shown to improve student success and preparation for subsequent courses.

Undergraduates in our department have been involved in local and worldwide mathematical modeling competitions. Our teams have ranked high and, more importantly, participants have greatly enjoyed the challenges these competitions present.

Last April, our department served as host to a two-day meeting of the American Mathematical Society which was attended by over 350 mathematicians from throughout North America. In May, the department hosted a conference on linear algebra and in July the WSU Vancouver campus will be hosting a conference on geometry.

I would like to thank our alumni, friends, and all who are affiliated with the department in some way. All of you have, in many different ways, helped to contribute to the success of the department and the students we teach.


Charles Moore
Professor and Department Chair

Enrollment Increasing at all Levels

In the fall of 2017, there were 7874 students enrolled in mathematics and statistics classes, up from 7570 enrolling in the fall of 2016. The enrollment in fall 2016 was also an increase from the enrollment of 6889 students the previous fall. This growth in department enrollments represents increases of 10 percent from 2015 to 2016, and 4 percent from 2016 to 2017. This outpaces the university’s overall growth which increased by 1.5 percent from 2015 to 2016 and 1.6 percent from 2016 to 2017.

Students walking across campus

The number of mathematics majors has also grown to the highest ever. There are now about 165 students who have declared an interest in studying mathematics, with 103 already certified as math majors. Our previous highest totals, last year, gave those numbers as 158 and 93, respectively. The numbers in our graduate programs have also increased significantly. This fall we enrolled 110 graduate students, up from 80 the year before, and the highest total we have ever had. Of these, 60 are in the Ph.D. program, and 50 are in the master’s program.

Much of this could be due to many interesting career opportunities that are available to those with a solid background in mathematics. Engineers and those in technical fields have always needed mathematics, but those fields, as well as the social sciences, are seeing an increased use of mathematics. Mathematics majors are able to land many of the most highly rated jobs – data scientist, actuary, mathematician, and statistician. Our master’s and Ph.D. students can find careers teaching at a college or university or in research positions in business, industry, or government.

New Faculty

Xiongzhi Chen

Assistant Professor Xiongzhi Chen most recently held a postdoctoral position at Princeton University in the Center for Statistics and Machine Learning and the Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics. Previous to that, he graduated with a Ph.D. in statistics from Purdue University in 2012. He also holds a master’s degree from the University of Hawaii in 2009, and a master’s degree from Sichuan University, China in 2006. His research interests involve statistics and data science with applications in biology and pharmaceutical science. He will be teaching statistics courses and courses in the data analytics program. He recently received a new WSU faculty seed grant for his research. Click here to read more about the seed grant.

William Hall

Assistant Professor William Hall earned a Ph.D. in mathematics education from North Carolina State University in 2017. He earned an undergraduate degree at the University of Maine in 2007 and a master’s degree at that institution in 2010. He has worked with in-service teachers in summer workshops, on curriculum development projects, and has run working groups for university instructors looking to incorporate inquiry-based learning into their courses. He also taught high school math for three years in North Carolina. His research interests include understanding how life sciences students understand and utilize calculus and the development of context-based activities that support student interest in the biological and life sciences. Some of his teaching will involve courses for elementary and secondary school teacher preparation.

Abhishek Kaul

Assistant Professor Abhishek Kaul earned a Ph.D. in statistics from Michigan State University in 2015. He had previously earned a B.S. in mathematics in 2009 from the University of Delhi, India. While at Michigan State, he taught and worked as a statistical consultant. From 2015 until the summer of 2017, he held the position of research fellow with the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences where he worked in the Biostatistics and Computational Branch. In his research, he develops statistical methods for large, high dimensional data with a special focus on analyses of observed data with missing values, measurement error, or which have persistent dependence within observations. He will be teaching statistics courses and courses in the data analytics program.

Students Engage in Research

Our faculty are widely known and respected in their individual areas of research. A number of students, both undergraduate and graduate, are actively working with faculty in a variety of research areas. Below you will find a sampling of some of their work.

Eleanor Grace Jones with Sergey Lapin
  • Eleanor Grace Jones just graduated with a bachelor of science in mathematics. She worked on her Honors thesis project with Clinical Associate Professor Sergey Lapin of the Department of Mathematics and Statistics and Clinical Assistant Professor Jennifer Zambriski of the Paul G. Allen School for Global Animal Health. Her project was on the analysis of the parasite Cryptosporidium parvum. C. parvum causes severe dehydration and diarrhea, so it commonly spreads through infected feces into water sources. Grace performed statistical analysis of data provided by Clinical Assistant Professor Zambriski on how C. parvum infection progresses in dairy calves in order to learn more about the infectivity of C. Parvum and possible preventative measures.
  • Also just completing a bachelor of science in mathematics was Julissa Valenciano, who is interested in both mathematics and how students learn. Working with Professor Judi McDonald, she put together a project analyzing how students use online homework in linear algebra. Senior Instructor Eric Remaley supported Ms. Valenciano by allowing her to collect a set of data on student performance in his Math 220 class during spring 2017. Students first completed exercises online and then completed similar exercises on paper. Ms. Valenciano and Professor McDonald have now analyzed the data and found both predictable and interesting trends. Ms. Valenciano's work was supported by the Team Mentoring Program (TMP) and the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP).
  • Ph.D. student Sylvia Madrid's research with Professor Sandra Cooper is focused on ways to promote students’ understanding of quadratic equations. While many errors are familiar to mathematics teachers, others are less commonly noticed. For instance, if a student thinks of a solution only as the result of a procedure, the student may not understand that substitution can be used to verify whether or not a number is a solution. Sylvia uses individual interviews with students to observe first-hand the actions and reasoning behind their actions while each student engages in mathematical tasks. These data are then analyzed and used to revise mathematical tasks for the following round of interviews.
  • Benjamin Rapone, a Ph.D. student, is working with Associate Professor Bala Krishnamoorthy to develop methods for solving systems of equations with uncertainty in parameters, and determining robustness of those solutions using tools at the crossroads of topology and optimization. Ben’s current research applies most directly to optimal power flow equations. He also has work underway concerning 3D printing techniques, homotopy sweeps and persistent homotopy in neuroscience.
  • Cameron Sweet is working with Professor Libby Knott on a Ph.D. thesis about how high school algebra students make choices when multiplying polynomials using ordinal logistic regression analysis to compare accuracy of solutions. Cameron’s work is dedicated to improving mathematics education in Washington State. Prior to this work in mathematics education, he received a master’s degree in statistics under Professor Nairanjana Dasgupta.
  • Patrick Torres just completed a Ph.D., working with Professor Michael Tsatsomeros to establish a generalization of the relationship between the spectral properties of a square matrix and the invertibility of convex combinations constructed from the matrix. Their work is motivated by the conjecture that every square matrix is positive stable (all eigenvalues lie in the open right-half plane) if both the matrix and its square are P-matrices (square matrices that have principal minors that are all positive).
  • Ph.D. student Jie Zhao is working with Professor Robert Dillon on two projects. The first is a hybrid model of breast cancer that uses ordinary differential equations to describe biochemical signaling in fibroblast cells (where spatial scales are small and diffusion is very rapid) and partial differential equations to describe diffusion of proteins within the extracellular matrix. The second project involves a Bayesian network that provides a general framework for parameter estimation in an ODE system.
  • Hayden Arcy, a student who is double-majoring in mathematics and chemistry, has been selected as a recipient for an Auvil Scholars Fellowship for the 2018-2019 academic year. This prestigious fellowship awards $1,000 for undergraduate research work. Hayden will work with his mentor, Assistant Professor Nikos Voulgarakis, on research involving "Stochastic Processes in Biomolecular Systems." He will then present his research findings during the spring 2019 Showcase for Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities (SURCA) in March 2019.

  • Faculty Member Mark Lesperance Receives Awards

    Mark Lesperance

    At its recognition banquet on April 26, 2017, the WSU Access Center awarded Instructor Mark Lesperance a certificate "In appreciation of your dedication to equal access and opportunity". He was recognized for his work with Statistics 212 and the efforts he has made to ensure that all students have the opportunity and access to succeed in the course.

    In April, 2018, he received an “Exceptional Professor Award” from the Associated Students of Washington State University (ASWSU) for the College of Arts and Sciences. He was one of four Arts and Sciences faculty recognized for their commitment to teaching and student success.

    Mark enjoys teaching introductory mathematics and statistics courses, as well as courses related to actuarial mathematics. He is also the advisor of the Actuarial Science Club and serves as a faculty mentor for the mathematics majors in the actuarial science option. As a practicing actuary, Mark is able to give current information on the professional exams of the Society of Actuaries and the Casualty Actuary Society as well as current trends in the field and careers.

    He has developed connections with insurance companies in the Northwest, which have resulted in internships and employment for our students. About twice each year, he travels to the Seattle area with a group of students to tour insurance companies so that they may learn more about the actuarial profession.

    Department Hosts Major Conferences in Pullman

    Western Sectional Meeting of the American Mathematical Society

    AMS logo

    On Saturday and Sunday, April 22 and 23, 2017, the department hosted the Western Sectional Meeting of the American Mathematical Society on the Washington State University Pullman campus.

    The meeting featured plenary talks by three prominent mathematicians, as well as over 300 shorter talks given in 22 parallel sessions, and a poster session for students. The parallel sessions covered a wide range of topics including aspects of theoretical mathematics, applied mathematics, mathematical biology, data science, and mathematics education. Over 350 registered for the conference with registrants coming from at least 35 United States, Canada, and Mexico.

    The day before the conference, the department held its second annual “Data Science Day,” organized by Associate Professor Kevin Vixie and his Ph.D. students. This brought together about 100 participants from universities, industry, and government labs to discuss research and trends in this rapidly emerging area. Click here to see photos from the Data Science Day poster contest.

    Mathematician Frank Morgan, who writes a widely followed mathematics blog, was in attendance and afterward praised the department's efforts, writing “I just attended an amazing constellation of events around the AMS spring sectional meeting Saturday/Sunday April 22-23, 2017, in Pullman, Washington.” He adds “The meeting was preceded by a day on Data Science, with an incredible variety of short talks every 15 minutes, interspersed with discussion periods.” He further remarks “The evening reception, held in the inspiring art museum and graced by the lunch talk caterers, and generously sponsored by the WSU Mathematics Department Chair, Charles Moore, was the best I’ve ever attended.” He concludes "Everything seemed to move so quickly and efficiently. It was a model for what can be done at sectional meetings”.

    Information on the conference is available online at

    Western Canada Linear Algebra Meeting

    group photo of attendees

    The 14th Western Canada Linear Algebra Meeting (WCLAM) took place on the WSU Pullman campus, Saturday and Sunday, May 26-27, 2018. WCLAM is a biennial meeting that has been held at various sites throughout Western Canada, beginning with an inaugural meeting at the University of Regina in 1993. This was the first time WCLAM was held in the US, recognizing the strong participation and contribution to linear algebra by mathematicians in the Pacific Northwest. Professors Michael Tsatsomeros and Judi McDonald were the local event organizers.

    The meeting provided an opportunity for researchers to present accounts of their recent efforts and to hold informal discussions. Graduate students and early career faculty were prominently featured. There were 38 participants, two invited speakers, and 16 additional presentations in linear algebra and related fields. The meeting was generously supported by the Pacific Institute for the Mathematical Sciences, the International Linear Algebra Society, the College of Arts and Sciences at WSU, and our department. Click here to view the full program.

    Outreach to Nespelem

    students at Nespelem

    For the past six years, Clinical Associate Professor Kimberly Vincent has taken a group of secondary education students to Nespelem School, a public school in the town of Nespelem, within the Colville Federated Tribes Indian Reservation. The secondary education students engage the middle school students in a variety of activities. Such an experience makes a deep impression on our students. One secondary education student involved with the program later requested to teach in an underprivileged community due to this powerful experience.

    Pacific NW Math Conference

    For more than 20 years, mathematics majors with an emphasis on secondary education have traveled to the annual Pacific Northwest Mathematics Conference. This gathering of K-20 math teachers alternates between Washington, Oregon and British Columbia.  This past fall, the three-day conference was held in Portland, Oregon.

    The conference features talks by prominent mathematics educators, and workshops and mini-courses on all aspects of teaching; new curriculum, new uses of technology, assessment, and national and state standards. Our dozen students who attended presented a sample lesson. This was an exciting professional opportunity with an added benefit – they got to attend the conference for free!

    This year, students’ travel was supported by a $2000 grant from the Washington State Math Council. In previous years the Sidney G. Hacker endowment has been used for this purpose. Accompanying the students were Clinical Associate Professor Kim Vincent and Assistant Professor William Hall, both of whom pursue research in the field of mathematics education.

    For many students, this was their first experience at a professional conference. Besides what they learned about their future profession, all agreed that it was inspirational.

    Faculty and Student Reap Teaching Awards

    “For outstanding commitment to the students of the Honors College," Clinical Associate Professor Sergey Lapin has received an Honors Faculty Award from the Honors College.

    Sergey Lapin has taught honors calculus courses as well as an honors course he created, Honors 390, Global issues in Sciences, on interdisciplinary science research. Due to the success of that course, he subsequently designed another course for the Honors College: Honors 380, Global issues in Arts and Humanities. Sergey has also served as honors thesis advisor to several students.

    Marc Evans

    Professor Marc Evans has received a 2018 award from the Associated Students of Washington State University (ASWSU) for Outstanding Open Educational Resources (OER) Usage. This award is given to faculty who have made substantial efforts to utilize Open Educational Resources in their courses. Professor Evans received the award for the materials he uses in Stat 512.

    Ralph Chikhany

    Ralph Chikhany has received the 2018 Graduate and Professional Student Association (GPSA), Graduate Student Instructor Excellence Award and a GPSA Senator of the Year Award. According to the GPSA, “An ‘excellent’ Graduate Student Instructor (GSI) is one that is consistently prepared for class and has prepared lecture and/or discussion material that is able to last the entire class period. The GSI also should demonstrate knowledge on the subject being taught, as seen in the content of the lectures and/or discussions, as well as knowledge of questions posed by the students.”

    Graduate Students Form AMS Student Chapter

    A little over a year ago, the graduate students of our department took advantage of an opportunity from the American Mathematical Society (AMS) that provides support and funding for new graduate student chapters.

    Led by graduate student, Jillian Morrison, the students had to create something from nothing: they needed to elect officers and determine the roles of each, create bylaws, and propose activities. This information was included in an application to the AMS, who sanctioned the chapter and provided funds for the proposed activities.

    During spring break 2017, our AMS student chapter embarked on its first activity: hosting a workshop on Cryptology and Statistics for over 70 middle school students in Pullman. In the statistics workshop, students were taught how to collect data and perform a goodness of fit test. The students were then split into groups and were tasked with collecting and analyzing data, creating a poster, and presenting their findings. For the Cryptology workshop, students were taught methods on how to encrypt and decrypt messages. They were given a cipher wheel and were sent on a scavenger hunt around the WSU campus where all the hints were encrypted.

    In December, 2017, the chapter hosted a department potluck at the home of the department chair, Dr. Moore. Due to the variety of nationalities and ethnicities represented in the department, this resulted in a fascinating feast of interesting and flavorful food from around the world.

    In January, the officers of the student chapter were treated to lunch at the national AMS meeting in San Diego.

    In February, the chapter brought to campus noted expository speaker, Associate Professor Dominic Klyve from Central Washington University, who gave an engaging talk titled “Probability and Number Theory.” At first, the title seems almost contradictory: a number either is prime or isn’t, there are an infinite number of twin primes or there aren’t – all the objects of study in number theory involve no uncertainty at all. Nevertheless, Associate Professor Klyve explained how ideas of probability can be used to give insights into profound and deep problems in number theory. He has received the Alder Award from the Mathematical Association of America, given to a young faculty member whose teaching has been shown to be influential both within and beyond the classroom.

    In March of 2018, the chapter again offered a day-long workshop for Pullman middle school students. This year, students had their choice of one of two projects. In the statistics workshop, students learned about populations and samples, different types of statistics and sampling methods, and the basics of conducting hypothesis tests for a population mean or proportion.  They then conducted their own statistical experiments by developing hypotheses, collecting the samples, and presenting their results to the rest of the class. In the geometry workshop, students learned about fractal geometric objects such as the Sierpinski triangle, which have self-similar properties.  They then constructed 3-D models of these objects using toothpicks and marshmallows.

    Inland Northwest Math Experience

    Each fall, for the past 15 years, the department has hosted middle school and high school students from the Tri-Cities, Spokane, and occasionally the local area, at the Inland Northwest Math Experience (INME). Organized by Associate Clinical Professor Kimberly Vincent, this event brings in about 100 students for each of two days in early November. Students participate in a variety of cooperative mathematical activities and puzzles. The students’ levels of mathematical preparation vary greatly, but inquisitiveness and creativity are the skills they use the most.

    The most popular puzzle for the last three years has been the seven bridges of Königsberg. In case you’ve forgotten this famous puzzle, here’s your chance to refresh your memory and try your hand at a solution:

    Drawing of bridges

    The Pregel river ran through the city of Königsberg in Prussia (now Kalinigrad, Russia), which cut the city into land masses A , B, C, and D. These were joined by seven bridges, labeled a, b, c, d, e, f, g. Is it possible to go for a walk, crossing each bridge exactly once?

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    James (Joey) Whitbread, B.S. '18, Mathematics

    James (Joey) Whitbread received the 2018 WSU Top Ten Senior Award for Academics and the department's 2018 Knebelman Outstanding Senior Award. He has been accepted into the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine this fall and plans to become a cardio-thoracic surgeon. Click here to read more about James (Joey) Whitbread.

    Andrew Stevens, M.S. '09, Mathematics

    Andrew Stevens, is the owner and Chief Scientist at OptimalSensing LLC ( From 2009 to 2017 he was a staff scientist at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL). While working at PNNL, he completed his Ph.D. in electrical and computer engineering at Duke University (May 2018). Andrew works on compressive sensing and machine learning problems, especially in scientific imaging and electron microscopy. He has developed several new algorithms and imaging approaches (5 patents are pending) that allow scientists to analyze materials and chemical processes at the atomic level. Many of the most important processes in materials engineering and biology/medicine occur by the movement of atoms—such as the storing of charge in Li-ion batteries and drug interactions with cells to cure disease. Understanding and controlling the way that atoms move will lead to new technologies that address the major global challenges of energy, defense, and human health. Google Scholar: His graduate advisor was Clinical Associate Professor Sergey Lapin.