By the Numb3rs Fall 2014


Math-Bio's first Graduate

Vineet Raghu is the first graduate of the Mathematics Department’s new Mathematical Biology major.  He actually started out as a Neuroscience and Math double major, when he started taking a few programming courses. He quickly realized that he loved computer science as well. Raghu decided that instead of trying to finish 3 majors in 4 years, that the math-bio major was the perfect fit.  The curriculum perfectly aligned with his interests and gave him a great foundation for the research work he plans to do in the future.

Raghu really enjoyed the Math-Bio specific courses towards the end of the major (1370-Computational Neuroscience, 1380- Math Bio). He says, “I think anyone with interest in Biology and a reasonable background in Math would absolutely love these courses. They give you a quantitative explanation for many experimental observations that we make, which can really change the body of knowledge in all of these biological systems in the upcoming years.” He would like to see some more of these type courses added to the major in the future.

The Math-Bio faculty definitely started to spark Raghu’s interest in pursuing research once he is done with his undergraduate studies. He hopes to apply his knowledge of computer science to biological modeling during his graduate studies. “I wouldn't have even thought about this if it weren't for the individual and group research projects done during my Math Bio courses.”

Raghu is attending the University of Pittsburgh PhD program in Computer Science this fall, and hopes to be a University Professor when he completes graduate school.

First Annual University of Pittsburgh's Actuarial Career Fair

A total of 70 students and 12 companies attended the first annual University of Pittsburgh's Actuarial Career Fair at the O'Hara student center on September 26th.

Created by the Pitt Actuarial Club and the professional fraternity Gamma Iota Sigma, and funded by the University of Pittsburgh's Math Department, the event was free to students of any school interested in pursuing a career in the Actuarial Field.

Companies held one-on-one interviews with eighteen qualified students, about twenty-five percent of the total attendance, the morning of the career fair which resulted in several students receiving job offers. Greg Meyer is one of those students. He stated, "The career fair was by far the easiest and best way to get an interview and get noticed."

Dan Catello, a representative from Titan Insurance, said that Nationwide was "excited to see so many talented students interested in the actuarial field. This fair gave Nationwide a chance to connect with very strong candidates for internships and entry level positions."

Representatives were present from the following companies: UMPC, Highmark, Geico, Erie Insurance, Nationwide, Nationwide Financial, Titan Insurance, Buck, Mercer, Jardine Lloyd Thompson, Aetna, and Towers Watson. Christine DeAngellis, a Pitt graduate, commented, "The actuarial career fair had great representation of Pittsburgh firms, as well other close actuarial firms. It was a great opportunity to talk with recruiting representatives and to learn more about the companies’ actuarial programs."

Pitt students had a strong presence at the career fair with 52 students attending. The next highest attendance was from Youngstown State University with 12 students. The remaining students were from Carnegie Mellon University, Robert Morris University, Pennsylvania State University, and a handful of recent graduates from Pitt.

A special thank you to the faculty advisers and Pitt students who tirelessly worked to plan the career fair: Dr. Chadam, Dr. Xiong, Taylor Perkins, Sam Kraus, Julian Dickenson, and Lauren Reese.

-- Eric Bentley

Lecturer Jeffrey Wheeler Provides Opportunities for Students

Recent efforts of Jeffrey Wheeler have created exciting opportunities for students in the Department. Last Spring, Dr. Wheeler successfully proposed a new course, Math 1103 – BIG Problems (Long title: Mathematical Problems in Business, Industry, and Government), which will have its initial offering this Spring.  This seminar course will involve students teaming together to address problems obtained from Business, Industry, and Government (BIG).  Students will Jeffrey Wheelerdialogue with BIG representatives to fully understand the problems then develop a strategy for solving the problems.  No prescribed solution techniques will be assumed and students will need to draw upon their current mathematical, statistical, and computer knowledge to address the problems and will most likely need to further deepen their current knowledge in these areas.  Additionally, each team will be required to give a presentation of their problem and solution.

Dr. Wheeler currently has two problems for this Spring's teams.  The first is addressing a concern of the Pittsburgh charity Global Links.  Global Links provides medical supplies and equipment to resource-needy communities, primarily in Latin America and the Caribbean.  The second problem will involve an open forecasting concern of a global delivery services company.

Dr. Wheeler is one of 30 accepted nationally into the Mathematical Association of America's pilot PIC Math program (Preparation for Industrial Careers in the Mathematical Sciences).  As part of the program the student presentations are to be recorded then submitted to the MAA where they will be judged by a panel.  PIC Math would like students to attend the MAA's national meeting MathFest 2015 which will be held August 5-8, 2015 in Washington, DC.  Dr. Wheeler (or the Department) invites alumni to consider sponsoring students with funding to attend MathFest 2015.  Dr. Wheeler, along with the other 29 faculty in the program, attend a PIC Math week-long workshop this past summer at Brigham Young University.  PIC Math is funded jointly by the MAA, NSF, and SIAM.

In addition to the new course, Dr. Wheeler has organized an Undergraduate Mathematics Seminar which began this Fall.  The seminar meets regularly on Tuesday afternoons and has thus far been very successful with both excellent talks and a growing audience which has averaged slightly more than 17.  In the first meeting, under the supervision of Dr. Wheeler, junior mathematics major Derek Orr presented the Frobenius Coin Problem and offered a proof of his own of the coin problem for n=2 (the problem is still open for 3 or more coins).   The seminar has as its goal the presentation of topics accessible to undergraduates and anyone is invited to speak.  In addition to Dr. Wheeler, committee members Dr. Tom Everest, Dr. Evgeni Trofimov, and Torrey Gallagher have made themselves available to supervise any student that wishes to speak.  Moreover, participants have been encouraged to also give their talks to both the Department’s and Carnegie Mellon University’s Math Club.

Last Spring Dr. Wheeler organized an "Interviewing Seminar" for mathematics students as they sought jobs.  The workshop featured a presentation on interviewing by Mark Burdsall, a senior consultant in the University of Pittsburgh’s Human Resources Organization Development division.  Mr. Burdsall teaches both undergraduate and graduate business courses at the University of Pittsburgh and is an expert on interviewing.  In addition to the presentation, Dr. Wheeler organized a panel of contributors which included: Jon Coughlin, a manager in IT Auditing at PNC; Tim Jones, Managing Director World-Wide Sales FedEx Ground; and Michael Lowman, an eCommerce Site Merchandise Manager for a national retail chain.  The seminar and its participants will take place again in Spring 2015.

In addition to his duties in the Department, Dr. Wheeler organizes the poster sessions for the Paul Erdős Lecture Series at the University of Memphis.  This significant Combinatorics conference takes place annually around Erdős’ birthday (March 26) and often features a Fields Metalist as its Memorial Lecturer.  At the recent lecture series, Department students Woden Kusner (Ph.d. 2014) and Jourdain Lamperski (B.S. 2015) presented posters.  Culver prize winner Jourdain Lamperski’s poster was a result of a directed study supervised by Dr. Wheeler.  Jourdain’s poster was on Szemerédi's Regularity Lemma, a deep and very useful result in Combinatorics (Endre Szemerédi won the Abel Prize in 2012 and this is his most well-known result).  With his poster displayed between those of graduate students from the University of Cambridge, Jourdain, a junior, effectively entertained questions from conference attendees.  Fields Medalist Enrico Bombieri (1974) was one such attendee.   Additionally, Jourdain prepared slides and gave a presentation of the Regualrity Lemma to Pitt's Math Club.

In addition to the BIG Problems course, this Spring Dr. Wheeler will also teach Math 1310 - Graph Theory and Math 1101 - An Introduction to Optimization.  Math 1101 was also designed by Dr. Wheeler and remains a popular course with enrollment usually at or near 40.  In fulfilling their requirements for this course, students are assigned to teams and then are given cases to present.  Past students have appreciated this requirement as it provides them with Dan Foxmaterial when asked during a job interview for relevant experience.  Also, like previous Math 1101 students, next semester’s class will have a chance to hear a presentation from Dan Fox, Director of Baseball Systems Development for the Pittsburgh Pirates.  Mr. Fox is the most-tenured member of the Pirates’ analytics team and the catalyst behind the team being one of the first to regularly employ the defensive shift.   When he speaks to the class, in addition to showing the analytics behind “the Shift”, Mr. Fox typically presents how optimization techniques can be used to make managerial decisions, like assigning a batting order.  As well, Dr. Wheeler’s Graph Theory students will be treated to a fascinating and relevant presentation.  Michael Trick, the Higgins Professor of Operations Research in the Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University, has a background in Mathematics (Bachelor’s degree in Combinatorics and Optimization from the University of Waterloo) and is responsible for scheduling Major League Baseball, MLB’s umpires, and many NCAA Division I sports conferences.  Prof. Trick will present the mathematics, particularly the graph theory, involved in scheduling.  Students very much enjoyed this talk in Dr. Wheeler’s Fall 2013 Graph Theory class, finding the material interesting and Prof. Trick’s presentation entertaining.