By the Numb3rs Spring 2019 - Graduate


Featured Alumni - Tracy Stepien

Tracy Stepien1. What are you doing now?

Right now, I am finishing up a postdoctoral position in the Department of Mathematics at the University of Arizona and in the fall I will be starting a tenure-track Assistant Professor position in the Department of Mathematics at the University of Florida. My research area is mathematical biology and my most recent project is modeling and analyzing the spread and maturation of brain cells called astrocytes in the retina of the eye during embryonic development.


2. What are two to three ways your experience at Pitt prepared you for this position?

First, the training and instruction that I received in classes was incredibly important for me to get a good base in the content that I use on a regular basis in my research as well as driving me how to learn so I can explore new areas. I was encouraged to regularly present at Pitt seminars and attend and present at conferences and workshops, which helped to start build my network and gave me opportunities to become a more polished speaker. I also got one of the best pieces of advice from my advisor, David Swigon: don’t make a selection committee’s decision for them by not even applying, always apply!

3. Do you have a word of wisdom for current students or students considering the Math PhD program?

Take Numerical Methods (MATH 2070-2071) in your first year along with the prelim classes. Learning how to program is so helpful for opening up future career options whether your research will be in pure or applied mathematics. Also, you can do it! A PhD program is daunting and will be challenging in different ways for different people (reach out for help whenever you need it) but believe in yourself. You’ve got the talent to be studying higher-level mathematics!

4. As you are no longer living in Pittsburgh, what do you miss most about this city?

The food! If only I could transport Point Brugge Cafe, Girasole, Pamela’s Diner, Primanti Brothers, Everyday Noodles, William Penn Tavern, and Pierogies Plus to wherever I lived!

Graduate Student Organization (GSO) Pie Day

Dr. Jeffrey Wheeler ready for a pie to the face 

The Pitt Math Department never had a Pi Day event before. Pi Day (March 14) usually falls on spring break so you can’t do anything on campus on the actual day. Being a part of the Math GSO (Graduate Student Organization), I wanted to create an event, but I didn’t know exactly what to do. My fiancée, Sarah Klos, gave me the wonderful idea to pie a professor in the face. It was genius and it had a very laid-back vibe. I turned it into a competition; the professor with the most money in their bucket would get (lightly) hit with a pie in public (anyone could come). Unfortunately, at this time it was the beginning of March, so I had to act fast. I began making posters immediately, and I got free buckets at Costco. I also advertised the event every moment I could to make sure it would be big.

Pictured Left to Right: Dr. Wheeler, Dr. Hajlasz, and Dr. Everest 

This event took place during finals week on Tuesday April 23, 2019. This way, students can take 30 minutes or an hour to relax and take a break from studying. We had six professors in the running (Angela Athanas, Bard Ermentrout, Thomas Everest, Piotr Hajlasz, Kiumars Kaveh, and Jeffrey Wheeler) and halfway through, only the top three survived. They were Professor Everest, Professor Hajlasz, and Professor Wheeler. The top two were the ones who would receive a pie to the face.

Winner: Dr. Hajlasz


Runner-up: Dr. Everest 

In the end, Professor Hajlasz came in first place with 67.88 in donations, followed by Professor Everest with 27.00 . Lastly, Professor Wheeler came in third place with 20.71. The money donated is being used for future GSO events such as our Fall Picnic and a possible Study-A-Thon for graduate students taking the preliminary exams.

Graduate Fellowships

Pamela Delgado

We are pleased to announce that graduate student, Pamela Delgado has been awarded the Whittington Dissertation Fellowship. This competitive fellowship is awarded to female PhD students in disciplines where women have traditionally been underrepresented in Dietrich School programs, who are of exceptional ability and promise, and who in academic year 2019-2020 expect to complete their doctoral dissertation.


Ivan Ramirez

Ivan Ramirez has been awarded the 2019-2020 Andrew Mellon Predoctoral Fellowship. These fellowships are awarded to students of exceptional promise and ability. The award carries a stipend plus tuition scholarship for the duration of the award. His area of research focuses on developing and studying mathematical models to explore the dynamics of the acute immune response under the presence of certain diseases and conditions. We congratulate Ivan on his hard work and dedication.

Mathematics Teaching Assistant Excellence Award

  • Anthony Capello
  • Tongtong Li

15th Thomas C. Hales Distinguished Research Award

  • Rongfang Zhang, PhD
  • Eldar Khattatov, PhD