NSF funds undergraduate research projects

December 20, 2007

ASU’s computational mathematical sciences program in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences will power a new set of undergraduate research projects beginning in January with a $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation.

The program, targeting juniors majoring in computational mathematical sciences, initially will offer interdisciplinary research experiences involving weather and climate forecasting, environmental fluid dynamics, math biology applications, and the efficiency of complex supply chain models. Download Full Image

ASU is one of 11 U.S. institutions that have an undergraduate computational mathematics program. Professor Eric Kostelich, the grant’s principal investigator, says this five-year grant is designed to prepare undergraduate students for graduate research and full-time jobs.

He notes that the Phoenix metropolitan area is a growing technology market, with companies like Intel, Freescale Semiconductor and Honeywell, and that the grant program anticipates establishing a pipeline so students who graduate are prepared for full-time work and internship opportunities.

“I’m hoping this grant will also help Arizona in terms of its competitiveness in the technology field,” he says.

At the same time, the grant will reinforce the department of mathematics and statistics’ strong interdisciplinary focus through research opportunities that combine computational mathematics with science.

“Today, mathematics is deviating from the traditional and moving toward an interdisciplinary approach,” says associate professor Bruno Welfert, the grant’s co-principal investigator. “By combining math and the physical or life sciences, students are able to tackle a problem from different angles. The goal of this program is for students to have two one-year sequences in some physical or life science that can be applied to their research.”

“Cutting-edge applications are very collaborative,” Kostelich adds. “If you look, for example, at how to make an MRI machine better, you have to use physics, computer science and engineering – all different disciplines working together to make one machine. With our interdisciplinary curriculum, students can answer questions to common problems and create better applications.”

In the second year of their project, students will continue their research studies as well as mentor incoming students. Each student is expected to write an honors thesis or research paper and present his or her work at an appropriate conference.

“Part of the idea is to combine all aspects of coursework into an integrated environment where students are going to feel comfortable using ideas from mathematics, computer science and science, and have the opportunity to apply those ideas during two summer sessions with faculty,” Welfert says.

That integrated environment will include an open office space area where students can interact and share ideas while working on their research, Kostelich adds.

They also will take advantage of ASU’s tremendous resources, such as the Fulton High Performance Computing Initiative, which offers world-class computing resources to the researchers and students in the Ira A. Fulton School of Engineering, and the Decision Theater, a high-tech laboratory that combines advanced methodologies in visualization, simulation and cognitive sciences.

“The Fulton High Performance Computing Initiative is not what you find at a typical four-year university,” Kostelich says. “It is a lasting legacy that provides us with an opportunity to think creatively on how we might use this remarkable gift. We want to show the country the ‘new math degree,’ taking traditional ideas from 50 years ago and leveraging them with new developments, sciences, and applications of mathematics developed in recent decades, showing students first-hand how they are applied.”

Adds Welfert: “Mathematics students will always be in demand because of their background and training. That is something important to note. With a math degree, you can do anything you want.”

Erica Velasco, erica.velasco@asu.edu

Phoenix selected for Teach for America

December 20, 2007

Next June, between 700 and 800 new college graduates will descend on ASU’s Tempe campus for a unique kind of summer school.

They won’t be starting on graduate school, however. They’ll be learning how to teach in K-12 as part of Teach for America. Download Full Image

Phoenix has been selected as the site for the sixth Teach for America Institute in the United States, and ASU will play host to the new corps members and staff, in partnership with the Roosevelt school district for the five-week session, according to Amanda Burke, associate director for education and education policy in the Office of University Initiatives – and a Teach for America alumna herself.

“To accommodate its growing number of corps members and regions, Teach for America has decided to expand its summer training institute to Phoenix, which joins existing sites in Atlanta, Houston, Los Angeles, New York and Philadelphia,” says Sarah Kirby, director of Charter Institute at Teach for America.

Teach for America, a national corps of recent college graduates of all academic majors who commit to teaching for two years in urban and rural public schools, was founded in 1990 by Wendy Kopp, then a senior at Princeton University.

“Kopp thought that college students were looking for a way to make a real difference, and she thought that many would choose teaching if an alternative route to the classroom existed,” Burke says.

Many students have responded to the call since then. Teach for America has grown from 500 corps members in its first year to a network of 17,000 members and alumni.

Burke says ASU played a major role in Teach for America’s decision to locate its newest institute in Phoenix.

“We worked with individuals across the university to complete the bid process, which included providing information on our capacity in residential life, dining, technology, event space, parking and transit, and classroom space,” she says.

Adds Kirby: “Each institute is selected based on strong local district partnerships, suitable summer school models and school calendars, and the presence of universities that can accommodate Teach for America’s scale and needs for teacher training.”

Teach for America’s partner school district will be Roosevelt, where some of the Phoenix corps members will start teaching next fall.

Burke says the corps members receive no salary during the summer, but they will all be hired by districts for the next school year, either in Arizona or another of Teach for America’s regions.

It’s a rigorous schedule: up at 5:30 a.m. for breakfast, off to their assigned classroom, back for dinner, and then classes after dinner.

During the five weeks, they teach in the morning, then go to workshops, where they get feedback from experienced teachers. It’s a sort of “baptism by fire” for the corps members, most of whom have had no classes in education.

“Teach for America brings in people from other majors, many of whom possibly would not have gone into teaching,” says Burke, who taught at one of the lowest-performing schools in California as a Teach for America corps member. She says some stay in education, while others after their two year-commitments will “go on to tell their stories.”

Those stories are what Teach for America counts on to gain support for quality education in the United States.

Once the corps members have spent time in the schools serving the lowest-income students, they see what needs to happen to ensure that all students have “the educational opportunities they deserve,” according to Teach for America’s Phoenix office.

Some Teach for America alumni become school principals, some continue teaching at their schools – and others, such as Burke, advocate for quality education from within various other professions.

“Having ASU named as a Teach for America Institute is a sign of the success of our larger collaboration with Teach for America,” Burke says. “We are working together in the areas of recruitment, teacher support and development and alumni leadership. It is exciting to work with Teach for America to build this socially embedded partnership that brings to bear our joint resources and expertise on education in Arizona.”

Adds Andrea Stouder, executive director for Teach for America in Phoenix: “We are thrilled to be working with ASU to strengthen our impact in Arizona and address the critical need to level the playing field for so many children growing up in poverty today. The Teach for America Phoenix Institute represents one of our most significant community partnerships, and we are looking forward to involving even more members of the Phoenix community in our mission to provide excellent educational opportunities to every child.”