AWM at the 2010 SIAM Annual Meeting

October 19, 2010

A joint honor of the Association for Women in Mathematics and SIAM, the Sonia Kovalevsky Lecture was given in Pittsburgh at the SIAM Annual Meeting by Suzanne Lenhart of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Lenhart was cited for “fundamental contributions to optimal control . . . in a variety of mathematical contexts . . . from lasers to rabies in raccoons to fishery reserves, cardiopulmonary resuscitation, and drug treatment in HIV models.” She was also commended for her “extraordinary record of integrating research and education” as an associate director of the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis at UTK, for the REU site that she has run for many years, and, more generally, for her leadership “in providing research and mentoring opportunities for future generations of mathematicians.”

Karen Devine, Cammey Cole Manning, and Carol Woodward

How does a girl destined to become a hairdresser wind up teaching mathematics at MIT? How does a computer engineer reinvent herself to do research in biological systems---and raise two toddlers at the same time? Why would an associate professor, having earned tenure, give up her hard-won position in academia to pursue a career in government? These are just a few of the questions addressed in one of the sessions at the Association for Women in Mathematics Workshop for Women Graduate Students and Recent PhDs, held at the SIAM Annual Meeting in Pittsburgh.

The workshop, sponsored by the DOE Office of Advanced Scientific Computing Research and the DOD Office of Naval Research, provided support for 17 women---nine graduate students and eight postdoctoral researchers---to present their research and network with other women in mathematics. Workshop activities included a mentor luncheon, a professional development minisymposium, two research minisymposia, and participation in the SIAM poster session.

The most important feature of the workshop was its emphasis on mentoring. Each early-career woman was paired with a mentor, a more senior researcher or professor from academia, industry, or a government lab. This one-on-one interaction gave the younger mathematicians deep personal insight into the career options available to them and the challenges unique to women in mathematics. The mentors shared their experiences, answered questions, discussed research, and provided constructive feedback on the younger mathematicians' minisymposium presentations and posters.

The workshop began with a luncheon, where keynote speaker Barbara Keyfitz of Ohio State University reflected on a range of issues important to women. Acknowledging improvements in work environments for women over the past two decades, she also raised awareness of subtle forms that discrimination can take.

Centered on the theme "Success Through Transitions," the professional development minisymposium focused on the many transitions---professional and personal---faced by women in mathematics in the course of their careers. Three invited speakers (whose career shifts are highlighted at the beginning of this article) shared the stories of their education, families, and careers with a great deal of candor and a bit of humor. An open question-and-answer session followed, with lively audience participation.

Elebeoba (Chi-Chi) May of Sandia National Laboratories began by encouraging the audience to welcome transitions in their dreams resulting from transitions in life. Through practical experiences in graduate school, new training opportunities, and new family responsibilities, her vision of a "dream job" evolved from college professor to researcher to mother.

Mary Ann Horn of the National Science Foundation emphasized the breadth of career opportunities available to researchers in mathematics. Her own experiences led her to leave her tenured faculty position at Vanderbilt University to become a program director at NSF, where she has loved seeing the breadth of mathematical research funded by NSF and having the opportunity to influence its future research directions.

Gigliola Staffilani of MIT drew chuckles with the tale of her fallback "Plan B"---becoming a hairdresser---as she pursued her PhD in a new country. Always having a "Plan B" contributed to her success; she was able to take more risks in her career, as she always knew what she could do if some choice didn't turn out as planned.

The eight postdoctoral researchers---Julianne Chung (University of Maryland), Valerie Hower (UC Berkeley), Erin Lennon (Northwestern), Dawn Ring (Wentworth Institute of Technology), Eunju Sohn (University of Georgia), Rebecca Vandiver (Bryn Mawr College), Xueying Wang (SAMSI), and Yunjiao Wang (Ohio State)---presented their work in two minisymposia. Their research spanned a wide range of application areas, including 3D image reconstruction for breast cancer detection, models of combustion reactions, decision-making processes, and mechanisms of gene expression.

The graduate student participants presented their work in the SIAM poster session. Topics of their posters included models for the spread of disease in animals, PDE models of criminal behavior, Lie algebras, and machine learning. The students were Yanping Ma (Penn State), Carrie Manore (Oregon State), Mechie Nkengla (University of Illinois–Chicago), Nancy Rodriguez (UCLA), Anastasia Shabanskaya (University of Toledo), Rachel Thomas (Duke), Tia Vance (Delaware State), Yanyan Zhang (Ohio State), and Peng Zhong (University of Tennessee).

Since its inception, the AWM–SIAM Sonia Kovalevsky Lecture has been a highlight of SIAM Annual Meetings, and this year's lecture, by Suzanne Lenhart of the University of Tennessee, was no exception. The award recognizes significant contributions of women to applied or computational mathematics. In her talk, "Mixing it Up: Discrete and Continuous Optimal Control for Biological Models," Lenhart described the application of methods of optimal control to a range of applications, including cardiopulmonary resuscitation and fishery harvesting.

AWM plans to hold workshops at the Joint Mathematics Meetings in New Orleans in January 2011 and at ICIAM 2011, in Vancouver, BC, Canada, in July 2011. Women interested in participating should visit the AWM Workshops webpage:

A final note: SIAM and AWM have announced a membership reciprocity agreement that offers discounted memberships to those who join both organizations. Details are available at

Karen Devine is a staff researcher at Sandia National Laboratories; Cammey Cole Manning, AWM's workshop director, is a professor of mathematics at Meredith College; and Carol Woodward is a member of the research staff at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

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