New VP for Education Sets Sights on a Bigger SIAM Presence for Students

April 30, 2003

A respected SIAM author (A Multigrid Tutorial, now in its second edition (with Van Henson and Steve McCormick), and The DFT: An Owner's Manual for the Discrete Fourier Transform, also with Henson), Bill Briggs became SIAM's vice president for education on January 1. The extensive experience he brings to the position includes eight years as a member of the education committee (which he now chairs) and a recent appointment to the editorial board of SIAM Review's education section.
In a mid-March phone conversation, SIAM vice president for education Bill Briggs talked to SIAM News about a few of the projects, both near- and long-term, on his agenda. A professor of mathematics at the University of Colorado, Denver, Briggs has been in office only since January 1, although his involvement in just about every aspect of SIAM's educational activities in the last several years has him taking over activities he knows quite well. He succeeds Terry Herdman of VPI, whose drive and hard work Briggs credits for the full slate of worthy activities he has inherited.

Looking first to the near term, Briggs reports that plans for Student Day at the SIAM annual meeting in Montréal this spring are well under way. (As in all ICIAM years, SIAM's annual meeting has moved from its usual July time slot; this year, SIAM has joined forces with CAIMS, for a meeting that will be held June 16-20, in Montréal.)

The program for Tuesday, June 17, on which all Student Day activities will be held, features sessions of four types: (1) talks by students (undergraduate or graduate), solicited from SIAM student chapters; (2) presentations by the recipients of this year's Student Paper Prizes; (3) presentations of the winning solutions in the Mathematical Contest in Modeling; and (4) special presentations of undergraduate papers in computational science and engineering.

The student activities will take place the same day as the awards luncheon, so that the students receiving prizes will be honored with the rest of the SIAM prize recipients. None of the student sessions will overlap, Briggs says, but the whole day will be held in parallel with the regular program of the annual meeting. While acknowledging that the parallel sessions, committee meetings, and special events on any day at any annual meeting can be overwhelming, Briggs asks that SIAM News pass along a request to all who plan to be in Montréal: Please keep an eye out for student sessions, and make an effort to attend as many of them as possible. "The future of the profession, and of SIAM, really resides with the students and young members," Briggs says. "It's important that we get them involved at an early stage, that we establish a commitment." The sentiment can be applied to the general-membership support needed to make Student Day a success, but Briggs was actually speaking of a longer-term concern: student chapters of SIAM.

SIAM currently has a total of 15 chapters, some of them added in the last year. Briggs hopes to see the creation of many more in the coming months. On this subject, Briggs is speaking from something less than an inside position: His own university does not have a chapter, although he is in the process of starting one. To date, he "has received a good response from his own faculty and from CU-Denver students" at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. If he is successful at Denver, not predominantly a residential campus, Briggs believes that he will have demonstrated the potential for active chapters at many colleges and universities---given energetic and committed faculty sponsors.

As far as practical matters, Susan Whitehouse, SIAM's membership manager (who joined the staff at about the same time Briggs took office), has been working with Briggs to make things as easy as possible for interested faculty members. To begin with, SIAM members can expect to receive materials in the mail about setting up student chapters. As explained in the mailing, a chapter can receive a grant from SIAM of up to $500 per year---to be used for local activities, honoraria for speakers, travel fees, printing costs, and so forth. Now in preparation are a "tool kit" for chapter advisers and a Web site that will allow advisers to share ideas (and learn of the outcome of Briggs's venture in Denver!). Chapter benefits include free student memberships in SIAM for chapter members, promotion of chapter information on the SIAM Web site and in SIAM News, and special activities at SIAM meetings.

Readers wishing to learn more about the procedure for starting a student chapter, or any other educational undertaking of SIAM, are encouraged to contact Briggs ( or Whitehouse (

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