Brainstorming Student Chapter ideas over breakfast at the SIAM Annual Meeting

August 13, 2010

Alen Alexanderian talks about the UMBC Chapter's activities over the past year
The student chapters of SIAM met recently at SIAM AN10 in Pittsburgh for a breakfast meeting with SIAM leaders and staff to ponder ideas and brainstorm strategies for raising awareness and impact.

Dr. Peter Turner of Clarkson University, SIAM's Vice President for Education, gave an overview of the scheduled program for Student Days at the Annual Meeting following introductions and a brief welcome by SIAM President Doug Arnold of the University of Minnesota. SIAM's membership manager, Susan Whitehouse, spoke about the various benefits open to SIAM student chapters around the world.

In the interest of discussing new approaches for outreach, fundraising, and interactivity, representatives from four SIAM chapters presented events and programs implemented by their respective chapters in the past year.

Kehinde Salau from Arizona State University described outreach events conducted by the ASU chapter, including a program in which ASU students spent "Sonia Kovalevsky Day" at a regional high school, helping out with math activities and participating as tutors. Salau also suggested that chapters try and organize a regular annual event "a tradition that is done every year." At ASU, he said, these include a movie day, which features a film involving mathematics accompanied by a debate, and a Christmas luncheon where mathematicians from industry are invited to raise student awareness about the opportunities out there.

Speaking about activities at the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC) chapter, Alen Alexanderian gave an overview of a series of sessions conducted by the chapter, including tips and ideas for incoming first-year students, LaTeX poster-making packages, and technical writing sessions to help students publish their research work. Alexanderian encouraged other chapters to conduct similar events, stating that this format encourages students to express their viewpoints and make suggestions about what chapters could do for them.

Alexanderian also gave ideas on how to make it easier for students to attend meetings by providing additional funding. The UMBC chapter provided extra funds directed from the university's Graduate Student Association, for instance, for attendance to the SIAM Annual Meeting in Pittsburgh, and arranged for car pools and room shares to promote turnout. Having an exciting speaker is another way to attract students to events; with Doug Arnold as the distinguished speaker at the 1st Chesapeake SIAM Student Chapter Conference, organized by the chapter, the event boasted impressive participation from surrounding universities.

It was a similar result at the Edinburgh chapter's inaugural conference, which Bubacarr Bah described. In addition to student presentations, prize distributions, and a poster session, the event featured plenary talks by innovative mathematicians such as Professor Sir David Wallace from the Isaac Newton Institute and Dr Robert Leese of the Smith Institute in the UK. Bah expressed satisfaction at an all-round successful year and acknowledged SIAM for prizes awarded to chapter students, including his own SIAM Student Paper Prize, and the SIAM Math Matters: Apply It! contest won by the Edinburgh team.

Jun Niu from the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) spoke about the importance of collaborative ventures, detailing a field trip to the Chicago Board of Trade in association with the university's business school. The trip offered a real opportunity to see the application of math in the financial industry, he said. "The PDEs they use decide the price of bread -- or the sausage on our tables," Niu said, indicating the delicious Student Chapter breakfast. He joked that you don't have to know much about stochastic calculus or second derivatives to interact with MBA students, eliciting laughs from the audience. Nonetheless, it was enlightening to learn just how powerful math is.

Niu further reinforced the importance of such cross interactions by describing a joint meeting of the UMBC and Louisiana State University (LSU) chapters, which provided a great opportunity for students from two math departments to get together and share knowledge, and urged similar collaborations among other student chapters of SIAM.

Fittingly, during the open discussion that followed the presentations, there were requests for an open forum to share ideas online, either through social media sites or wikis. Suggestions were also made for establishing competitions for graduate students, including one idea about organizing a semester-long team project that would encourage students to work together. There was a request to make greater provision for travel funds, and several ideas were put forth for fundraising.

Dr. Turner gave closing remarks recapping some of the past achievements of SIAM chapters worldwide, and looking forward to more in the future.

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