SIAM News Blog

SIAM Session Connects Education and Research at the 2023 Joint Mathematics Meetings

By Adewale Adeolu, Ben Galluzzo, and Kathleen Kavanagh

Applied mathematicians regularly use mathematical modeling to situate mathematics in real-life contexts. The popularity of math modeling is growing rapidly in educational settings; in fact, it now appears in many secondary—and even primary—mathematics curricula because of its connection to real-world problem-solving. However, educators often struggle to find the time, inspiration, and means to craft relevant questions and modeling scenarios for their students.

At the 2023 Joint Mathematics Meetings (JMM23), which took place in Boston, Mass., in early January, the SIAM Education Committee organized a “Session on Education as Research and Research as Education.” During this session, four speakers discussed different strategies to broaden the impact of scientific research across a variety of communities and formats. Their talks described the transformation of research into student experiences and, in turn, the transformation of student experiences into research. At the end of the event, a panel of mathematicians from industry and academia commented on real-world research problems that are accessible to students. Additionally, all of the speakers shared a collection of resources—including funding pathways for education-focused projects as well as opportunities for pedagogical research—that can help the mathematical community better communicate modeling research to educational audiences.

Karen Yokley (Elon University) and Nicholas Luke (North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University) began offering a yearly collaborative National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program in the summer of 2020. Faculty from Elon and North Carolina A&T have since mentored 10 undergraduates in mathematical biology research projects each summer. This REU is unique because it explicitly provides opportunities for students with little to no research experience. At the JMM23 session, Yokley and Luke addressed both the challenges and benefits of running this program during the COVID-19 pandemic. Although recruiting students for remote participation required significant effort, participants were able to complete successful projects, learn about a wide range of biomathematics programming, and build essential career skills. Yokley and Luke also noted that the students wrote a great deal, developed their communication abilities, and interacted with peers from other institutions and backgrounds to broaden their own perspectives.

During the SIAM-sponsored “Session on Education as Research and Research as Education” at the 2023 Joint Mathematics Meetings (JMM23), which took place in Boston, Mass., in January, a panel discussion explored the different aspects of integrating research with teaching. From left to right: panelists Wesley Hamilton (MathWorks), Rebecca Hardenbrook (University of Utah), and Tosin Babasola (University of Bath). Photo courtesy of Kathleen Kavanagh.
Many external funding opportunities for young faculty members—including the NSF Computer and Information Science and Engineering Research Initiation Initiative and the Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER)—require proposals that integrate research and education. This stipulation is often difficult for applicants, who may be tempted to fall back on standard boilerplate content. During JMM23, Christopher Musco (New York University) described his experience with creating an education plan for a CAREER proposal that combined his personal research in theoretical computer science with his teaching responsibilities. This information was particularly pertinent for early-career researchers and highlighted the importance of innovative statements in both scholarship and education. Musco—who is actively involved with MathWorks Math Modeling Challenge, a program of SIAM—also emphasized the urgent need for collaborative grant writing between postdoctoral scholars and faculty members, as such projects will directly benefit scholars when they eventually become faculty members themselves.

Next, Mihhail Berezovski (Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University) detailed his success in growing a course called “Research Project in Industrial Mathematics”—initiated by Preparation for Industrial Careers in Mathematical Sciences (PIC Math)—into an annual program that effectively matches students with industrial partners. Berezovski acknowledged the challenge of identifying willing partners in industry; in fact, he found many of them through cold calls or conversations in unusual settings, such as the grocery store. He also reflected on the program’s numerous benefits. For example, involved companies receive “free” analysis of a pertinent real-world problem, and students gain invaluable skills and hands-on experience in industrial settings — many even receive job offers from the organizations with which they collaborate. Most impressive was the diversity of the course’s participants; over half of the students identify as female and more than 80 percent come from historically underrepresented groups.

Adewale Adeolu and Ben Galluzzo (both of Clarkson University) focus their research on mathematics education and its connections to real-world problem-solving. During their presentation, they overviewed their current efforts to develop a novel technology called M2Studio that helps secondary students learn mathematical modeling. M2Studio provides affordances that support users’ understanding of math modeling, such as dynamically linked representations. Adeolu and Galluzzo shared findings from a qualitative study with three high school students who engaged in mathematical modeling activities with M2Studio. The study revealed that students used feedback from dynamically linked representations to adjust their models. M2Studio also serves as a cognitive tool that encourages students to perform unit analysis, name and relate variables, and identify connections between variables with mathematical operations.

The final component of SIAM’s education-based JMM23 session was a panel that focused on the challenges and benefits of integrating research and teaching. Kathleen Kavanagh (Clarkson University) moderated the panel, which consisted of three mathematicians: Wesley Hamilton (MathWorks), Rebecca Hardenbrook (University of Utah), and Tosin Babasola (University of Bath). All of the panelists share a passion for blending research with teaching and engaging students with the relevance of mathematics in critical environmental issues. As the speakers recounted stories of student achievement, it was apparent that they found these activities just as rewarding as their students. For instance, Babasola motivated classroom interest in climate change by asking “What is chocolate, and where does it come from?”, which helped students personally connect to the problems at hand. The panelists endorsed a wide range of software tools that engage students with mathematics, including MATLAB, GeoGebra, and the Common Online Data Analysis Platform (CODAP).

Ultimately, the JMM23 session demonstrated that the applied mathematics and computational science communities need more opportunities to exchange resources, case studies, and relevant findings to better combine research and classroom experiences and subsequently broaden the impact of this integration.

  Adewale Adeolu is a National Science Foundation-funded postdoctoral researcher in the Institute for STEM Education at Clarkson University. 
  Ben Galluzzo is an associate professor of mathematics at Clarkson University. 
Kathleen Kavanagh is a professor of mathematics at Clarkson University and the Vice President for Education at SIAM. 
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