Student Organization Spotlight: The Association for Women in Mathematics

female math studentsThe Youngstown State University Student Chapter of the Association for Women in Mathematics is dedicated to encouraging young women in sciences.

Monica Busser, president of the student organization, says it’s really all about making women feel comfortable in their STEM majors.

“The Association for Women in Math focuses on empowering women and girls to pursue careers in math and science and to feel comfortable pursuing those careers, especially in a male dominated field,” said Monica.

The group emphasizes both math and professional women. They have helped to promote the Math Assistance Center, they talk to schoolchildren about careers in math, and they also plan to take on an active role for Women’s History Month.

”We have our first Association for Women in Mathematics Colloquium,” said Monica. “Dr. Pamela Harris is an algebraist, and she’s going to talk to us about her research, which will be really cool.”

Dr. Harris will give her talk on Abstract Algebra on March 25 at 3:00 p.m. in the Cafaro Suite in Lincoln. Afterward in the Cafaro Suite, there will be History of Women in Mathematics Trivia where participants can compete for a gift card prize.

The group also participated in YSU’s Women in STEM Day to encourage local middle school and high school students to pursue STEM majors and careers. This event also included many professionals in STEM fields to interact with the girls and answer questions.

At the end of January, six of YSU’s female math majors (pictured above with Dr. Spalsbury) attended the Nebraska Conference for Undergraduate Women in Mathematics where they presented research in the company of fellow math women. This is what each of them presented:

Unique Hamiltonicity and Computational Algebraic Geometry by Monica Busser

The Fifteen Schoolgirl Problem by Sheri Cope

Developing an Educational Sudoku Solver by Emily Hoopes

Numerical Results for the IVP to the Burgers Equation with External Forces by Crystal Mackey

A Study of Youngstown Public Housing Program Participants’ Preferences by Ashley Orr

A Bone Eat Bone World: Math Models of Bone Metabolism by Gabrielle Van Scoy

Any students interested in the Association for Women in Mathematics, any gender or major, can contact Monica Busser at

Dr. Wakefield recipient of 25 Under 35 award

Tom WakefieldDr. Tom Wakefield, an associate professor in the YSU Department of Mathematics and Statistics, is the recipient of one of the 25 Under 35 awards that is sponsored by the Community Foundation of the Mahoning Valley and the Mahoning Valley Young Professionals club. The award is given to outstanding employees at local businesses.

Wakefield said that he had no idea he was nominated and that he was very surprised when he was notified in early November that he was an honoree.

“It was a great honor,” Wakefield said. “The past recipients of the award and current recipients are all people that I really respect and admire, and to be considered in that group of people is a real honor for me.”

This past year, Wakefield was named a Fellow of the Society of Actuaries, a feat accomplished by only 15,729 people worldwide. Less than 150 of these Fellows are employed at universities worldwide, and Wakefield is the only full-time faculty member in Ohio that has the title of Fellow.

Along with that achievement, Wakefield serves as a mentor for many students at YSU and works on real-life problems with his students to help better the community. This year, Wakefield worked with a group of students to help realign police beats for the Youngstown Police Department.

“I received a grant called Preparing for Industrial Careers in Math, and it’s to help students see that there are things they can do with mathematics outside of academia, like in industry and government,” Wakefield said. “I contacted several local businesses and government agencies and asked them if they had any math problems we could work on and the police department replied that they did.”

For this project, the police department supplied students with crime data so that the data could be analyzed and new police beats could be suggested.

“Their police beats hadn’t been realigned since 1998 so there was a great inequity in workload among the different beats because crime patterns of course had shifted over the past 15 years,” Wakefield said. “They analyzed the data, they wrote up a report, they met with the police department monthly, and ultimately, starting Jan. 1, those police beats are going to be implemented that they recommended. It was a really cool project.”

For the upcoming spring semester, Wakefield and his students will work with the Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corporation and the YSU Center for Student Progress on similar problems.

Honorees for the 2016 25 Under 35 awards will be recognized at a ceremony at Stambaugh Auditorium on Feb. 11.

Recent Publications: Nguyet “Moon” Nguyen

Nguyet “Moon” Nguyen and Dung Mguyen recently had their paper Hidden Markov Model for Stop Selection published in Risks.

Abstract: The hidden Markov model (HMM) is typically used to predict the hidden regimes of observation data. Therefore, this model finds applications in many different areas, such as speech recognition systems, computational molecular biology and financial market predictions. In this paper, we use HMM for stock selection. We first use HMM to make monthly regime predictions for the four macroeconomic variables: inflation (consumer price index (CPI)), industrial production index (INDPRO), stock market index (S&P 500) and market volatility (VIX). At the end of each month, we calibrate HMM’s parameters for each of these economic variables and predict its regimes for the next month. We then look back into historical data to find the time periods for which the four variables had similar regimes with the forecasted regimes. Within those similar periods, we analyze all of the S&P 500 stocks to identify which stock characteristics have been well rewarded during the time periods and assign scores and corresponding weights for each of the stock characteristics. A composite score of each stock is calculated based on the scores and weights of its features. Based on this algorithm, we choose the 50 top ranking stocks to buy. We compare the performances of the portfolio with the benchmark index, S&P 500. With an initial investment of $100 in December 1999, over 15 years, in December 2014, our portfolio had an average gain per annum of 14.9% versus 2.3% for the S&P 500.

Graduate profile: Josiah Banks

Josiah BanksJosiah Banks is an energetic and outgoing student with a passion for math.

A senior double majoring in theoretical mathematics and math education, Banks attributed his love of math to a very special person in his life, Michael Soroka, a calculus teacher at Campbell Memorial High School.

“He was a wonderful teacher,” Banks said. “He was very funny, down to earth, and knew how to explain things in a very effective way. He’s the one that really got me into math education. I wasn’t originally into math education.  I wasn’t even going to go straight into math; I was going to do architecture at first.”

Three-quarters through Banks’ senior year, Soroka passed away.

“The teacher that came in, she never taught calculus [before] … and we all still wanted to learn more about [math] in memory of him,” Banks said. “We knew [Soroka] would still want us to learn. I got my friend’s notes from the year before and actually ended up learning the material…and basically helped the [new] teacher teach the class. That started my mathematics journey.”

Originally wanting to teach math at the high school level, Banks took a theoretical math class from Dr. Jacek Fabrykowski as part of the regular curriculum for integrated mathematics education majors.

“[Dr. Fabrykowski] really pushed me, and it was probably the hardest math course I ever had,” Banks said. “He made me understand that theoretical mathematics is so beautiful.”

Banks plans on pursuing a Ph.D. in math so he can teach theoretical mathematics at the college level. His main interests are in number theory and abstract algebra. This past summer, Banks studied number theory at Texas A&M at a Research Experience for Undergraduates.

“[Number theory focuses on integers] — no fractions, no decimals,” Banks explained. “It’s the study of all the properties of those numbers, [such as] divisibility.”

A form of number theory that interests Banks is modular arithmetic.

“[Modular arithmetic is] actually in a lot of things nowadays, and it’s very interesting,” Josiah said. “It’s like a section out of mathematics called discrete mathematics. In this world we live in — we live in a very continuous world — we’re used to seeing things constantly flowing. Well, with integers there are spaces between 0 and 1. You’re not looking at 0.1 or 0.2; you’re looking at just 0 or 1 or 2  with nothing in between. You’re not looking at fractions; nothing like that. So, some people find discrete mathematics and number theory very challenging, because…we are used to the things that are continuous.”

During his time at Texas A&M, Banks studied number theory. Parts of number theory he studied included the smallest parts function, the partition function and asymptotic formulas.

“It’s just amazing how number theory can relate to so many different aspects of mathematics without [people] even knowing it,” Banks said.

But Banks did more than just study numbers during his time in Texas.

“It was wonderful. I met a lot of wonderful people; I learned a lot of interesting things. I networked a lot, and I visited a lot of cool places in Texas,” Banks said. “Pretty sure I had the best BBQ of my life.”

After his summer in Texas, Banks came back to YSU and participated and presented research at the annual MathFest competition in DC, as well as competing in the competition.

He has also competed in the prestigious Putnam exam twice, the Integration Bee, the Calculus Competition, and has been a Presidential Mentor for the past two years, all on top of being active in over 10 student organization on campus.

“There are so many things our students need to know about, because there are so many opportunities in our math department,” Banks said. “I’m very proud of this math department. It’s great.”

Faculty Faction: Dr. Lucy Kerns

Lucy[1]Dr. Lucy Kerns joined the YSU Math Department as an assistant professor at the beginning of the fall 2014 semester. Before that, she was a part time professor at the university for seven years.

Dr. Kerns came from China to pursue her graduate degrees in statistics. Originally, she was an accounting major, but found more success in securing an assistantship as a stats major.

Dr. Kerns met her husband, Dr. Jay Kerns, while in graduate school. After he got his job at YSU, she soon followed. She said that the faculty and staff at YSU are very friendly, and the students are very hardworking.

“Teaching is a rewarding experience. When students come to me and say that something finally makes sense to them and that they can use what I taught them, it’s very rewarding to me,” Dr. Kerns said. ”

In Spring 2015, Dr. Kerns launched a new service to the university, the Mathematical and Statistical Consulting Center, along with Dr. Tom Wakefield. This service is for faculty and students working on research projects, and is the first of its kind for YSU. In the short time since its launch, Dr. Kerns has already helped many people who have said they wished this service was available a long time ago.

Dr. Kerns’ research focuses on areas such as confidence bands, logistic regression, drug stability studies, and range regression. She has already published some papers and has submitted a few more which are under review.

Outside of YSU, Dr. Kerns volunteers her time teaching Chinese at a Methodist church in Poland.

YSU Team Ranked Top 34 percent in Putnam Competition

The results from December’s William Lowell Putnam Mathematical Competition are in, and the YSU team consisting of six students — Josiah Banks, Michael Baker, Joseph Gantz, Eric Shahadi, Jenna Wise, and Kevin McLane — places in the top 34 percent of all schools that competed.

The competition had 4,320 participants from 577 colleges and universities in the United States and Canada.

Winners of the Putnam Competition receive scholarships and cash prizes, and one of the top five individuals receives tuition remission for graduate studies at Harvard. This competition is considered the most prestigious university mathematics competition, with an average score of 0 points out of a possible 120. The competition was founded in 1927, and as of 2010 there have only been four perfect scores.

Of the 4,320 participants, about 1,500 received a score of zero. Joseph Gantz was ranked in the top 44 percent; Michael Baker was ranked in the top 38 percent, and Josiah Banks was ranked in the top 33 percent. Josiah had a total score of 11.

YSU STEM wants to congratulate the YSU team for doing so well!

STEM Showcase

On April 22, Moser Hall was the location for the annual College of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Showcase. The three hour event serves as a way for undergraduate STEM students to present their research projects to the campus community, as well as have high school students see, first hand, the opportunities available at the College and YSU.

The Moser Hall atrium buzzes with activity.

About 30 projects were on display, such as the concrete canoe and moon rover. STEM faculty was also present to guide tours through research laboratories and answer questions.

In addition, Dr. Nathan Ritchey, chair of the Mathematics & Statistics Department, welcomed incoming Fall 2012 YSU students who will be inducted into the STEM Leadership Society (SLS).  Through an application process, SLS accepts exceptional high schools students majoring in any STEM discipline.  The students will be involved in community service, internships, and various research initiatives.

NSF STEM Research Poster Session

YSU undergraduate students Kristen Hernandez, Nikki Rendziniak, Nick Ragan, Brian Stahl and Hannah Rebraca presented “Extraction and Characterization of Intermetallic Fe-Al particles from Aluminum Alloys” at the 4th Annual Success in Math and NSF STEM Research Poster Session. Together with Dr. Matt Zeller, YSU Research Staff Scientist at the College of STEM, the students analyzed an aluminum rich Al-Fe melt sample that was sent for analysis by Fireline, Inc., of Youngstown, OH. Fireline, a prime manufacturer of ceramic and refractory materials as well as ceramic-metallic composites, was interested in the exact composition of the melt which is used during the fabrication of metal matrix composite materials.

Students with their posters in the Moser Hall atrium.

Optical microscopy of a polished piece of the solidified indicated the presence of two compounds, a silvery matrix with small black needles and plates embedded. Using X-ray diffraction, the students identified the silvery matrix as aluminum metal. To determine the nature of the black needles, the Al-Fe melt was cut into small pieces and the aluminum matrix was dissolved using a chemical extraction processes – an iodine tartaric acid method and a method using boiling phenol. The latter method succeeded in selectively dissolving the Al matrix. The students analyzed the extracted black needles and plates using powder and single crystal X-ray diffraction and were able to identify them as an Al-Fe alloy of the composition Al13Fe4. The alloy, which initially was thought to be potentially unstable over time based on the tables published by the American Society for Metals (ASM International), which would have had implications for the stability and strength of products containing this Al-Fe alloy, was confirmed to be the most stable Al-Fe alloy of this composition.

For their presentation, the YSU students were awarded one out of only two First Place Prizes from a total of 112 contributions from over 300 students from Case Western University, University of Akron, Cleveland State University, Kent State University, and Cuyahoga Community College.

Mathematical Modeling of Fracking Chemical Dispersion in Groundwater

Dozens of Youngstown State University graduate and undergraduate students showcased their scholarly achievements at the 22nd annual QUEST Forum for Student Scholarship on Tuesday, April 3 in Kilcawley Center.

The project chosen by Scott Brand, Sean Gabriel, Michael Hernandez, Jessie Grimm, Brian Crawford and Paul Jones was the Mathematical Modeling of Fracking Chemical Dispersion in Groundwater. A major concern in finding fuel sources in shale deposits underground is the brine solution, used in fracking and containing many harmful chemicals, dispersing into the groundwater above these shale deposits.  If it could be determined how the brine solution ends up getting into the groundwater, then maybe this water pollution could be prevented altogether or another way to break up the shale could be found.

Pictured are (left) Brian Crawford and (right) Scott Brand in front of their poster during the Quest presentation.

To model the ground, semi-permeable marbles in a clear plastic column were used; and to model the brine solution, saltwater solutions of different conductivities were created (it was assumed that the chemicals moved with the salt).  Water and the different salt solutions were pumped up through the vertical column, and the conductivity was measured on a computer program called LoggerPro by conductivity probes inserted into the side of the column.  From the data and using an equation model, it could be determined whether the solutions were traveling in plug-flow manner–one solution right after the other–or mixing–where the two solutions mix and do not flow one solution after the other–by finding the diffusivity of the one solution into the other.  It was found that plug-flow dominated as the conductivity increased, whereas mixing occurred when switching back to a lower conductive solution.  In fact, the difference in diffusivity from switching from pure water to a salt solution and from a salt solution to pure water again was a factor of 100.  Future studies could analyze exactly what factor is causing this to occur and what is the best way to prevent this mixing.