Sept. 4, 2008

Summer Math Institute gets three-year grant from NSF

Some mathematically inclined students follow a simple path into careers as mathematicians. But for many, the choice to pursue a graduate degree in math is more complicated -- and access to the right courses, research experience and mentors can make a critical difference.

That was the principle behind Cornell's Summer Math Institute (June 7-Aug. 2), which was launched in 2006 to provide those resources to promising students from around the country. This year the institute received a grant from the National Science Foundation for $753,000 over the next three years, with the potential for extended funding through 2012.

The institute, an eight-week program that included a course in advanced analysis, research experience and weekly lectures by outside speakers, was designed by Cornell graduate students and faculty in part to attract students from more diverse backgrounds to their field.

For its first two years, organizers scrambled for patchwork funding from Cornell and outside sources. "Planning [for funding] has been a huge chunk of time," said Ravi Ramakrishna, professor of math and the program's primary faculty coordinator.

But the effort is already paying off, he added, with alumni doing well in graduate school and a growing number of advisers recommending the program to their students.

At an Aug. 1 reception, this summer's group of 12 students looked back on two months of math-packed days and late-night study sessions.

"Everyone was very encouraging," said Ashley Lars, a senior at the University of Kentucky. "It was surprising -- I didn't get sick of math, even though I was doing it 10 hours a day. It's been amazing."

"This program was really preparing us [for graduate school]," added Juan Ortiz, who graduated in 2008 from California Lutheran University and is headed for graduate school at Lehigh University. "I liked that we did real analysis and research at the same time," Ortiz added. "I did not expect the intensity, but you know that they're pushing you because they know you can do it."