Hawaii makes ideal setting for student mathematics research this summer

Aug 27, 2015

Dana Lacey ’16 and Taylor Spino ’17 computed, evaluated and formulated in paradise. During summer 2015, they participated in a Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) at the University of Hawai’i at Hilo. The Pacific Undergraduate Research Experience in Mathematics (PURE Math) program presented the unique opportunity to learn, research and be mentored with other students from many different universities.

“Math REU’s are very competitive, but students from North Central have an edge. After all, out of the 24 total students in this program from all over the United States and Guam, two were from North Central,” says Lacey. PURE Math was her second REU opportunity.

Lacey participated in the eight-week resident research program and Spino participated in the five-week intern pre-research program. Both groups focused on an area of advanced algebra.

As a resident, Lacey was paired with two other rising seniors, who spent seven weeks researching a question of their choosing. Class time incorporated faculty lectures on math conferences, graduate school, the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) and other summer math programs. Each week included invited guest speakers.

“The speakers would present a topic in mathematics and give a ‘journey’ talk,” says Lacey. “They would describe how they became interested in mathematics, survived graduate school and arrived at their careers today.”

As an intern and first-time REU participant, Spino was introduced to mathematics topics that aren’t typically covered in college courses. After two weeks of classroom lectures and group work, Spino teamed up with two other rising juniors and a sophomore in the program to conduct a final research project.

Spino explains, “I wanted to be involved in an REU because research experience is a very important part of getting into and being prepared for graduate school.”  

Both Lacey and Spino’s PURE Math research culminated in a final presentation of their findings to the program participants and faculty at the university. Lacey plans to present her team’s technical paper at math conferences and at North Central this academic year.

“After taking part in the program, I’m much more confident in mathematics and find research much less intimidating,” says Spino. “The faculty and students all cared so much about mathematics and making others successful in their research. It was great to be a part of that.”

Their time in Hawaii didn’t solely consist of academic work. When they weren’t researching, Lacey and Spino had opportunities to explore Hilo and tour the island.

“On the weekends, the program organized trips to places like the beach and Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park,” says Lacey. “We also took farmers market trips to try island fruit and shave ice. A few brave souls even went ziplining and cliff diving! We were on a big island, so we never ran out of things to do.”


By Lauren Baltas ’16