MHC Math and Stat Club


Spring 2015 Events

Wednesday, March 4, 12:15-1:00 pm, 416 Clapp--Speaker: Michael Flynn, Director of Mathematics Leadership Programs (MLP) at MHC

Making Mathematics Meaningful: The Changing Tide in K-8 Math Education and How MHC Helps Teachers Navigate New Territory. 
Michael Flynn, Director of Mathematics Leadership Programs (MLP) at Mount Holyoke College will discuss how math education has changed for students and teachers and how he and his colleagues work to support educators in evolving their practice. MLP had developed some innovative methods for working with teachers including virtual lesson studies and dynamic hybrid learning environments. Their work has piqued the interest of organizations like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation who are interested in supporting their projects. Learn about some of this amazing work as well as emerging career opportunities in the field of math leadership.

Thursday, February 26, 12:15-1:00 pm, 416 Clapp--Speaker: Sara Nunez, UMass Graduate Student

Translating Math into a Career

Navigating the roadmap from education to career is challenging in any discipline. As a

Mathematics or Statistics major in particular, the opportunities are endless, but this does not

make it any easier. My undergraduate education in Mathematics prepared me for a strong

career in a way I had not understood until recently. I will be discussing my journey that led me to

work in a biostatistics lab here at MHC, as well as some of the reasons I find biostatistical

research to be interesting. I will also give a brief overview and example of the kind of data and

challenges we deal with everyday that make positions like mine invaluable.

Wednesday, February 25, 12:15-1:00 pm, 416 Clapp--Prospective Major/Minor Lunch

Considering Mathematics or Statistics for your major or minor?  Come join us for pizza and conversation!!  Current majors and minors are invited to come share their experiences with you.. Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, February 18, 12:15-1:00 pm, 416 Clapp--Speakers:  Dara Zirlin and Samantha Vanschalkwyk

An Interactive Discussion of the Putnam Exam and the Problem Solving Group
The William Lowell Putnam Mathematical Competition, also known as the Putnam Exam, is a thought-provoking undergraduate mathematical competition administered the first Saturday of every December. We will take a look at some problems from previous Putnam Exams in an attempt to introduce the Putnam Exam as well as other similar problems. We will also discuss the role of the Problem Solving Group in preparing for the Putnam Exam.

Wednesday, February 11, 12:15-1:00 pm, 416 Clapp--Speaker: Eric Reed, UMass Graduate Student

A brief discussion of interdisciplinary studies combining mathematical principles with life sciences

Biostatistics and bioinformatics are two overlapping fields of study that combine elements of mathematics, statistics, biology, public health and computer science.  Both involve building, applying and evaluating useful mathematical models, within the context of life and health science research. In this talk, I will discuss how I came to pursue degrees in both areas. I will introduce topics in genetics that illustrate the utility of a fundamental understanding of mathematics and statistics. Lastly, I will summarize some of the highlights of my own collaborative research, which seeks draw inference for association between genetic variation and the expression of specific traits.  

Wednesday, February 4, 12:15-1:00 pm, 416 Clapp--Speaker: Jessica Sidman

Geometry and the complexity of computation

Algebraic geometers study curves, surfaces, and higher dimensional objects that are defined implicitly by systems of polynomial equations.  Manipulating polynomial equations on a computer can reveal interesting geometric properties of their solution sets. There are examples showing that such computations can be very costly in general.  However, in nice geometric situations, computations are often quite manageable. I will discuss joint work with Aldo Conca treating a special case of this phenomenon.

Wednesday, January 28, 12:15-1:00 pm, 416 Clapp--Speaker: Grace Barkhuff '16, Research Through the Budapest Semesters in Mathematics REU Class

Using Randomization to Understand Neural Networks

The brain is comprised of millions of neurons, connected in particular patterns in order to send electrical impulses and messages between one another. These neurons and connections are often visualized as graphs comprised of points and lines, called vertices and edges. On the graph, vertices represent individual neurons and edges represent the connections between them.

While sleeping or resting, the hippocampus of the brain sends electrical impulses in a Sharp Wave Ripple (SWR) pattern which helps the brain form memories. Given a specific set of data which represents a neural network of the hippocampus of a rat brain, my research group used computer simulations to understand which particular aspects of the structure of the neural network were vital to have a functioning hippocampus, as determined by the presence of SWR. This was done using randomization processes on an adjacency matrix of the neural network in order to rule out one at a time which aspects of the network are not necessary to produce SWR.


Fall 2014 Events

Wednesday, December 3, 12:15-1:00 pm, 416 Clapp--Where in the world can math/stat majors go?

Please join us for the final Math/Stat Club meeting of the semester.  As this semester comes to a close, a lot of us are already thinking about next semester and beyond.  At this meeting we will talk about opportunities for study abroad for majors in mathematics and statistics and any special planning necessary.  Students who have returned from study abroad experiences will be on hand to talk about their experiences and help answer questions.

Wednesday, November 26 -- Thanksgiving Break: no scheduled talk

Wednesday, November 19, 12:15-1:00 pm, 416 Clapp--Speaker: Chaitra Gopalappa, Mechanical and Industrial Engineering, UMass

Systems Simulation Modeling for Public Health Applications

Infectious diseases such as HIV, TB, malaria, and Ebola disproportionately affect certain populations. Though the how-tos of prevention are known, their implementations are challenging because of the complicated interactions between disease, socio-economics, and behavior. A holistic approach to disease prevention often includes interventions at the individual-level, such as testing programs to diagnose and treat infected persons, interventions at the population-level, such as awareness programs, and interventions at the systemic-level, such as timely updates to guidelines and policies. Interventions may also include continuing care at various stages of disease progression to minimize disease burden. Several of these interventions differ by population groups based on need.

Given these complicated interactions, techniques that can model the dynamics of these interactions, such as systems simulation models, are used to evaluate intervention scenarios so the limited resources can be allocated efficiently. Analyses of short- and long- term impacts and costs of alternative scenarios of combination intervention programs could inform the development of strategies for disease prevention. In this talk I will discuss two types of systems simulation modeling techniques, compartmental and agent-based, for application to public health decision making.  

Wednesday, November 12, 12:15-1:00 pm, 416 Clapp--Speaker: Isabelle Beaudry, UMass, Amherst

An overview of the actuarial profession

Have you considered an actuarial career but you are not too sure what actuaries do in practice? With a 26% projected growth in employment from 2012-2022*, the possibility of undertaking this profession is worth exploring. Come learn more about this exciting profession and its challenges. In this talk, I will present an overview of the typical roles of actuaries, who their employers are, what the examination process is and finally, a brief description of my personal experience as a retirement plan actuary.
* Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, Actuaries

Wednesday, November 5, 12:15-1:00 pm, 416 Clapp--Speaker: Adam Gamzon

Euclidean proofs of the infinitude of primes in arithmetic progressions

Euclid's proof that there are infinitely many prime numbers is known for the simple yet elegant way it argues this classic result.  In 1837 Dirichlet proved the following generalization: if a and n are integers whose greatest common factor is 1 then there are infinitely many primes of the form a + nk for some integer k.  For example, if a = 1 and n = 4 then this means there are infinitely many primes of the form 1 + 4k where k is some integer.  That is, there are infinitely many primes like 5 = 1 + 4, 13 = 1 + 4(3), 17 = 1 + 4(4) and so on.  However, in contrast to Euclid's proof that there are infinitely many primes, Dirichlet's argument uses some deep results of analytic number theory.  In the course of this talk, we will give Euclid's classic proof, explain what we mean by a Euclidean proof of Dirichlet's theorem and then endeavor to answer the question: is it possible to provide a simple proof along the lines of Euclid's argument for Dirichlet's theorem?

Wednesday, October 29, 12:15-1:00 pm, 416 Clapp--Spring Classes!!

Please join us to hear about 300-level classes offered here on campus and around the 5 colleges this spring.

Wednesday, October 22, 12:15-1:00 pm, 416 Clapp--Math/Stat Club at the Movies....

Please join us for a viewing of the movie Flatland.  From

"FLATLAND: THE MOVIE" is an award-winning animated film inspired by Edwin A. Abbott's classic 1884 novel, “Flatland.”  Set in a world of only two dimensions inhabited by sentient geometric shapes, the story follows Arthur Square (Martin Sheen) and his ever-curious granddaughter Hex (Kristen Bell).  When a mysterious visitor arrives from Spaceland (Michael York), Arthur and Hex must come to terms with the truth of the third dimension, risking dire consequences from the evil Circles that have ruled Flatland for a thousand years.

Wednesday, October 15, 12:15-1:00 pm, 416 Clapp--Speaker: Samrachana Adhikari, MHC '11

Statistical Analysis of Real-World Networks

Network data representing complex phenomena in fields such as biology, physics, economics, finance and education is abundant today. Social online networks (e.g. Facebook, Twitter), brain networks, gene networks, financial networks, friendship networks of teachers in schools, etc. are some of the examples of such real-world networks. Researchers hope to understand underlying complex phenomena that form such networks in these fields by analyzing observed network data. A network consists of fixed nodes (e.g. social online users) and dependent edges (e.g. friendship relations). Many real-world networks are noisy and very large. Modeling stochasticity in such highly dependent complex structures poses challenges in existing statistical approach and is computationally harder. Most of the recent works in statistics to analyze networks has been on this front. In this talk, I will delve into the need to build consistent and interpretable statistical models to analyze real-world networks in a systematic and computationally feasible manner. I will motivate the talk by giving examples of networks from different domains, as well as the associated questions researchers in these domains attempt to answer. Next, I will give a general overview of the existing methods for network analysis. In particular, I will discuss ongoing work in the Hierachical Network Methods (HNM) research group in the Statistics Department at Carnegie Mellon University.

Wednesday, October 8, 12:15-1:00 pm, 416 Clapp--Reports on summer activities from Math/Stat students, Part III

Wondering what kind of opportunities are available for students interested in mathematics and statistics?   Please join us to hear students Adelyn Yeoh, Caiyun Zhu, Anne Waldo, Dara Zirlin, Maria Ferreras, and Stephanie Stark share information about their summer experiences.

Adelyn, Caiyun and Anne worked together in a number theory research group on campus.  Stephanie also stayed on campus and worked on problems in rigidity theory related to computer-aided design.  Dara went to the REU at Lafayette College and Maria was an intern at Bank of America Merrill Lynch in Equity Capital Markets.

Wednesday, October 1, 12:15-1:00 pm, 416 Clapp--Reports on summer activities from Math/Stat students, Part II

Wondering what kind of opportunities are available for students interested in mathematics and statistics?   Please join us to hear students Taylor Anderson, Mariah Mullins and Stephanie Stark share information about their summer experiences.

Taylor participated in the Complex and Dynamical Systems REU at the University of Minnesota.  Mariah did research with a professor of statistics at UMass who works with network methods used by the CDC and UNAIDS.  Stephanie stayed on campus and worked on problems in rigidity theory to computer-aided design.


Wed., September 24, 12:15-1:00 pm, 416 Clapp -- Reports on summer activities from Math/Stat students, Part I

Wondering what kind of opportunities are available for students interested in mathematics and statistics?  Please join us to hear students Sam VanSchalkwyk, Amanda Benson, and Maria Sellanes share information about their summer experiences.  

Sam participated in the MSRI-UP research program.  Amanda taught math and art classes to children in Nicaragua.  Maria worked as a camp counselor at MathPath.


Wed., September 17, 12:15-1:00 pm, 416 Clapp -- The Math/Stat Book Club presents: The Man Who Knew Infinity

Please join us for a conversation about the life of famed mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan hosted by the Math/Stat Book Club. This summer the book club read the biography of Ramanujan,The Man Who Knew Infinity, by Robert Kanigel.  We'll lead a discussion inspired by the book, asking questions about genius, the "best" way to educate a mathematician, how social class shapes mathematical culture, competition in mathematics, whether proof is necessary, and more.  No need to have read the book to join in the conversation, though it may inspire  you to read it later!

Wed., September 10, 12:15-1:00 pm, 416 Clapp -- Welcome Meeting

Please join us for our first Math/Stat Club meeting of the year.  This is an opportunity to meet faculty and other students interested in mathematics and statistics.  You will hear about faculty research interests and many opportunities for students to meet each other and get involved in our department.

We will have pizza, drinks, and… surprise gifts!

Spring 2014 Events

Wed., April 23, 12:15-1:00 pm, 416 Clapp -- "Talk Back"

The last Math/Stat Club meeting of the year is our annual “Talk Back” -- an opportunity for you to give the department advice about opportunities and events outside the classroom.  What are your reactions to opportunities and events in 2013-2014?  What advice/suggestions do you have for 2014-2015?  Come share your ideas and join the conversation.

Wed., April 16:  No scheduled talk

Wed., April 9:  Academic Advising: No scheduled talk

Wed., April 2, 12:15-1:00 pm, 416 Clapp -- Let's start a book club!
Do we live in an 11-dimensional world?  What shape is the universe?  Which million dollar math problem has been solved and who refused to accept the prize? How does Nate Silver make his predictions?
We'd like to see if there is interest in starting a book club where participants might get to talk about questions like these.  Come to Math/Stat Club this week to talk about getting this started.  We want to hear from you, especially to hear what kinds of books you would like to read and what format (for credit, frequency and format of meetings) would make the most sense.  If you are interested and can't come, please contact Jessica Sidman (

Wed., March 26, 12:15-1:00 pm, 416 Clapp -- 300-level courses

Wondering what to take next fall?  Come talk with Math and Stat faculty members about the 300-level courses they will be teaching.

Wed., March 5, 12:15-1:00 pm., 416 Clapp -- Speakers: Math Modeling Competition Participants

The speakers at this week's Math/Stat Club will be student participants in this year's International Mathematical Modeling Competition. They will discuss this year's contest problems and their solutions, and their experiences with mathematical modeling over the past year. If you are interested in learning more about mathematical modeling and the opportunities for students to get involved, come hear them speak and ask them questions. 

Wed., February 26, 12:15-1:00 pm, 416 Clapp -- Speaker: Professor Jessica Sidman, MHC  

How do we get to the line at infinity?  An introduction to projective space.
In high school geometry we learn that any two lines in the plane must intersect unless they are parallel.  We may also observe that the sides of a long, straight road seem to meet at the horizon.  This suggests that we might be able to augment the plane with a line "at infinity," and that parallel lines will intersect at a point on this new line.  In this talk we will make these ideas rigorous by constructing the projective plane.

Wed., February 19, 12:15-1:00 pm, 416 Clapp -- Speaker: Elodie Fourquet

Perspective in Two Dimensions for Computer Graphics

Holding in mind a 2D projection of a 3D scene is easy; holding in mind the 3D scene is hard. According to recent research in perception the human brain deals more easily with 2D representations than with 3D ones. When perspective was re-invented in the Renaissance artists quickly discovered how to construct accurate perspective without having to work in 3D. Doing so they were able easily to combine perspective with composition, which is dominantly 2D. From this point of view, modern computer graphics seems gratuitously difficult in forcing its users to develop full 3D models.

The seminal construction in Renaissance artists' perspective is the tiled floor, the many constructions of which I will explain in detail. Having reduced it to 2D perspective geometry, I will show how other useful constructions can be similarly reduced, including the double projection required for accurate shadows. Artists did these computations geometrically, drawing lines to find their intersections. Using my formalism to reduce geometry to algebra, computers can reproduce the 2D perspective calculations used by artists.

Wed., February 12:  No scheduled talk

Friday, February 7, 4:00 pm, 416 Clapp -- Speaker: Brad Westgate

Introduction to Statistical Data Mining

Data mining refers to several types of problems, all involving extracting information from a large dataset.  We will review different branches of data mining, including classification, clustering, and dimension reduction, and consider example applications where these problems arise.  We will focus in particular on classification, which involves predicting an unknown outcome from several other observed variables.  We will discuss and compare classification methods, including Naive Bayes and logistic regression.

Friday, February 7, 12:15-1:00 pm, 416 Clapp -- Speaker: Andrew Bray

Tectonics and Tessellations: residuals for spatial point processes

Earthquakes are one of many natural phenomena that can be effectively modeled as a spatial point process.  However, challenges abound.  In this talk we will outline the process by which earthquake models are formulated and discuss the difficulties that arise in assessing how well they perform.  We will also investigate how spatial tessellations can lend substantial power to the modeling process.

Friday, January 31, 12:15-1:00 pm, 416 Clapp -- Speaker Kelly McConville

If a tree grows in a forest, will a statistician count it?  An introduction to survey sampling

Surveys are fairly common in our society and allow one to make inferences about a population of interest based on sample. The sample data, collected using a complex sampling design, can often be supplemented with additional data.  In this talk I will discuss how to estimate a population quantity in the presence of both survey and additional data.  In particular, I will present an estimator I developed -- the LASSO Survey Regression Estimator -- and I will address how this estimator compares to other commonly used survey estimators when estimating tree canopy cover for a region in Utah. 

Monday, January 27, 12:15-1:00 pm, 416 Clapp -- Speaker: Andrea Foulkes

Statistical deception and the era of "big data"

The familiar phrase "Lies, damn lies and statistics" takes on new meaning in the era of "big data".  In this Math/Stat club talk, we will begin by exploring various ways in which statistics and statistical graphics have been used to persuade and, at times, deceive us. Focus will be on the thematic use of several important statistical concepts, ranging from misrepresentation of a mean to taking advantage of the presence of selection bias. We will then consider how big data applications present an entirely new opportunity to use these old tricks, as well as a few new ones. Students (and faculty) will learn to have a more discerning eye, as well as learn about why understanding and applying elementary statistical concepts is so important in the big data arena.

Fall 2013 Events

Wed., December 4, 12:15-1:00 pm, 416 Clapp

End-of-Term party:  Come celebrate the last Math/Stat Club meeting of the semester

Wed., November 20: Event Cancelled

Wed., November 13, 12:15-1:00 pm, 407 Clapp (note location)

"Enabling Secure Computing through Fully Homomorphic Encryption"

Come join us for an very interesting cross-disciplinary talk by Kurt Rohloff of BBN Technologies. 

One of the major breakthroughs of theoretical computer science in the 20th century was the formalization and development of mathematically secure encryption technologies.  These breakthroughs have enabled people to securely share information over the Internet without prior interactions.  In this talk we'll provide an introduction to prevalent encryption technologies such as one-time pads, AES-based symmetric key encryption and RSA-based public key encryption technologies.  We'll particularly focus on practical trade-offs associated with building and using these technologies.  Building upon this prior work, we will also discuss the first major breakthrough of computer science in the 21st century - the demonstration of public-key Fully Homomorphic Encryption (FHE). FHE allows sensitive data to be encrypted such that arbitrary programs can be securely run over the encrypted data where the output, when decrypted, is equivalent to the result of running the original algorithm on the unencrypted data.  FHE is an area of high ongoing interest from both theoretical and practical perspectives.

Wed., November 6, 12:15-1:00 pm, 416 Clapp

300-Level Course Meeting

Faculty members who are teaching 300-level courses in the spring semester will discuss their offerings.  It will be a chance to think over your math majors and minors and ask any questions you have on those.

Wed., October 23, 12:15-1:00 pm, Clapp 407 (Note change of room)

Rigidity Theory for Robotics, Drug Design and CAD

Jessica Sidman and Audrey St. John 

When designing a bridge, how can we minimize the amount of building materials while maintaining stability? Are there computational tools that can help predict protein flexibility, a key component in drug design? Rigidity theory seeks to answer these questions by studying structural properties from the mathematical and computational perspectives. In this talk, we will discuss the fundamental questions considered by rigidity theory and its applications, including those in robotics, structural biology and Computer Aided Design for mechanical engineers. We will provide an overview of the mathematical tools used in analysis and discuss opportunities for getting involved in ongoing research projects.

Wed., October 9, 12:15-1:00 pm, 416 Clapp

Presentations on Summer Work by Fellow Mathematics and Statistics Students Part II

Wed, October 2, 12:15-1:00 pm, 416 Clapp

Presentations on Summer Work by Fellow Mathematics and Statistics Students Part I

Wed, September 25, 12:15-1:00 pm, 416 Clapp

A Look at the World of Finance, Zheyuan Hu, BlackRock Financial Management in NYC

Events for Spring 2013


The Problem Solving Seminar is an off-shoot of the Math/Stat club.  Students who intend to take the Putnam along with others interested in improving their problem-solving  abilities meet weekly on Friday for lunch noon to 1:00 in Clapp 416 (in the fall semester) with a faculty member to work on problems.  The seminar is not for credit, it is an extra-curricular activity.  Read this article about our problem solving group Some Truly Impressive Figures, May 2, 2011.

This year the club will hold its first meeting on Friday, September 28, problems get sent out on Sundays for group members to look over. We alternate weeks between solving problems one week and practicing our presentations the next week. On the first Saturday in December members from the Problem Solving Seminar take the Putnam exam.

Are you interested in learning to use mathematical methods to solve real world problems? The Mathematical Modeling Club meets weekly to discuss modeling strategies and work together on problems. Members of the Mathematical Modeling Club will elect a 3-person team to represent Mount Holyoke College in an international mathematical modeling contest that takes place in February. You do not need to be a mathematics or statistics major. Being able to think creatively about how to solve real problems is the most important thing, and the group benefits from having a variety of perspectives. People from other disciplines are welcome!

If you are planning to take the GRE Subject Test in Mathematics this fall (October or November), you should be working problems in as many sample tests as you can find.  You should also be giving yourself timed practice tests, since there is no substitute for that experience.  If you have questions about any aspect of this exam, whether about particular problems or particular topics, be sure to get those answered.

You're more than welcome to join the Mount Holyoke Actuarial Club if you're interested in becoming an actuary and want to learn a great deal about the insurance industry!

The Actuarial Club at Mount Holyoke College aims to help its members become strong actuarial candidates, to provide resources necessary for them to prepare for an actuarial career, and also to build a professional network with our wonderful alumnae actuaries.