Mathematics Students Honored for Outstanding Achievements
The Department of Mathematics honored four outstanding students at its annual student awards reception in April 2009. This year’s graduate honors went to Matt Calef for excellence in teaching and to both Bogdan Nica and Iva Spaculova for outstanding research. Mathematics senior Ayla Gafni was recognized for undergraduate achievement.
This year’s Bjarni Jónsson Prize for Research was awarded to two graduate students: Bogdan Nica and Iva Spaculova.
Nica’s research area is geometric group theory and K-theory. His advisor, Professor Guoliang Yu, describes him as “a young mathematician with exceptional originality and mathematical breadth. He has already written five extremely impressive research papers. Three of his papers have been published or accepted in prestigious journals such as Journal of Functional Analysis, Algebraic and Geometric Topology, and International Journal of Algebra and Computation.”
Nica will receive his Ph.D. in August 2009. He has accepted a Pacific Institute of Mathematics Postdoc Fellowship at University of Victoria, where there is a strong group of researchers in K-theory and noncommutative geometry.
The other Jónsson Research Award winner, Iva Spaculova, came to Vanderbilt from the Czech Republic with a Master's degree in statistics (after a year in the University of Amsterdam) and with a paper already published in the journal Annals of Probability.
“At Vanderbilt, Iva’s interests widened to include group theory,” says her advisor, Professor Mark Sapir. “Her work here included significant new results in the areas of percolation and Ising model on transitive graphs, and 1-related groups. These results are described in three papers, two of which have been accepted for publication in the International Journal of Algebra and Computation and Annals of Probability. Iva is very strong mathematician with a great future.”
In the summer of 2008, Spaculova received a Microsoft Research Internship. She was awarded her Ph.D. in December of 2008.
The 2009 B.F. Bryant Prize for Excellence in Teaching went to Matt Calef. In announcing his award, Director of Teaching Jo Ann Staples noted Calef’s consistently high evaluations from students.
One student wrote: “Greatly enthusiastic about what he does. Unbelievably helpful and accommodating outside of class. The epitome of what a college professor should be.” Another described Calef as “…the best math teacher I’ve ever had. He obviously loves the subject and genuinely wants his students to succeed.”
“Matt is highly deserving of this recognition,” Staples said.
The Richard J. Larsen Award for Achievement in Undergraduate Mathematics was presented to Ayla Gafni. The Larsen Award is given each spring to the senior math major judged by the faculty to have excelled in all aspects of undergraduate mathematics.
“Sometimes the Undergraduate Committee takes a full hour to make a decision on the Larsen Award,” notes Professor and Director of Undergraduate Studies Mark Ellingham. “This year it took no more than two minutes to select Ayla. She has taken an enormous number of math courses, seven more than a typical math major, as well as two of our introductory graduate sequences. Moreover, the undergraduate courses she has taken have been our most rigorous ones, including number theory, abstract algebra, analysis and complex analysis."
"Ayla has a perfect 4.0 GPA in her math classes and will be graduating with Honors in Mathematics," Ellingham said. "We are very pleased that next year she will be returning to our department as one of our graduate students.”
The Department of Mathematics is proud to honor these four excellent students.
About the Awards:
The B. F. Bryant Prize for Excellence in Teaching was established in 1987 in honor of Billy F. Bryant, Professor of Mathematics, Emeritus, who taught at Vanderbilt from 1948 to 1986. The award is given each spring to a graduate teaching assistant who has demonstrated concern for and accomplishments in teaching, qualities that characterized the career of Professor Bryant.
The Bjarni Jónsson Prize for Research is awarded each year to a graduate teaching assistant in the Department of Mathematics for exceptional research in mathematics, as well as for outstanding research potential. The Bjarni Jónsson Prize was established in honor of Bjarni Jónsson, Distinguished Professor of Mathematics, Emeritus, who taught at Vanderbilt from 1966 to 1992.
The Richard J. Larsen Award for Achievement in Undergraduate Mathematics was established in honor of Richard Larsen, who was a member of the faculty of the Department of Mathematics from 1970 to 2005 and who served as the Director of Undergraduate Studies for 17 years, from 1985 to 2002. Larsen worked with a number of different department chairs to make undergraduate teaching a real strength of the department.