Women in Math conference – the inside scoop

On January 28-30, 7 OU undergrads and one graduate student attended the 13th annual Nebraska Conference for Undergraduate Women in Math (NCUWM) in Lincoln, NE.  This is a conference where undergraduate women get to give talks about their research, attend panel discussions, and meet with other women who do mathematics.   About 250 students attend the conference every year.  One of the invited guests this year was Dr. Christine Jerritts of Imagine Math!, who visited the Math Club last semester.

The OU students who went up to Lincoln were Ore Adekoya, Michelle Basham, Dana Haymon, Marissa Mercado, Elizabeth Park, Katlyn Seagraves, and Edwina Shwewa.  Math graduate student Lynn Greenleaf and faculty member Keri Kornelson accompanied them on the trip.  Many thanks go out to the colleges and departments that funded this excursion!

Some of the students were kind enough to answer a few questions about their experiences for the blog.  Below are some excerpts.

Blog HQ:  Why did you decide to go to NCUWM?

Edwina:  I decided to go to the conference because I wanted to find out about opportunities after graduating with a Mathematics degree.

Katlin:  One of my professors my freshman year (Dr. Shankar, we presume) made it sound like a fun trip.

Michelle:  I wanted to go to the Nebraska Conference because I wanted to meet other undergraduate women math majors, just to know they exist.  I wanted to meet with the top women in the field, and I wanted to learn what I can do with my math major.

Marissa:  […] This is what college is all about: meeting people and gaining exposure and experiences to help me prepare for the adult world! I have always loved math, but have never really seen it applied outside the classroom. I figured this conference would be a way to see the activities and types of research involved if I were to pursue a degree in math.

Over 260 women mathematicians! Can you spot the 9 from OU?

HQ:  What happens at this conference?  What did you do there?

Marissa:  The time flew by so quickly! This three-day conference was packed with keynote speakers, panel discussions, and presentations from fellow undergraduate students. While I did not give a talk or make a poster, I mainly came to take in whatever the speakers had to offer. Many of the students present were junior or senior math majors looking toward graduate school. While some of the topics were very complex, I was happy to at least gain some mathematics exposure.

Lynn: […] The talks given by undergraduate women were impressive. These women put a great deal of effort into their presentations. This also gave them valuable experience at public speaking. There were breakout sessions covering many topics of interest.  The undergraduate women asked insightful questions and were obviously engaged in thoughts about their futures.

Edwina:  […] there were specialized breakout sessions to address particular issues which included juggling a career and life, how to prepare for graduate school, how to find a job with a math degree, etc.  The conference helped with networking with people in the mathematics field.

Michelle:  At the conference, the first day we checked in to the hotel, walked around UN Lincoln, and heard a plenary speech from Dr. Linda Petzold.  That night, we went to a banquet where we heard from a panel of women in the field and were able to ask questions and gain insight as to what a career in mathematics will actually be like.  We were placed at random so that we would have to interact with women outside of our group, which was wonderful because I was placed next to Dr. Fan Chung, one of the most phenomenal women I have ever met, and the second plenary speaker.  […]  we went into small groups to discuss topics we chose during registration.  My first small group was led by Dr. Petzold on “What Is Research in Mathematics?”  Her answers to my questions were so enlightening and I cannot be thankful enough that I chose that talk.  […]

HQ:   Give 5 words that describe the NCUWM conference.


The responses!

HQ:  How was the conference, compared to your expectations?

Michelle:  The conference was absolutely fantastic, beyond my expectations.  I had so much fun and made so many friends, even though that sounds cliche, it was so true.  I learned about grad school opportunities, and I got to speak with Dr. Linda Petzold, who is now my idol.

Lynn:  My expectations were high and the conference delivered.

Katlin:  The conference was great! There were a lot of presentations on undergraduate research. I also got a lot of great advice on applying for graduate school and research opportunities.

Marissa: […]I was more amazed by my peers than any of the experienced professors who spoke. I could not believe the complexity of the research they performed and was amazed by the fact that I could be doing the same thing a few years from now.  Listening to the different topics made me realize how broad the mathematics field is. I had declared a Mathematics Minor prior to the conference and now I cannot wait to take the upper level math courses and become more involved with the activities the OU math department offers.

Edwina:  I expected the conference to be informative, which it was.  I was able to find more insight on not just choosing a path after graduation, but also how to execute my choice with the personalized workshops provided.

HQ:  How was the trip paid for?

Keri:  Everyone was completely funded on this trip.  The OU College of Arts and Sciences and the Math Department paid for the 5 students who are math majors, Lynn, and myself.  (Thanks Dean Bell and Dr. Goodey!!)  The two students who aren’t math majors (yet) were funded from their colleges.

Marissa:  The Mewbourne College of Earth and Energy graciously funded me to attend the math conference. As a Petroleum Engineering Major, I requested travel funds through MCEE, which does not have a program to fund student travel for research, presentations, etc. but they made an exception for me! I am grateful that I could attend the conference worry-free of the expenses.

HQ:   Did you have any adventures on the trip?

Lynn & Keri : Shoe shopping!

Katlin:  We went to some of Lincoln’s town favorites. Ivanna (Ivanna Cone) Ice Cream was great. Plus, we found a pretty good Japanese place for lunch one day.


  • During our Saturday lunch break, we walked around downtown Lincoln, had some Samurai Sam’s and enjoyed some Ivana Cone, Nebraska’s local homemade ice-cream shop.
  • At the University of Nebraska bookstore, we saw the Big 12 Championship “OU vs. Nebraska” t-shirts on sale for $2.00. Go Sooners!

Michelle:  One of the nights, my friends and I decided to explore Lincoln, which was a phenomenal idea!  It was snowy and beautiful that night, and after most of the group was too cold to continue, we went into The Mill, a coffee shop unique to Lincoln.  After having the best gunpowder tea I can remember, we made the trek back to the hotel and collapsed in our beds.

HQ:   Did you meet anyone famous?

Michelle:  I did meet Dr. Fan Chung, who was the first woman to get tenure at an Ivy League University in the sciences.

Marissa:  Who knows? From what I saw at the conference, many of the students could very well become the forefronts of future research!

HQ:  What’s the best piece of information you received at the conference?  The thing you will be sure to remember?

Katlin:  Be prepared. Apply to way more schools than you think necessary. Take programming classes. Find a good support group.

Michelle:  There is a community of women there to help and support me; no matter how small that group is, they are there.  I belong in my field.

Lynn:  Information about Project NExT. This looks like an excellent opportunity. Also, it is possible to get funding for NExT during employment negotiations.

HQ:  What would you say to someone considering going to next year’s conference?

Edwina:  It was a great experience to meet people who are in the same boat as you concerning life after graduation.  Even if you don’t plan on going to grad school immediately, there is a lot of great advice for you to consider.

Lynn:  Sign up as soon as registration opens and go! You will not be disappointed.

Katlin:  You should definitely go. It’s a great way to meet other women at your school studying mathematics, learn about research opportunities, and see what other undergraduates are doing in research from all over the country.

Michelle:  Definitely do it!  By not going, you are robbing yourself of a wonderful opportunity.


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