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Kari Barkley ’06 (Millstone, N.J.), a Phi Beta Kappa student and perennial member of the dean’s list, is applying knowledge she has gained through a variety of ambitious educational endeavors in a challenging, yearlong research project that focuses on a mathematical model for the transmission of diseases.

Capping a stellar academic career, Barkley, a mathematics major, is undertaking the rigorous research project to qualify for honors when she receives her diploma at the College’s 171st Commencement exercises May 20.

With guidance from her research mentor, L. Thomas Hill, professor of mathematics, Barkley is using differential equations to study paths along which diseases are spread, including paths from parents to offspring and from infected individuals to susceptible individuals. Within the research is an examination of related situations, such as when children born to infected parents receive partial immunity, allowing them to block disease or at least not get it for a longer period of time.

Hill says Barkley’s research, which has implications in both the human and animal worlds, poses a rigorous challenge for an ambitious and talented student like Barkley.

“Kari is an extremely diligent student. She works very hard and gains a deep understanding of the things she’s working on,” Hill says. “She’s been quite insightful about the various aspects of the thesis problem.” When Barkley completes her thesis she will defend it before a committee that will include Hill and other math faculty and, perhaps, faculty of other departments.

Barkley, a graduate of Peddie School, says her Lafayette experience has benefited her in ways she couldn’t have imagined when she first came to the College.

“My math professors have not just been interested in how I am doing in class, but also how I am doing outside of class, and they have expose me to many opportunities outside of class,” she says. “The one-on-one attention gets you motivated. It had definitely prepared me for where I want to go, because now I have self-motivation.”

The capstone year of Barkley’s successful academic career began last summer, when she was earned the distinction of being chosen to participate in the prestigious Research Experience for Undergraduates program funded by the National Science Foundation. She traveled to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where she did research for much of the summer in a complex area of math called geometric group theory, working under the direction of Illinois math faculty Kim Whittlesey and Paul E. Schupp.

“It was a great experience!” Barkley says. “I learned a lot about what type of math I might want to do in the long run, as opposed to the things I’m going to leave behind when I leave college. I got to meet a lot of other students who are also interested in advanced mathematical studies. It was wonderful.”

Her summer of advanced study culminated in an invitation to make a presentation on her research at the annual Mathfest Conference sponsored by the Mathematical Association of America (MAA). The conference, held last year from Aug. 3-6 in Albuquerque, N.M., attracts leaders as well as newcomers in collegiate mathematics. Attendees include educators from colleges, universities and junior colleges; administrators and undergraduate and graduate students; math department chairpersons; and mathematicians employed in research, government, and industry. MathFest sessions include invited addressees, contributed paper sessions, mini-courses, and student activities.

MAA is a professional association dedicated to collegiate mathematics. Its 27,000 members participate in a variety of activities that foster mathematics education, professional development, student involvement, and public policy.

Barkley was invited to join Phi Beta Kappa, the oldest and most respected undergraduate honors organization in the United States, last spring, as a junior. Her accomplishments also include being elected to Pi Mu Epsilon, the national mathematics honor society, and competing in the national William Lowell Putnam Mathematical Competition, described by Time magazine as “the world’s toughest math test.” She was invited to represent the College’s math majors at ceremonies marking the installation of Dan Weiss as 16th president of Lafayette in October.

Barkley was also inducted into Order of Omega, an honor society that recognizes students within the sorority and fraternity community who have a minimum grade-point average of 3.25, have demonstrated leadership ability, and are involved in extracurricular activities. She is a vice president of her sorority, Delta Delta Delta, and an officer in Panhellenic Council. She also participates in community service.

Categorized in: Academic News