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Gary Gordon, professor of mathematics, never tires of spreading the word about Lafayette’s Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program. He enjoys seeing colleagues become just as excited as he is about the program’s benefits for undergraduate mathematics students.

Gordon recently published two articles highlighting how Lafayette’s program has evolved. Last fall, he was invited to the Promoting Undergraduate Research in Mathematics conference hosted by the American Mathematical Society. His article was published in the conference proceedings this spring. A counselor for the Council for Undergraduate Research, Gordon also is scheduled to have an article on the REU program published in its quarterly magazine sent to all members this fall.

“We have a strong reputation for being a ‘fun’ REU, but also for producing lots of very good research that’s been published in very strong research journals,” Gordon says. “I think other faculty who read these articles – and the tongue-in-cheek article I published on the REU in Math Horizons in 2004 – will recommend Lafayette’s program to their students.”

REU is an intensive, eight-week summer research experience in which undergraduate students investigate unsolved problems in mathematics. Students work in small groups directed by individual faculty members. Most students who have participated in the Lafayette program have published papers; over the last six years, about three quarters of the research groups have produced 19 research papers.

Most students also have presented talks on their summer research at national mathematics conferences. Lafayette is one of the few programs that takes its student to research conferences. The College also supports travel to a conference after the summer, usually the annual Joint Meetings of the American Mathematical Society and Mathematical Association of America.

The College has participated as an REU site for the last seven years and for six years in the 1990s, placing it among the oldest programs in the nation. Cliff Reiter, professor of mathematics, began the program; Gordon has been the program coordinator since 2000. Last year, the National Science Foundation renewed Lafayette’s grant for the REU program through 2010.

Gordon believes the group nature of the research as well as gathering students from various colleges and universities makes REU a unique experience compared to Lafayette’s other major research programs such as the EXCEL Scholars program, independent study, and honors theses.

“EXCEL, independent study, and honors in math at Lafayette, and elsewhere, typically involve one-on-one or occasionally two students for a single faculty mentor,” he explains. “The REU usually has groups of three or four students working with a faculty member on an intense project for eight full weeks.

“In addition, the quality of the students we attract is outstanding; our group this year includes students from MIT, Dartmouth, Notre Dame, and Barnard, but also smaller schools where students might not have the opportunity to do research, like Furman and ProvidenceCollege. Lafayette students who work in the groups with these outside students get a preview of the kinds of students they’ll meet in graduate school and beyond.”

Gordon has three goals for students who participate in the REU program.

“One: learn how research is done in math – it’s completely different from coursework where the answers are in the back of the book,” he says. “Two: have fun. Three: publish if you can. That’s the order I would put them in, too.”

In keeping with the goal of having fun, each summer features activities that do not have a mathematical goal. Past activities have included sightseeing in Philadelphia, hiking at Sunfish Pond, climbing on the rock wall in KirbySportsCenter, rafting on the Delaware River, and seeing the play Proof in New York City. The program also organizes cookouts, DVD nights, and guest speakers, and allows students to plan their own activities.

This summer, there are three research groups. Gordon and Garth Isaak, professor of mathematics at LehighUniversity, are leading a study of the computational power of combinatorial structures. Evan Fisher, professor of mathematics, is organizing a project on genetic processes in which probability models are used in the analysis of biological sequences. Justin Corvino, assistant professor of mathematics, is conducting research on geometric analysis and general relativity.

For more information, visit the REU website.

Categorized in: Academic News