Math Professor to help Administer National Science Foundation Grant

Simpson College has a strong commitment to provide students with undergraduate research experiences necessary to reach their potential.  And now one of the college’s professors has extended that commitment even further.

Heidi Berger, assistant professor of mathematics, has been named as Co-Principal Investigator for the Center for Undergraduate Research in Mathematics (CURM), the largest grant awarded by the National Science Foundation solely dealing with undergraduate research in mathematics. Others serving with Berger in this role are Michael Dorff and Tyler Jarvis, both from Brigham Young University, Kathryn Leonard from California State University Channel Islands, and Joyati Debnath from Winona State University.

The $1.28 million grant program promotes and funds undergraduate research in mathematics. Each year, CURM awards mini-grants of $15,000-$25,000 to mathematics professors at United States colleges and universities to support academic year undergraduate research at their respective institutions.

As a Co-Principal Investigator, Berger is responsible for reviewing applications and administering the funds for research at the undergraduate level. ““It is common for undergraduates in math and science to participate in 8-10 week summer research experiences.  This grant allows for students to engage in research during the academic year.  CURM funds two to four students for the whole year so they can focus on research instead of work study or a part-time job,” said Berger.

Berger herself received one of these “mini grants” from CURM during the 2010-11 academic year. She collaborated with Clint Meyer, assistant professor of biology, along with four Simpson students to work on two projects that had been started as a part of the Bryan Summer Research Program at Simpson.

One project dealt with modeling the impact of the Emerald Ash Borer on a community like Indianola.  The second project used a mathematical model to propose an alternative field sampling techniques for stable flies. “The CURM grant not only funds the students, it also provides support for faculty. At the beginning of a project, they attend a workshop on how to effectively conduct undergraduate research. The professor also receives funds to have a course release so they have the time necessary to help, advise and mentor the students,” she said. “Additionally, there is money for the students and professor to present their work at a spring conference. It’s a very exciting program and it’s great that Simpson’s name is now attached to it.”

While it’s personally and professionally exciting for Berger to be appointed to this position, it’s also great exposure for Simpson College. Building on the Albert H. and Greta A. Bryan Summer Research Program and the very successful annual Simpson Research Symposium, she explains, “It puts Simpson in to the right circles. So when people think of undergraduate research, they will think of Simpson.”