Amanda Francis: Motherhood and Scholarship

BYU’s College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences wrote a wonderful article on BYU Math professor Amanda Francis:

Balancing Duality: Motherhood and Scholarship

March 5, 2015

Being a mother is hard enough; being a professor is just as difficult. Dr. Amanda Francis, a visiting professor in the Department of Mathematics juggles both roles.

“I love math, and there aren’t very many people who I can talk to about things like equations, polynomials, and matrices,” Francis said. “I love teaching math because I get to discuss some of my favorite topics with my students.  It’s their first time seeing these elegant concepts, and I remember how miraculous it all is, watching through my students’ eyes. I find that so fulfilling.”

Francis, originally from Salt Lake City, received her BS in mathematics from the University of Utah. After Francis completed her undergraduate work, she came to BYU to receive her masters and PhD in mathematics. Now, after taking a two-year break to stay home with her toddler and newborn twins, Francis is back and excited to teach and research once more.

“There are so many great people to work with here in this department. They are very welcoming and helpful, and many are working on really interesting projects,” Francis said.

When Francis isn’t talking math with her students, she spends her time researching algebraic geometry and mirror symmetry. In mirror symmetry, researchers compare two different mathematical structures that are created in different ways, and yet turn out to be the same when actually computed.

“We’re trying to verify a conjecture that these two different mathematical models really are the same,” Francis said. “The whole idea of duality—that you have these two objects that should somehow be dual to each other and then they turn out to be isomorphic [equal]. It is fascinating—why are they isomorphic, these dual objects?”

Balancing motherhood and academia isn’t all a walk in the park, and Francis knows all too well how hectic that life can be.

“It’s hard to balance it all and try to think about the needs of my kids and my husband, and then also, have the other part of my mind thinking about some complicated problem I’m working on or something that I’m going to teach in my next class,” Francis said. “I really admire families and women who succeed at balancing everything because it is definitely tough.”

Despite the sometimes stressful schedule, Francis said that she wouldn’t give it up for anything, and she is very grateful to her colleagues in the college for their support.

“Students and faculty in the College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences here at BYU should know what rare and valuable opportunity they have,” Francis said. “At other universities there are people who are brilliant in their fields of study, but at BYU you get people who are brilliant in their field of study and are also amazingly commendable people who serve in the church, who love their families, and who are just shining examples of how to be a great person—including how to excel in scientific scholarship. I just so appreciate their examples.

Mackenzie Brown, College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences

Another Successful Pi Day

BYU students and members of the Provo community enjoyed a fantastic Pi Day celebration in Brigham Square on Friday, March 13. This year’s theme, “Pi the People,” was a great success. Students enjoyed pie-ing each other and their professors with whipped cream pies. Hundreds of students participating in pie eating contests throughout the afternoon. The Math Department gave away many prizes, including pens, backpacks, and the famous BYU Math sweatbands.

Saturday, March 14 was the Pi Day of the Century (3.14.15)! The Math Department celebrated by bringing hundreds of slices of pie to the BYU Rugby game. During halftime, fans participated in a pie eating contest and won free prizes such as Pi Day t-shirts and mini Pi Day basketballs. A fun time was had by all as the BYU Cougars beat St. Mary’s 35-26.

The BYU Math Department is thankful for all of the support it received for its Pi Day festivities. Check out other Pi Day publicity from the Provo Mayor’s office and the Daily Herald. Like the BYU Math Facebook page for lots of Pi Day pictures!

Pi Day 2015

Pi Day is fast approaching, and this year’s celebration will be a special one. The digits of Pi correspond perfectly with this year’s Pi Day date: 3.1415, 3/14/15. Though Pi Day falls on a Saturday, the BYU Math Department will still be hosting a carnival in Brigham Square on Friday, March 13, from 12-2 pm. Activities will include Plinko, face painting, a Pi recitation contest, and a pie eating contest, to name a few.

This year’s Pi Day celebration theme is “Pi the People,” and no one is safe from getting pied in the face! Members of the BYU Rugby Team will be the first victims of “Pi the People” at 12:30 pm in Brigham Square. Other special guests will be announced at a later date. Everyone will have the chance to get pied in our Pi Day Photo Booth. Bring your friends and serve them up a whipped cream pie!

The celebration will continue on Saturday, March 14th at the BYU Rugby game against Saint Mary’s College. Get your ticket at the gate on game day: $8 for adults, $5 for students. The game starts at 7 pm, but make sure to arrive early- the BYU Math Department will be giving away free slices of pie to the first 200 fans!

Pi Day t-shirts will be available for purchase starting Monday, March 9 in 275 TMCB. T-shirts will be sold for $5 each. Toddler and infant t-shirts will also be available for purchase.

The math department is looking for volunteers to help run Pi Day booths in Brigham Square on Friday, March 13th. Please join us for the Student Advisory Council (SAC) meeting on Wednesday, March 4th at 4 pm in 297 TMCB, or contact, for more information about becoming a volunteer.

We hope to see you at our Pi Day celebration this year!

Faculty Spotlight: Amanda Francis

The Math Department is excited to welcome Amanda Francis as a visiting assistant professor for the next two years. She earned a BS in statistics from the University of Utah, an MS in mathematics from BYU, and a Ph.D. from BYU. She has served as an adjunct faculty member at Salt Lake Community College, Shenandoah University, and Lord Fairfax Community College. Dr. Francis’ research interests include algebraic geometry, mirror symmetry, and algebra.

After serving as an LDS missionary in Honduras, Dr. Francis married her high school sweetheart. The couple has three children, a four-year-old and two-year-old twins.

When asked what she likes most about teaching at BYU, Dr. Francis could not decide between the students and the faculty. She said, “I’ve never been somewhere where I felt so strongly that everyone around you genuinely wants you to succeed, students and faculty included. She loves seeing the excitement on her students’ faces when she explains surprising and intriguing concepts. Dr. Francis’s advice to students is to find a math mentor, such as a professor or graduate student.

This semester, Dr. Francis is teaching Linear Algebra (Math 313) and Commutative Algebra (Math 676).

Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Vianey Villamizar

The math department is excited to welcome back Dr. Vianey Villamizar from serving as the mission president of the Venezuela, Caracas Mission.

Dr. Villamizar’s interest in math developed in his first year of college.With the intent to better understand chemistry, his major, Dr. Villamizar took many math classes. His interest in math grew, and he abandoned his original major and decided to pursue a degree in math. Dr. Villamizar received a BS in Mathematics at Universidad Central de Venezuela in 1977 and finished a Master’s program there in 1983. He pursued a PhD at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, then took a position as a Postdoctoral Fellow at Northwestern University. Dr. Villamizar’s first encounter with BYU occurred in 1999 when he accepted an invitation to teach at BYU for a semester. A second invitation in Fall 2000 led to a permanent position.

Dr. Villamizar reflects that BYU’s unique atmosphere drew him in and helped him decide to pursue a permanent position here. He enjoys the possibility to freely share his beliefs and faith in an academic environment and be intellectually and spiritually edified by his students and colleagues.

Dr. Villamizar and his wife Maru, who have three children, were called to preside over the Venezuela, Caracas Mission in 2011 and enjoyed this spiritually refining experience. They returned to Provo in summer 2014 and have enjoyed the challenges and opportunities presented to them since they have returned to the US.

Fall 2014 Announcements

The Math Department has many exciting activities and contests coming in Fall Semester 2014!

The “Problem of the Week” will continue this fall. The first person to turn in a complete and correct solution wins a $20 gift card!  The problems are posted on our Facebook page “BYU Math,” on the department webpage, in our weekly email newsletter (the M-3), and in the Talmage Building (TMCB). Subscribe to the weekly newsletter in the Math Department Office (275 TMCB) or by emailing Turn in solutions for the Problem of the Week to Professor Nielsen at 318 TMCB or at

Each semester, we offer a one-credit problem-solving class: Math 391R.  This class is designed to prepare students for the nation-wide Putnam competition and it also helps students learn some deep tricks to solving problems.  Students need not be registered for the class to participate. The classes will meet in room 133 TMCB on Tuesdays and Thursdays, one class at 12:00-12:50 pm and another at 1:00-1:50 pm.

Even if you don’t participate in our Putnam seminar class, please participate in the Putnam Competition.  High finishers earn prizes, honors, and even scholarships! The BYU team placed 9th in the nation in 2013 and 7th in 2012. Sign up in the Math Department Office. For more information, contact Professor Ouyang at

Each October, we hold the annual Intermountain Mathematics Competition where we compete against other schools in the Mountain West area. Students also have the opportunity to compete in the Virginia Tech Regional Mathematics Competition in October. For more information, contact Professor Ouyang at

Problem Solving Club meets twice during fall semester to prepare for the Putnam competition. The meetings consist of a short presentation on problem solving methods, a contest with prizes (the top winner last year won an iPod), and a pizza dinner. Our first meeting will be September 25th at 5 pm in room 1170 TMCB.  The second meeting will be November 13th in the same room and at the same time.

The Math Department sponsors several student clubs: Student Advisory Council (SAC), and Student Advisory Council for ACME (SACME). Let your voice be heard – join a club! SAC will hold its first meeting on Wednesday, September 10th at 4 pm in 292 TMCB and an opening social for all math majors on Friday, September 19th at 6 pm at Kiwanis Park. Look for meeting announcements in the TMCB, on our department webpage, and on the BYU Math Facebook page.

Launched last fall, the Applied and Computational Math Emphasis has found great success. ACME has a modernized curriculum geared toward real-world practices focused on the mathematics that is important in multi-disciplinary applications. For more information, go to

Still deciding on a major? Come to our annual To Be or Not to Be event to learn more about being a math major! It will be held on Thursday, October 16th from 5-6:30 pm in the Math Lab.

Major orientation will take place on September 24th.

For regular updates, locations, times, and other information, please see our website at or our Facebook page:  If you have further questions, please contact us at or at (801) 422-2061.

Central Utah Science and Engineering Fair

On March 27th, the annual Central Utah Science and Engineering Fair (CUSEF) took place at Brigham Young University.  CUSEF involves fifth through twelfth graders in the Alpine, Jordan, Nebo, Provo, and Wasatch school districts.

In order to compete at CUSEF, students must attend and present at two pre-qualifying fairs, their school’s fair and their district’s science fair. Over 100,000 students are eligible for competition, but only 900 students advance to CUSEF each year. Students compete against other students of their same age and in categories of their choosing. CUSEF is supported through funds and staffing provided by the David O. McKay School of Education, the BYU Public School Partnership, Intel, Ira A. and Mary Lou Fulton, and the BYU Colleges of Life Science, Engineering and Technology, and Physical and Mathematical Sciences.

Each year, the BYU Department of Mathematics awards a scholarship to the top placing project in the mathematics division.  The scholarship is a $1500 award.  If a winning project is a team project, then the award will be divided evenly between the participants.  In order to collect the award, the winning student(s) must be accepted and enrolled at Brigham Young University. Students can win this award multiple times.

This year’s winners were Kate Palmer, Daniel Peterson, and Bryan Poulson from Bingham High School.  The students’ project was titled, “The change in margin of error at two standard deviation using the Monte Carlo Probability Method of approximating ?/4.” The award was presented by Dr. Steven McKay, Associate Chair of the BYU Department of Mathematics. See video here.

Daniel Palmer and Bryan Poulson also received last year’s award for their “Project Pi.” At the time, they attended South Jordan Middle School.

Dr. Randy Skinner, a geology professor at Brigham Young University and Director of CUSEF said, “I challenge all of you- young people and old people alike- to improve your math skills by taking more classes; classes that are hard, and classes that challenge you.” After discussing some less than impressive statistics regarding math, science, and reading scores in the United States, Dr. Skinner encouraged students and their parents to make their experiences with math more positive. He highlighted many careers, from physicist to video game programmer, that regularly utilize math skills. Dr. Skinner’s full speech is available here.

Essay Award: Carolyn Brown

BYU Math undergraduate Carolyn Brown recently earned an Undergraduate Level Honorable Mention in the 2014 Essay Contest Biographies of Contemporary Women in Mathematics. The contest was organized by the Association for Women in Mathematics, an organization with more than 3000 members from the United States and around the world. Brown’s essay, “No More Excuses,” is about Dr. Emily Evans, a BYU Mathematics professor who begins a tenure track position in the fall. “It’s impressive that she has a family and still follows her dream in math and has accomplished so much,” says Brown. The Math Department congratulates Carolyn Brown on her accomplishment and thanks Dr. Evans for inspiring students to succeed. Click here to read Brown’s essay.

Best Job of 2014: Mathematician

A new ranking from, a job search website, recently named mathematician the best job of 2014. “Mathematicians pull in a midlevel income of $101,360, according to, and the field is expected to grow 23% in the next eight years,” states the Wall Street Journal blog post. Click here to read more about the best and worst jobs of 2014.

Top Ten Finish Again

They’ve done it again! The BYU Putnam Competition Team placed 9th overall in the 74th William Lowell Putnam Mathematical Competition, held on December 7, 2013. The team was recognized with an honorable mention by the William Lowell Putnam Mathematical Competition. This year’s team included Peter Baratta, Sam Dittmer, and Tianyi Yang. Baratta and Dittmer were both members of last year’s competition team which placed 7th overall. Sam Dittmer earned an honorable mention (awarded to individual ranks 26-76.5) and Peter Baratta and Yifeng Xu (not a team member) earned individual scores qualifying them for ranks 110-201. Dittmer said, “It’s exciting for BYU to place in the top ten two years in a row, and it’s also exciting for me to do so well in my last year here.” The team was coached by Dr. Tiancheng Ouyang. A total of 4113 students form 557 colleges and universities in Canada and in the United States participated in this year’s competition. Competing teams came from 430 educational institutions.