Intermountain Mathematics Competition 2013

On Saturday, November 9, BYU students will have the opportunity to take part in a problem-solving competition against various universities throughout Utah and Idaho during the Intermountain Math Competition (IMC).

The IMC is comparable to a mini-Putnam competition.  It’s a great opportunity to practice problem-solving and possibly win cash and prizes.  No sign-up is necessary, and you don’t need to be a math major.  All you need to do is show up to room 111 TMCB.  The test will be administered from 9am to noon.  A free breakfast will be arriving at 8:30am, so come early if you want time to eat.  Otherwise, you will be allowed to munch as you take the test.

Out of the entire competition, first place will receive $500, second place will receive $200, and third place will receive $100.  Anyone who receives an above-average score will receive a bookstore gift card.  Free tshirts will also be awarded.

For questions, email Dr. Nielsen

“To Be or Not To Be” a Math Major

Choosing a major is tough.  BYU’s wide variety of options can be a bit overwhelming, and gathering information on each one can feel virtually impossible.

The Math Department wants to do everything possible to make this selection process easier for students.  If you have ever had any interest in mathematics, or maybe you just did really well in a math class, you are invited to attend an info session about the Mathematics degree on Thursday, October 17.  The meeting is intended to provide all the basic information you need to know about being a mathematics major or minor.  In addition, there will be a discussion on all the different career options you would have with a degree in mathematics.  A question and answer session after the general presentation will follow.

If a successful future in mathematics is not enough to convince someone to attend the info session, pizza may do the trick.  Free pizza will be provided for all who attend.  So if you have an interest in mathematics, and have friends who also enjoy math and free food, then come and join us on the 17!

The “To Be or Not To Be” a Math major/minor info session will be on Thursday, October 17 at 5:30pm in room 1170 TMCB.

To learn more about the benefits of a degree in mathematics, visit

The Savage Teaching Award

Tyler Jarvis is the eighth recipient of the Savage Teaching Award for Distinguished Teaching of Mathematics. This award is presented every other year, usually in October. Nominees for the Savage Teaching Award are widely recognized as successful teachers who positively influence their students with effective teaching and who foster excitement about mathematics in and out of the classroom.

The Savage Teaching Award was established to honor the many dedicated teachers in the BYU Department of Mathematics. Past recipients of the award include Dr. Stephen Humphries, Kening Lu, Chris Grant, Rodney Forcade, Darrin Doud, Michael Dorff, and David Cardon. Additionally, Wayne Barrett, Peter Bates, James Cannon, Peter Crawley, Lawrence Fearnley, Kenneth Hillam, Kenneth Larson, Hal Moore, and Don Robinson have been specially recognized as award recipients.

Dr. Jarvis will be presented $1,000 and a bronze sculpture, “Wildfire,” by Helaman Ferguson, a former member of the BYU Department of Mathematics. The award presentation will take place on Thursday, October 3 at 4:00 pm in 1170 TMCB. Refreshments will be served at 3:30 pm in the lobby outside of 1170 TMCB. Faculty, graduate students, undergraduate students, and the BYU Community are invited to attend.

Leaving a Legacy

You might see Dr. Donald Robinson’s name on a plaque in the Talmage, unaware of the legacy he left behind.

Born in 1928 on a leap day, this 84 year-old retired BYU professor was one of the first Mathematics PhDs to teach at BYU when he started teaching here in 1956.

“I’m proud of him for the way he’s tried to live his life, do the best he could, and serve other people,” said Allen Robinson, Dr. Robinson’s son.

The math department awarded Dr. Robinson with a plaque that is now displayed in the Talmage Building and thanked him for his generous endowment that has allowed and will continue to allow four math students every year to have a full-ride scholarship, for many years to come.

Dr. Don Robinson demon­strated an exceptional love for mathematics and the students who study it. A former professor and chair of the department, Don first discovered his passion for mathematics in grade school, as he recalled finding entertainment in working on extra problems his teacher would challenge the class to solve. He met his sweetheart, Helen, in Junior High School where they both played in the orchestra. Don and Helen were married by 1952 in the Salt Lake City LDS Temple.

Don pursued his doctorate in math­ematics from the Case Institute of Technology, Ohio. His studies were almost interrupted, as he was drafted into the army. However, he was discharged due to eyesight problems. Don graduated from the Case Institute of Technology and then went on to teach at various institutions. He eventually came to Brigham Young University, and was only the second professor with a PhD to join the Math Department faculty. Dr. Robinson remained at BYU for 43 years. His area of research was linear algebra dealing with the matrix theory.

Don enjoyed his teaching career and was a dedicated faculty mem­ber, receiving many awards for his outstanding contributions to the Math Department. He served as Chair of the Math Department three times, and many of the programs enjoyed by students today are due to his contributions and dedicated service.

You may also see Marcellus Burton’s name, along with the name of his wife, on a plaque in the Talmage.

Shirley and Marcellus Burton also had a passion for learning and education. Growing up, Marcellus would often be found at the kitchen table working calculus problems. A child of the Great Depression, he observed that his civil engineer uncle always had a good job, and, not wanting to be poor, Marcellus decided early on he wanted to follow the same path.

Upon the beginning of the second World War, Marc anticipated service in the army and shifted his studies to meteorology so he could be immediately inducted. In 1944, as a newly minted 2nd Lieuten­ant, his first duty assignment was Marana Army Air Base. It was here that he met his future wife, Shirley Etheredge.

Shirley was born in Norfolk, Vir­ginia, where she attended school and became a teacher. She always encouraged a healthy curiosity and emphasized its strong connection with books. Not satisfied to teach only Monday through Friday, she also taught Sunday school through­out her life. Her love of young people and of teaching inspired the Shirley and Marcellus Burton Scholarship.

Shirley and Marc married in 1945 and spent 26 years of service in the Air Force. During this time they raised five children and traveled with them all over the world as Marcellus completed 18 duty as­signments. The couple retired from the Air Force in 1970, and Marcel­lus returned to San Jose State, where he had attended in his youth, and taught meteorology there for the next 14 years. To this day, Marcellus considers himself to have a profound love of numbers.

To date, six students have benefit­ed from these generous scholarship donors. To learn more about how to donate to the Math Department, contact Dr. Robin Roundy at or call 801-422-1747.

—Curtis Penfold, College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences

New Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Michael Barrus

The Brigham Young University Mathematics Department is proud to welcome Dr. Michael Barrus, a visiting mathematics professor with a knack for research.

Dr. Barrus grew up in Utah and received his undergraduate and master’s degres in Mathematics from Brigham Young University. During his time at BYU, Dr. Barrus was enrolled in a class with Dr. David Wright. It was through a small study group for this class that Dr. Barrus met his future wife, Michelle Kitchen.

“I was afraid to ask her out right away; I thought it might make our study sessions awkward,” Barrus said. “So instead I waited until the end of the semester to take her on a date.” From there, the rest was history.

The couple eventually moved to Illinois so Dr. Barrus could continue his education with a PhD in math as well as a master’s degree in math teaching from the University of Illinois. He then taught for three years at Black Hills State University in Spearfish, South Dakota, where he and a colleague started Math Circle for local elementary school students.

Dr. Barrus was drawn to BYU because of the plethora of research opportunities offered by the math department. During his time here, he has already become involved in working with seventh graders through Math Circle.

In his free time, Dr. Barrus enjoys reading novels (such as Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables) and practicing the piano.

-Michelle Drennan, Mathematics Department

New Math Club for Women

A new math club is forming on BYU campus, and it has the words “women only” written all over it.


Students Amber Mosley and Jessica Doud noticed something was missing from their experiences as BYU math majors when they attended a Computer Science club meeting for women.  Taking matters into their own hands, the two ladies decided to start a club of their own.


“There aren’t a lot of math major women out there,” Jessica said. “We thought this would be a great way to let all of the female math majors get together and just get to know each other.”


Jessica and Amber spoke with Dr. Jessica Purcell about the idea.  “Many people are under the misconception that the only thing you can do with a major in math is to teach,” Dr. Purcell said.  “I think this club will help spread the word that there are actually a lot of other things you can do with a degree in mathematics.”


Club meetings will occur every other week at the same time and location.  Activities for the semester will include everything from games and food, to special lectures from women in math who have had to learn how to balance their careers with their family life.


The first official Women in Math club meeting will take place on Wednesday, February 6 from 5-6pm in 1170 TMCB.  Jessica and Amber hope all female math majors will attend, as well as any girls who have an interest in mathematics.  Pizza will be provided.  For more information, feel free to contact Amber Mosley at


A Winning Formula for Mentoring

Professor Michael Dorff of the Department of Mathematics will be announced as the recipient of the Lawrence K. Egbert Teaching and Learning Faculty Fellowship award at next year’s Annual University Conference.
The teaching and learning fellowship award, which has only existed for a few years, was created to recognize faculty members that have made a significant impact in the area of mentored learning.
Professor Dorff, who has been teaching at BYU for 12 years, was nominated and eventually selected as the recipient because of his extensive involvement in mentoring undergraduate students and helping other professors explore similar mentoring opportunities.
As part of Professor Dorff’s efforts to improve undergraduate research, he received a $1.26 million NSF grant in 2006 to create and direct the BYU sponsored “Center for Undergraduate Research in Mathematics,” (CURM). NSF has since renewed funding of the program with another $1.28 million grant to continue the successful project.
Dorff explains the purpose of this organization. “It is used to take the BYU model for mentoring and share it with professors and students at other institutions. CURM trains and offers financial support to these professors and students.”
Professor Dorff is very excited to continue working with students on a regular basis. Sometimes at a university, especially one the size of BYU, it’s difficult to maintain a close student-professor relationship. However, “when you are a mentor,” says Dorff, “you really get to know the students. You get to give help and guidance. You can offer career advice, spiritual advice and even sometimes you can help them with dating. You get to see them grow, and that’s really neat.”
The fellowship award will “provide some flexibility to do more things,” says Professor Dorff. “It’s nice to have funds to support undergraduate research and I’m very grateful to BYU.”
—Brian Shaw, College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences
—Photo credit to Mathematical Association of America

Department Winter Social

On Thursday, January 10, all Mathematics undergrad and grad students are invited to attend the Math Department opening winter social.

Pizza and brownies will be provided, along with fun games and general announcements about what’s coming up for the math department in 2013.  Professors will also be in attendance.  Students may bring one guest with them.  No RSVP is necessary.

Killer Test + Mad Skills = Mathlete

It’s the most wonderful time of the year.
Forget the mistletoe and holly berries. Bring on the calculators, pencils, and scratch paper.
Mathematics students found all of these at this year’s Intermountain Math Competition, an annual test that determines whether BYU, University of Utah, Boise State University, Idaho State University, or University of Nevada Reno has the best math students. In this math competition among 36 students, the top six scores were all from BYU.
“My hand is tired because you have to write really fast,” said Sam Dittmer, a junior from Indianapolis, who got a perfect score of 70/70. The two students who tied for second (also from BYU) received 60/70, still a score to be reckoned with at the Intermountain Math Competition.
BYU uses the competition to prepare for the more difficult Putnam Exam that happens every year on the first Saturday of December. The Putnam brings 4,000 students from 600 universities face to face in one enormous battle of brains.
“The Intermountain Math Competition is not as hard as the Putnam, where the median score is zero, but it’s a good stepping stone to prepare for the event,” said Dr. Pace Nielsen, who compiles the questions from various universities for the Intermountain Math Competition.
The scores of the Intermountain Math Competition help professors decide which three students will represent BYU at the Putnam Exam. And this year, they are very excited about the current team of “mathletes.”
“We’ve got a really good group right now. We’re all excited to see how the team does on the Putnam test this December,” Dr. Gary Lawlor said. “We think they can score in the top 10 this year.”
Dr. Lawlor received 30th place on the Putnam his senior year at BYU in 1983. He went on to get his PhD in mathematics at Stanford. Now he passes on his Putnam wisdom by teaching Math 391R, a class dedicated to preparing students for the challenging exam, with Dr. Tiancheng Ouyang.
“To prepare for the Putnam competition, we help them with five different subjects including algebra, calculus, number series, combinatorics, and probability,” Dr. Ouyang said.
For many Putnam veterans, solving equations and winning competitions is something they’ve loved since their youth.
“The biggest thing that honed my skills in mathematics was just the desire to do well in these competitions,” Dr. Lawlor said. “As a byproduct of that, I did well in my classes. And because I did well on the Putnam test, that opened doors for me to go to graduate school.”
Those who participate in the Putnam Exam get instant recognition by many of the top graduate programs in the nation, as well as the National Science Foundation. This can help winning students receive scholarships and be accepted to their preferred grad school.
Perhaps this December, a little Christmas magic will rub off on this year’s competing Putnam “mathletes,” and they’ll finally crack that elusive top 10 ranking.
—Curtis Penfold, College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences

Putnam Mathematical Competition 2012

Since 1938, undergraduate college students from universities throughout the United States and Canada have competed every year in the William Lowell Putnam Mathematical Competition.
The competition is simply an exam which is administered to students around the nation on the specified competition date.  Scholarships and large cash prizes are then awarded to top-ranking students and universities.  The Putnam Exam is one of the most prestigious university-level math competitions that occur in the world.  To the credit of the BYU math faculty and its students, our university usually ranks very high.
This year’s exam will be administered on Saturday, December 1st in room 111 TMCB and is open to any interested students. Part 1 will be from 8:30-11:30am and Part 2 from 1:30-4:30pm.  Students are encouraged to participate in both sessions, however students are still encouraged to attend if they can only make one.  For questions regarding the exam, email Dr. Ouyang at
Breakfast and lunch will be provided.  Breakfast will be arriving at 8:00am, and students will be taken to Legends Grill for lunch.
For more information about the William Lowell Putnam Mathematical Competition, click here.