“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 WeUseMath.org.

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 robin@math.byu.edu or call 801-422-1747.

—Curtis Penfold, College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences

National Survey of Student Engagement

In 1998, The Pew Charitable Trusts designed the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) to get a more accurate and meaningful picture of quality to communicate to the public. The NSSE project provides colleges and universities with valuable information about students’ views of their college experience by annually administering a specifically aimed survey.

The NSSE survey, designed by experts, asks students about their college experiences-how they spend their time, what they feel they have gained from their classes, their assessment of the quality of their interactions with faculty and friends, and other important indicators.

BYU has participated in these surveys for the last eleven years. By doing so, it has provided valuable insight to how the university compares on a national scale. During the 2012 administration, all graduating seniors were asked to participate in the survey. By surveying all eligible students, BYU Institutional Assessment and Analysis was able to create reports at the program level for many of the programs across campus.

In Winter Semester of 2012, the survey was sent out electronically to all graduating seniors, totaling to be 7,762 seniors. This report focuses on the senior responses. BYU received responses from 3,364 of the seniors, resulting in a response rate of 43% compared to 23% among BYU’s corresponding Carnegie Classification benchmark group of universities.  Carnegie’s Classification for BYU is Research University because of BYU’s high research activity.

BYU’s Mathematics Department and BYU overall received high scores in many of the survey’s different categories.

The following are graphs which relate to various categories within the survey.


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

The BYU Mathletes are Back

The limelight is tricky for many star athletes, but fame’s learning curve is no problem for a trio of star mathletes.
A year after their rap music video caught the nation’s attention, the BYU mathletes lived up to the hype with a 7th place finish in the nation’s mathematical equivalent of March Madness – beating out math powerhouses such as Stanford, Cal-Tech, Duke, Michigan and UC-Berkeley along the way.
“This means a lot – it tells the world that we are doing great things here,” said BYU math professor Tyler Jarvis. “They’re going to have to take us seriously now that our name is up there with the big boys.”
BYU undergrads Hiram Golze, Sam Dittmer and Peter Baratta wrote their way into BYU’s record books with their performance in the William Lowell Putnam Mathematical Competition. Since 1938, thousands of the nation’s top college math students compete annually in this grueling six-hour exam. It’s so challenging that sometimes half the participants don’t score a single point.
The Cougars were led by a 50-point effort from the senior Golze. When the final seconds ticked off the clock, it finally hit home that his days competing for BYU were over.
“I stayed in the room where we took the test for a while, talking with my teammates, kind of like someone playing their last football game might stay on the field for a bit longer after the game than normal to soak in the final moments,” Golze said.
Entering the season, both Dittmer and Golze had secured spots on the three-student roster. For Dittmer, beating Stanford proved especially sweet. As a national math champ in high school, Dittmer received offers from Stanford and MIT but ultimately signed with BYU.
“I don’t talk a lot of trash or anything like that,” Dittmer said. “But we’ve been working towards this Top 10 finish for years, trying to show that we can compete with the top programs in the country and it paid off.”
Forty other students vied for the final spot on the team, and the suspense lasted beyond kickoff. The Mathematical Association of America allows any college student to compete individually, but the three students whose scores will represent their school need to be designated in advance.
Coach Tiancheng Ouyang gave sophomore Peter Baratta the nod but kept the selection secret until the exam ended. Baratta didn’t disappoint, as both he and Dittmer chipped in 41 points.
As a result, the team eclipsed the 1979 BYU squad’s 11th place finish for the best mark in school history. It’s also the fifth consecutive season in the Top 25 for the BYU Mathletes – also a school record. Expect no drop-off next year, as Dittmer returns for his senior season and Baratta will compete as a junior.
“We’ve been quietly orbiting near the Top 10 for quite a few years now,” Jarvis said. “I don’t think it’s going to be our last time in the Top 10, either. We’ve got good students, coaches and recruiting.”
With the nation facing a shortage of graduates in STEM programs (science, technology engineering and mathematics), BYU’s math department offers a blueprint for success. Jarvis served as BYU’s math department chair from 2006 to 2012. In that span, the number of math majors at BYU nearly doubled and the number of students competing in the Putnam tripled.
A study sponsored by the National Science Foundation also named BYU one of the best universities for learning calculus. The research didn’t just measure how well students learned the subject – it also looked at how much they enjoyed it.
“We realized long ago that a lot of people don’t choose math because of a bad experience they had with a teacher,” Jarvis said. “We’ve shown how fun math can be and that they can find a great career.”
BYU also sponsors junior high and high school math competitions as well as a regional university-level competition. It’s not just for the thrill of scholastically trouncing a pair of sports rivals, although the students celebrate their streak of wins over Boise State and the University of Utah. The higher purpose is to draw more students in the rising generation to a discipline that’s critical to our future.
Three cheers for our three mathletes!

A Pi Day to Remember

On March 14, BYU students were welcomed by a record-breaking sunny day to enjoy this year’s Pi Day festivities—the biggest BYU Pi Day celebration to date!
Activities were bigger and better than ever this year, and students didn’t hesitate to notice.  Over the course of just a couple of hours, thousands of students streamed past the various activities and participated in the fun.  Usual favorites such as Pi Sudoku, Pi Frisbee, Pi Basketball, and Buffon’s Needle attracted crowds as always.  Students cheered and clapped as they watched their professors get messy at the Pi-the-Professor booth.  Others got messy themselves during the Pie-Eating Contest.
The most popular and exciting attraction of the day was a human orbitron, sponsored by Qualtrics.  The human orbitron is a device in which a person is strapped in the center of three rotating circles (see below).  Dozens of students lined up to be able to experience this fun ride usually reserved for pilot and astronaut training.
High temperatures weren’t the only records to be broken on Pi Day 2013.  Clark Anderson, a junior from Wisconsin, broke the Pi-recitation record by reciting exactly 989 digits of pi from memory.
“I just memorized pi last summer and so I wanted to come here and break the record,” said Anderson. “I assigned each two digit number a person, an action, and an object. And then I created a story in my head so instead of numbers I’m memorizing this story and then I convert it back into numbers.”
If the day wasn’t exciting enough, the Math Department gifted free t-shirts to anyone with a Pi Day birthday. One student even won a t-shirt for having the word “pi” in his name (Pierce).  All in all, spirits were high as students and faculty celebrated pi and all of the mathematics behind it.  The festivities concluded with a countdown to 1:59, in order to complete pi’s digits of 3.14159.
Pi Day 2013 was a great success and the planning for next year’s celebration is underway! To view pictures of the event, visit the department’sFacebook page.

Record-breaking Putnam Results

Seven proved to be a lucky number this year for the Brigham Young University Mathematics Department.  History was made when the William Lowell Putnam Competition announced that this year’s BYU math team won seventh in the nation.  This record-breaking achievement is the pinnacle standard in showcasing the talents of a university’s mathematics program.  In 2010, the Math Department broke into the top twenty for the first time with a 16th place win.  The Putnam Competition is a prestigious competitive examination that draws more than 500 universities and thousands of undergraduate students to compete each year.
Each school is allowed three members to represent the university team.  Led by Professor Tiancheng Ouyang, this year’s team comprised of Peter H. Baratta, Samuel Dittmer, and Hiram Golze; all mathematics majors.  Forty other students from BYU competed on an individual basis.
High individual performances were also achieved this year.  Hiram Golze received the highest individual ranking of 49th in the nation with a score of 50 points.  Samuel Dittmer and Peter Baratta both received national rankings of 97th with a test score of 41 points. This six-hour test consisting of twelve questions usually has a median score of zero.
“The Putnam Competition is extremely high-profile – it is the gold standard for competitions in Mathematics.  We are extremely proud of this accomplishment!  This ranking will help us immensely in making others aware of what a remarkably strong undergraduate mathematics program we have here at BYU.” says Dr. Robin Roundy, Department Chair.
He further adds, “We are very proud of the students who competed in this exam!  In addition to the three official team members, a good number of other BYU students obtained excellent scores.  The faculty involved, Professors Tiancheng Ouyang, Pace Nielsen, David Wright and Gary Lawlor, are also warmly commended.”
The William Lowell Putnam Competition first began in 1938 and was created to provide a setting in which colleges and universities could compete against one another in mathematical studies.  The competition is under the administration of the Mathematical Association of America.  For more details regarding this competition, go to www.math.scu.edu/putnam/.

AMC 8 Recognition Ceremony Recap

On Tuesday, February 26, 2013, the Brigham Young University Mathematics Department hosted its annual AMC 8 recognition ceremony for elementary and middle schools along the Wasatch Range.
The AMC 8 (American Mathematics Competition) is a 25 question, 40 minute test, ranging from easy to difficult, given to elementary and middle schools to test their knowledge on various levels of math, especially emphasizing problem solving. The problems are designed to challenge students beyond what is generally taught at their schools.
AMC 8 promotes enthusiasm and positive attitudes towards math. Many students today do not have much excitement towards learning math, and they generally want to stop after the required high school level. However, this test helps to show students their problem solving skills can be useful for math skills after the high school and college levels.
This year, over 152,570 students took the test worldwide. The highest possible score to get on the test is a 25. Only 226 out of the worldwide participants scored a perfect 25. This year, if a student scored a 12 or higher on the test, he or she was invited to the AMC 8 recognition ceremony to be recognized for their hard work. Utah schools who participated this year included: Beehive Science/Tech. Academy, Centerville Junior High, Waterford, Lakeridge Junior High, Art City Elementary, Canyon View Elementary, Cherry Hill Elementary, Highland Elementary, Foothill Elementary, Freedom Prepartory Academy, Hawthorne, Midvale Middle School, Provo High School, Reid School, Rock Canyon, San Rafael JHS, Spanish Fork JHS, Valley View, Vista Heights Middle School, Wasatch Junior High, Wasatch School, Weber State, West High School, and Westfield Elementary.
Awards were given to outstanding achievers—Distinguished Honor Roll (Top 1%), Honor Roll (Top 5%), and Achievement Roll (students in 6th grade and below who scored 15 or above). Annie Yun, an 8th grader at Wasatch Jr. High, scored the highest in Utah with a perfect score of 25. Tarun Martheswaran, one of the youngest participants, a 4th grader at Midvale Middle School, scored an excellent score of 18.
A variety of speakers presented at the event. Dr. Wright, a Brigham Young University Professor of Mathematics, spoke on the purpose of the AMC 8 and recognized the excelling participants.  Dr. Wright has been instrumental in getting the AMC 8 up and running for many Utah schools as well as hosting the annual AMC 8 ceremony.
Dr. Joe Price, a professor in the Department of Economics at Brigham Young University, also gave some congratulatory remarks. He recognized the hard work of these students and encouraged them to never give up on their goals. Dr. Price claimed that being good at math can open up many doors for the future, including science, economics, and engineering.
Dr. Richard Brown, Dean of Engineering at the University of Utah, spoke of various careers in engineering. He said engineering is what makes our world today; from clothes to buildings engineers are a part of creating exciting and extraordinary objects. Dr. Brown told these students that with their skills and interests they can become great contributors to the future world.
To learn more about the AMC 8 test visit http://www.amc.maa.org or contact Dr. Wright at 801-377-6336 or wright@math.byu.edu.

Integration Bee Results

Stakes were high as students from BYU and UVU competed to win the Integration Bee on March 8th.  Similar to a spelling bee, the Integration Bee was a competition in which students tested their problem-solving abilities by solving integrals within a set time limit.
The Integration Bee began with over 30 students, but within just a couple hours was down to the final nine.  Pressure mounted as students were eliminated one-by-one, but friends and family cheering from the back of the room kept the mood of the competition light-hearted and fun.
The final nine competitors in the 2013 BYU Integration Bee were as follows:
1st Place: Yifeng Xu (BYU)
2nd Place: Michelle Millerberg (BYU)
3rd Place: Matthew Beesley (BYU)
4th Place: Victoria Kala (UVU)
5th Place: John Bennett (BYU)
6th Place: Joseph Ward (BYU)
7th Place: Hiram Golze (BYU)
8th Place: Sam Dittmer (BYU)
9th Place: Michael Gundlach (BYU)
This tradition has been a great opportunity for students who love math to get together and participate in some friendly competition. Thank you to all the students who participated, and also the faculty who were willing to help out.  We will be looking forward to another competition next year.

Math vs. Stats Basketball Tournament

Competition is in the air amongst math majors, and this time it has nothing to do with grades.


On Saturday evening, March 23, students from the Math and Stats Departments will get together to participate in a friendly but competitive basketball tournament.  Playing off of the natural rivalry that exists between the two majors, students will have the opportunity to pull together and work to claim the title of the “winning major”.


The tournament will be held from 5-7pm in rooms 140 and 156 of the Richards Building (RB) on BYU Campus.  All are welcome to come and watch, so bring your friends!  Refreshments will be provided and, of course, prizes for the winning team.


If interested in participating in the tournament, please contact the following:

Math Majors: Email Travis at twilliams3.14159@gmail.com

Stats Majors: Email Colin at colinmontague@gmail.com