The mission of the UT Math Club (UMC) is to help foster a sense of math community at UT Austin by providing a friendly and engaging environment for undergraduates at all levels of mathematical maturity to ask questions and interact with other people who share in the mathematical experience. The UMC has undergone many changes since the last status report given four years ago. I (Zachary Gardner, the current president) am sure the UMC will continue to evolve into the future and seek to do my best to keep the UMC alive and well.
Organized by undergraduates, the UMC is now officially a Sponsored Student Organization and so enjoys associated benefits such as the right to use UT trademarks and logos and limited access outreach funds. Our sponsor, Dr. Jennifer Mann Austin, has been instrumental in running last semester’s t-shirt drive, securing speakers for panels, organizing outreach opportunities (such as with CNS Family Day and the nonprofit MathHappens), and other activities in which the UMC has been involved. The UMC also has a graduate student coordinator (previously Chris Kennedy) who helps with getting recorded lectures and panels up on the math department webpage.
In Fall 2017, the UMC met once every Tuesday for about two hours. The first hour was typically dedicated to a lecture given by a faculty member or graduate student, and the second hour was dedicated to informal interaction between attendees and the speaker while pizza was provided. Occasionally the first hour would feature a panel on a topic of interest such as REUs or applying for grad school. The average number of attendees per meeting was about 30 undergraduates.
In Spring 2018, the Tuesday meetings described above continued. Weekly Friday meetings started around three weeks into the semester. Roughly one hour in length, these meetings were geared toward undergraduate lectures and presented under the title Math Undergraduate Student Talks (MUST). The purpose of MUST is to provide students with a comfortable platform to practice preparing and giving math lectures. Speakers must submit an abstract and may choose to receive feedback from UMC officers on things such as eye contact, volume, cohesion, and changes in the difficulty of the presentation. The average number of attendees per meeting was about 15 undergraduates.
This past year, the UMC has succeeded in building organizational partnerships, expanding the scope of lectures, and interfacing more with undergraduates. The UMC now has relationships with the Society of Physics Students (SPS), the UT chapter of the Association for Women in Mathematics (AWM), and the nonprofit MathHappens. We have had lectures on non-pure math topics like arbitrage and computing with closed time-like curves. Additionally, lecture topics as a whole have been selected on the basis of member input. Many who did not usually attend Tuesday meetings became regular attendees of Friday MUST talks. Finally, and most importantly, the number of regularly attending underclassmen has greatly increased. The UMC is all about showcasing the beauty of math and so it is wonderful to be able to inspire those at the start of their mathematical journey.
In light of changes to the mission of UMC, we (the UMC officers) have decided to restructure starting in Fall 2018. We plan to keep MUST and continue to foster the above-mentioned partnerships. As for Tuesday meetings, we plan to make the experience more interactive and appeal more to underclassmen. Most meetings will start with the presentation of an inquiry topic (such as “How do you read a math book?” or “What is mathematical maturity?”) and then branch into discussion. The president and vice president will do their research and bring in extensive lists of resources and references. We also want people to be open about their personal thoughts, experiences, and philosophies – suggesting their own inquiry topics and hopefully conquering such personal demons as the Imposter Syndrome. Ultimately, we want the UMC to be a place where people feel like they can freely ask questions and explore mathematical ideas.
Tasks are divided up amongst the various UMC officers. The videographer is responsible for handling the camera, recording standard UMC events, and uploading raw footage. The events and outreach coordinator is responsible for representing the UMC at tabling events (such as Party on the Plaza and CNS Family Day), brainstorming and researching outreach opportunities, and coordinating with the president on things such as Battle of PMA (an end-of-the-year social event for math, physics, and astronomy majors that allows them to unwind, engage in friendly competition, and meme a little bit). The webmaster is responsible for maintaining the UMC website (currently under construction), maintaining an updated calendar, and uploading videos to the website.
As for the president and vice president, they have a variety of shared and individual duties. The vice president is responsible for coordinating pizza orders and running the t-shirt drive alongside the UMC faculty sponsor. The president is responsible for supervising other UMC officers, maintaining organizational partnerships, providing snacks for Friday meetings, and handling administrative and paperwork tasks. Both the president and the vice president are responsible for securing MUST speakers, brainstorming and planning inquiry sessions, posting announcements to Facebook, and supervising meetings.
The key focus throughout all of this is the UT math community. Of course, that includes graduate students and math faculty who have both beneficial experiences and interesting mathematics that they can talk about. We definitely still want to involve these people and show undergraduates that a two-way discourse is possible and even a lot of fun. As such, we are brainstorming ways to involve grad students and faculty with inquiry topics and other UMC activities. At the same time, giving more attention to underclassmen could end up distancing upperclassmen and more advanced students. That is a big reason why we plan to continue MUST. We also plan to promote the Directed Reading Program (DRP) and launch an undergraduate math journal, though the latter will be operated independently of the UMC. As always, any and all suggestions are welcome!