WASHINGTON, PA (March 1, 2013)—Competing against students from colleges and universities from across the country, Washington & Jefferson College (W&J) senior Catherine Monahan and junior Samantha Taylor proved their research is among the best in the nation.
Monahan and Taylor earned Outstanding Presenter Award honors at the Undergraduate Student Poster Session of the annual Joint Conference of the Mathematical Association of America (MAA) in San Diego. They are the first students from W&J to be so recognized at the conference.
Awards were given to the top 15 percent of the 320 posters, as judged by mathematicians at the conference.
“Our poster was more applied mathematics, more experimental, than some of the other research featured,” said Taylor, a resident of Sutersville, Pa., who has been accepted to the Summer Institute for Training in Biostatistics at University of Pittsburgh. “It was lot of interdisciplinary work. We were very excited, and surprised, to learn we won.”
Their poster, titled, “Graph Theoretical Comparison of Coprinus cinerea Wild Type and Mutant Networks,” was designed to determine how the Coprinus cinerea (multicellular mushroom) mutant resulting from a damaged gene is affected in the meiotic process. According to the students, as noted in the abstract of the poster, “From a mathematical standpoint, network analysis and graph theoretical techniques can be used to help the biologists visualize and compare biological gene networks and draw conclusions from the data.”
Funded in part by the Undergraduate Science Education Grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the project evolved from a graph theory class. Assistant Director of Mathematics Faun Doherty, who often guides research projects on interdisciplinary topics in math and biology, was the adviser for the poster project. She was very proud of Monahan and Taylor for being recognized, particularly considering they were competing against teams from Harvard, Yale and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, just to name a few.
“I am grateful to the biology department and their hard work to make HHMI grants available, the Bert Fund of the mathematics department to fund student travel to national conferences every year, and to the great students at W&J. We have a terrific group of math majors. I am able to find students with intellectual curiosity and a passion for thinking ‘out of the box,’” Doherty said. “It takes hard work, enthusiasm, and a love of learning, and I have been delighted with the efforts of my W&J students. I am pleased to be able to provide a glimpse into the graduate school world, or the ‘hot’ new area of bio-math research so that students can make more informed choices for their future paths.”
Monahan is from Mt. Airy, Md. She hopes to continue her education following graduation, with an interest in computer networking and programming.
“Presenting at this poster session was an amazing experience,” Taylor said. “Winning Outstanding Presenter” was certainly a shot in the dark, but we looked at it as pioneering our way through the forests. We wanted to do something special.”