It all adds up
Narayan Thapa, assistant professor of mathematics at Minot State University, has a passion for helping students learn to love math that will be on display from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday during the first annual North Dakota Undergraduate Mathematics Conference.
Thapa wrote a grant to fund the conference, which is the first such conference to be held in North Dakota. Six of his undergraduate students will present their applied mathematical research at the conference. The students, who work with Thapa through independent study, also participate in monthly “Math Talks” and learn the art of presenting and defending their mathematical research. Several of his students have presented at national conferences. Students who work with Thapa must meet demanding requirements: They need to maintain a 4.0 average, spend five hours a week on research, present to peers and at conferences, and work on a paper with Thapa.
Thapa wanted Minot State to host the conference to give his students a chance to present at a conference in the state as well as to begin the work of putting Minot State on the map as having an excellent math department.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said Thapa. “We need to prove something here.”
Pre-registration was required for the free conference, but Thapa said some slots might still be available if others would like to attend. For more information, log on to
(minotstateu.edu). He expects to have up to 80 people attend the conference.
Keynote speakers at the conference include Dogan Comez, speaking about “The Mathematics of Modern Communication,” and Ryan Zerr, speaking about “Being Mathematically Inquisitive: How a Simple Beginning Can Lead to a Wealth of Interesting Questions.”
There will also be a panel discussion on careers in mathematics, with Bruce Dearden, a University of North Dakota math professor; Benton Duncan, a North Dakota State University math professor; Susan Forster, math department chair at Bismarck High School; Daniel Leingang, the geomatics, engineering and mathematics department chair at Bismarck State College; Nate Speidel, math teacher at Shiloh Christian School in Bismarck; and Heidi Super, chair of the department of biology at Minot State University.
Among the student presenters are Thapa’s advisees Michal Gudejko, Breanne Hatfield, Johannah Miller, Chloe Ondracek, David Yeomans and Justin Ziegler. Other presenters at the conference include Minot State students Thomas Carraher, Carson Moen and Nicholas Taylor,
Thapa said many of the presentations at the conference will be of interest to the general public. Taylor, for instance, is presenting on “a markov chain approach to baseball run forecasting.”
Takayuki Yamauchi, a faculty member at Valley City State University, is presenting on the differences in math major requirements at Japan’s public universities compared with American universities.
Thapa enjoys helping his students work on their independent math research, but also enjoys helping the freshmen in the first year experience class he teaches to be less intimidated by math.
“Anything … anything I can help (them) with,” said Thapa, talking about freshmen students in a first year experience class. To help one student who is interested in pursuing a career in medicine, Thapa might refer to the educational plan he helped his own daughter map out when she was preparing to apply to medical school. For those who are afraid of mathematics, Thapa tries to help them understand that learning math is a journey that he himself is on and they should not be afraid to ask questions in class. He tries to help them find the real world, practical applications of mathematics.
Working with his students has him so energized, Thapa said, that “I almost dance there.”
Thapa is originally from Nepal and was at the University of Oklahoma before coming to Minot State University in 2010. His ultimate goal is to turn Minot State’s math department into a top-notch program that is recognized nationally and internationally.
Thapa was inspired to do the math talks from his experiences as a Project NeXT fellow. He was one of 70 people to receive the fellowship from the Mathematical Association of America. It is a professional development program for new or recent Ph.Ds in the mathematical sciences and addresses all aspects of an academic career, including improving the teaching and learning of mathematics, engaging in research and scholarship, and participating in professional activities.
As a Project NeXt fellow, Thapa judged more than two dozen undergraduate posters and undergraduate presentations in North America. When he came to Minot State, he realized that students here are just as capable as students presenting at those conferences and that led him to establish the math talks at MSU. Four semesters ago, his math talks began as professors presenting to each other and to fellow students on different topics. Later, it grew to include student presentations.
Thapa is also an editor of two peer-reviewed journals, including the British Journal of Mathematics and Computer Science.