I hear and I forget
I see and I remember
I do and I understand. (Chinese Proverb)

Math in the City is an interdisciplinary course in which students engage in a hands-on learning experience using mathematical modeling to understand current major societal issues of local and national interest. The course is run in collaboration with local businesses, research centers and government organizations that provide data and act as consultants throughout the course thus creating strong connections between academia and industry, while engaging students in a learning and discovery process.

In contrast with other university-industry partnerships, the design of the projects and the choice of topics and problems is primarily student-oriented. The instructor for the course will choose a relevant and timely topic of national and local interest. Such topics frequently appear as "front page news" and generate strong interest on the part of the students. The relevance of the topic is important both for recruiting students to enroll in the course and to maintain high motivation levels throughout the semester.

The students work in teams of 3--5 students, meeting weekly with the instructor. The students also meet with the local business partner at his or her workplace and keep in regular contact by phone and email. Each team constructs a model that captures the salient features of the proposed problem; populate the model with the data provided by the local collaborator, transformed as necessary; analyze the model using appropriate computer software; and draw conclusions from the model that addresses the proposed problem.

To conclude each project, the students communicate their results in both written and oral form. Each team prepares a detailed written report describing the problem, the team's model and analysis, and the conclusions that they reached. At the end of the semester, each team gives a public presentation describing their work in front of an audience formed by mathematics faculty members, undergraduate and graduate students, the local collaborator and other members of the business community. Students may also present posters explaining their model and conclusions at UNL's Annual Research Fair held every spring, and/or present posters at regional or national conferences (such as the annual Joint Mathematics Meetings). Selected reports may be submitted for publication to undergraduate research journals.

Math in the City Workshops

Math in the City Materials

Past Offerings

Spring 2006, Fall 2006, Fall 2008, Fall 2010


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We acknowledge the support of the National Science Foundation through award DUE-0941132.

PI: Petronela Radu (pradu[AT]math.unl.edu) and Co-PI: Stephen Hartke (hartke[AT]math.unl.edu)