View from the Chair - John Meakin

John Meakin

John Meakin, Department Chair

The year 2011 has been one of opportunities, challenges and successes for the Department of Mathematics and indeed for the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. In what seems destined to be one of the most significant events in the history of the university, UNL became one of the 12 members of the Big Ten (as opposed to one of the 10 remaining members of the Big 12).

This move is much more than a change in athletic conference for the university. UNL joins an elite group of institutions with a seat on the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, the academic arm of the Big Ten. Our university and our department enjoy a new set of colleagues, opportunities, and expectations. There is a great deal of energy, optimism and confidence on campus, and expectations of growth and additional success throughout the university are evident. Our department and indeed the whole university has been engaged in an examination of all aspects of its mission, from curricular issues to research expectations to the role that we all play in society and in our discipline.

The department is also in the midst of a change in leadership. The current semester (Fall 2011) will be my last semester as department chair: Professor Judy Walker will assume this position effective January 1, 2012. Judy has had a huge impact on our department through her comprehensive view of research, teaching and educational outreach throughout her tenure on our faculty, and the department is excited about working with her as she takes on this important new role.

The past year has seen additional growth in the national profile of the department. In January we hosted the 13th annual Nebraska Conference for Undergraduate Women in Mathematics, with more than 250 undergraduate women participating. In February we celebrated the announcements that Professor Carina Curto was selected as an Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellow for 2011 and senior undergraduate math major Zach Norwood was selected as UNL's first recipient of a Gates Scholarship to Cambridge University. In April we hosted the KUMUNU commutative algebra conference and the Rowlee Lecture by David Eisenbud, and in October we were pleased to host two more major conferences, the Fall Central Sectional Meeting of the American Mathematical Society, including the 2011 Erdos Lecture by Emmanuel Candes, and the Enacting Standards for Mathematical Practices Conference in mathematics education honoring the many contributions of Jim Lewis to the profession. These events are featured in this edition of Math News.

The year also marked challenges for the department with the retirement of three of our senior faculty - Ira Papick, Roger Wiegand and Sylvia Wiegand - and the pending retirement in January 2012 of two additional senior faculty (Lynn Erbe and Dave Skoug).

In other changes in Fall 2011, Jamie Radcliffe took over from John Orr as vice chair of the department, and Allan Donsig becomes vice chair in Spring 2012. Also, Susan Hermiller took over as graduate committee chair in Fall 2011 after Judy Walker.

While UNL has not experienced the kinds of draconian budget cuts that have occurred at many colleges and universities across the country in the past few years, the budget remained constrained and there were very few authorizations for faculty hiring in the university in 2011. Opportunities to appoint new faculty in the department are expected for the coming year, however, as the university's budget situation improves. This will be needed if the department is to maintain the momentum it has established in the past several years, and if it is to take advantage of the opportunities afforded by its rising profile and the university's move into the Big Ten.

It has been a real privilege to serve as department chair, working with a talented group of faculty, staff and students, and I am grateful for the support of the administration and friends and alumni of the department.

Continuing support from our friends and alumni is of crucial importance to the department. This support has a huge impact on the department's ability to carry out its mission. Just in the past year, generous donations have enabled us to provide many scholarships and awards to both graduate and undergraduate students, to honor and support outstanding faculty and postdoctoral scholars, to strengthen many aspects of our extensive educational outreach program, and most recently, with funds established by the late Mr. Howard Rowlee, to stabilize funding for an annual series of major public lectures by internationally prominent mathematicians.

Enjoy this newsletter, and please maintain contact with us and take advantage of opportunities to support the department in the years ahead.