The Indiana Research Experience for Undergraduates program at Indiana University, begun in 1966, offers a small, select, talented group of students the opportunity to experience the intensity of working on a problem whose solution is currently unknown. Working one-on-one with an IU faculty member for eight weeks during the summer, students develop their abstract problem solving skills, intellectual stamina, creativity, perseverance, communication skills, and work ethic. Most alumni of our program go on to pursue advanced degrees, and many now hold prestigious positions in academia, business, and government.
The overall experience will give these students, whose interests may be quite diverse, an appreciation of the power, evolution, and usefulness of mathematics and of working mathematicians. This group will come to understand on the one hand the amazing diversity of mathematics, and on the other hand the deep unifying themes which span disciplines and centuries. The long term impact of this program is to increase the mathematical awareness of future decision makers and leaders. Such awareness may lead to wider use of mathematical methods in decision making and in creating new technologies.
During 2009-11, the summer Research Experience for Undergraduates program at Indiana University supported 27 undergraduates, led by faculty members and assisted by graduate students. Our program is characterized by the broad spectrum of faculty involved, and by the high level and mathematical significance of our projects. Topics included a wide range of both pure and applied areas, including interdisciplinary work in mathematical biology. Each student summarized their work in a formal, typeset report and gave a formal presentation at the annual statewide conference hosted here. The advances obtained were significant, and four projects led to publications in peer-reviewed journals, with two more currently under review. Working in this intense, immersive, individualized environment significantly advanced these students' intellectual development and professional preparation. The number of PhDs in mathematics awarded to US citizens and permanent residents is quite small, and students require serious training and preparation. It is one thing to do textbook exercises and homework problems. It is quite another to learn whole swaths of mathematics at once, and to then try to apply these brand-new concepts to problems whose solution is unknown. Our program trains students for the difficult task of conducting original research and succeeding in rigorous graduate programs. We have significantly increased the number of students qualified for such programs, and indeed, most of our students have gone on to graduate work, many in top programs. We have also significantly contributed to the number of female and minority students pursuing such degrees. With ever-increasing need for quantitative professionals, developing this pool of talent is a top priority.