Regent Students Participate in Competitive Math Research Funded by the National Science Foundation
By Paxton Coley – Student Writer
VIRGINIA BEACH, VA (February 5, 2021) Over the summer of 2020, Regent University seniors and Honors College students Abigail Lindner and Allison Hodgkins participated in Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REUs), contributing to active research in the field of mathematics. Through an extensive application and highly competitive process, Lindner was selected for the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology and Hodgkins for the Virginia Commonwealth University. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the REUs were conducted online.
Typically, 10 or fewer undergraduate students comprise each REU site and work in the research programs of the host institution. Each student works closely with the faculty and other researchers on a specific project in areas that may include astronomy, biology, chemistry, engineering, physics, social sciences, ethics, and more. These intricate research opportunities provide students with the experience needed for some internships, jobs and even admission into graduate programs.
“My REU was split into two parts; one was theoretical math and the other was applied math. I was on the applied math team,” said Lindner, who was informed about the REU by Dr. Kenneth Wantz, Regent professor of mathematics and science. “I was with one other student studying agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa and its impact on the economy and human development in the area from the 1980s or 1990s to the present.” Read the final journal article of Linder and her partner: Agricultural Productivity, Economic Growth & Human Development in Sub-Saharan Africa: A Least Squares Dummy Variables (LSDV) Approach
To get to this impressive research outcome, Lindner described having to gather online data from around 19 countries in sub-Saharan Africa over the eight-week experience. “Half of our time, we were focused on finding the correct method to analyze the data. It was a lot of work in Python and R (programming languages for statistical analysis),” she reflected.
Hodgkins, who participated in a six-week experience with VCU, also recounted her hands-on introduction to computational research. “We created a novel mathematical model of the Guinea Worm Disease that explains the reoccurrence of Guinea Worm Disease along the Chari River in Chad,” she explained. “Unlike existing models of Guinea Worm Disease, we made minimal assumptions about parameters and parametrized the model based on documented experiments.”
Through their model, Hodgkins and her team performed sensitivity analysis and derived steps to help eradicate the disease, which they discovered is close to herd immunity. “This suggests that voluntary use of protection measures may eradicate Guinea Worm Disease,” she explained.
Both Linder and Hodgkins, who each will graduate with a B.S. in Mathematics, said the REUs helped them improve their problem-solving, communication and computer programming skills. “Part of what I gained was an appreciation for how complicated data analysis can be; I read all about it and it’s the field I’ve been thinking [of going into], but I’ve never really had experience working through all of that,” recounted Lindner.
Hodgkins shared similar sentiments: “The experience was different from school because instead of reading other peoples’ data and writing a report on it, you’re forming your own data and then reporting that.”
“Honors classes are much more focused on discussion and working with others to solve a problem,” said Hodgkins when discussing how being in the Honors College prepared her for the REU.
“Those classes emphasized class discussion, reading materials, and deriving our own insights from them,” Lindner added. “It trained me, for this REU, to look at other materials, talk it through with other people, and try to link them all together.”
Hodgkins plans to pursue her master’s degree immediately after graduating and is confident that having an REU on her resume will add value to her pursuits. Lindner is considering both the option of immediately heading into the workforce (in industry, agriculture, or sustainable manufacturing) or continuing to graduate school.
Regent’s Science & Mathematics Department integrates leading-edge instruction with the exploration of ethical, spiritual, and social responsibility. Their core perspective is that God has created humankind in His image and has equipped us with the ability to make observations and use reasoning for meaning making. As a student in one of these majors, you will be prepared for a career in areas such as biophysical sciences, mathematics and more.
Founded in 1978, Regent University has more than 11,000 students studying on its 70-acre campus in Virginia Beach, Virginia, and online around the world. The university offers associate, bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees from a Christian perspective in 135+ areas of study including business, communication and the arts, counseling, cybersecurity, divinity, education, government, law, leadership, nursing, healthcare and psychology. Regent University, ranked among top national universities (U.S. News & World Report, 2020), is one of only 23 universities nationally to receive an “A” rating for its comprehensive liberal arts core curriculum.