Nation's Only Summer Program for Undergraduate Industrial Math Research at WPI Nets Nearly $300,000 from NSF

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Students Tackle Real-World Problems for IBM, Mass. General, New Frontier Advisors and an Automobile Insurer

WORCESTER, Mass. -- July 6, 2004 -- Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has received a $299,773 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for three more years of funding for the university's Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) site in Industrial Mathematics and Statistics, through the summer of 2006. This REU site enables 12 undergraduate students a year to participate in an intensive eight-week summer program introducing mathematics and statistics research in a corporate environment - the only summer program in the nation for undergraduates devoted to industrial mathematical research.

REU sites are funded by the NSF to provide research opportunities for undergraduate students.

WPI's REU site in Industrial Mathematics and Statistics and accompanying NSF grant are overseen by WPI Associate Professors of mathematics Arthur C. Heinricher and Suzanne L. Weekes as part of the university's Center for Industrial Mathematics and Statistics (CIMS). They, along with WPI Assistant Professor of mathematics Carlos J. Morales, serve as faculty advisors and work closely with the student teams. They also act as liaisons with the corporate project sponsors. The student projects are real and of immediate interest and use to the companies involved.

This summer's 12 undergraduates have come to WPI to work on three projects sponsored by IBM and Massachusetts General Hospital, New Frontier Advisors, and one of the major automobile insurance companies in Massachusetts. They hail from as far away as California and the United Kingdom, and represent schools such as Columbia University, the University of Pennsylvania and WPI. This year's program marks the seventh consecutive year that WPI has hosted this REU.

"WPI's program is a unique math REU that brings real-world corporate problems into undergraduate research," notes Lloyd E. Douglas, National Science Foundation program director in the Infrastructure Program of the Division of Mathematical Sciences in the Directorate for Mathematical and Physical Sciences. "Students learn to use mathematics to model the problems and provide practical solutions to these corporations."

For IBM and Massachusetts General Hospital, a student team is developing mathematical models for tumor growth. Successful models could aid doctors in predicting how rapidly certain types of malignant tumors will spread.

Another student team is working with New Frontier Advisors to study new methods for estimating the covariance structure needed to construct efficient investment portfolios.

The Massachusetts automobile insurer is having the third student team conduct a mathematical study of new programs under development for managing high-risk (and high-cost) automobile insurance in Massachusetts. Between now and 2008, the Commonwealth will restructure the plan that currently manages these high-risk policies.

During its first six years, WPI's REU in Industrial Mathematics and Statistics provided research opportunities for 64 undergraduates (31 female, 33 male) from 50 different schools in 22 states and Puerto Rico. The students have worked on 18 different projects sponsored by eight different companies.

The NSF grant also supports two high school teachers each summer who wish to deepen their content knowledge of applied mathematics. The teachers work in parallel with the REU students on industrial projects and also develop versions of these projects, along with supporting materials, to be used in the classroom. They serve as the foundation for new professional development programs for teachers and for new outreach programs that encourage more middle and high school students to study mathematics.

To learn more about WPI's REU in Industrial Mathematics and Statistics, visit the CIMS Web site at www.wpi.edu/Academics/Depts/Math/CIMS/.