Lee University professor gets mathematics research grant
by DELANEY WALKER Banner Staff Writer
Jul 04, 2014 | 2048 views | 0 0 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Dr. Debra Mimbs
Dr. Debra Mimbs

Lee University will join the national push to pursue undergraduate research in the 2014-15 school year by way of a grant provided by the Center for Undergraduate Research in Mathematics.

A total of 68 applicants from across the nation submitted grant proposals to the center. Dr. Debra Mimbs of Lee University and 14 others received funding for their projects.

She explained the grant is timely in light of the growing interest in undergraduate research.

“In the past, research has been held off until students get to their graduate degrees. Undergraduate degrees have been viewed as [when] you learn content and apply that content when you get to grad school,” Mimbs said. “We are often seeing that model is ineffective, or at least not as efficient as another model.”

The $14,800 grant will allow for two undergraduate math students to pursue theoretical research alongside Mimbs for a year. The money will cover stipends for the students and travel expenses associated with the grant program. It will also allow Mimbs to teach nine credit hours in the fall and spring as opposed to her regular 12. She will utilize her extra time to do research.

An announcement was made last semester to encourage students to apply for the theoretical research opportunity. Eleven submitted applications. The two have since been selected: Josey Carroll, a recently graduated senior at Walker Valley High School; and Benjamin Brett Buckner, a current student at Lee.

The students will each receive a $3,000 stipend. The first $1,000 will be given for the fall semester, and another will be given for the spring semester. Students will then receive $500 if they travel to Brigham Young University for the spring conference. A final $500 will be given if the students submit a research paper to the same conference.

According to Mimbs, Lee University agreed to further aid the project by allowing her to create an undergraduate research course in the spring. A preliminary course offered in spring 2014, introduction to undergraduate research, allowed students to get a taste of the field.

The students were challenged with several simple problems before exploring specific research problems where little work has been completed. Instead of focusing on one facet of math, students found they needed to incorporate several different classes to make headway with the posed problems.

“One of the things about mathematics is it is highly creative,” Mimbs said. “A lot of people think that it is just science, but it is kind of the place where science and art meet. In order to do good mathematics research, you have to be a good question asker.”

Mimbs selected the area of theoretical research she would like to pursue with her students. When Carroll and Buckner return in the fall, the three will discuss what specific question they would like to attempt to answer. Research will be completed in a mixture of individual and group work.

Mimbs acknowledged some may not understand the need for mathematics research.

“Traditionally, when we have needed technology, when we’ve needed the next new thing, like the iPhone, and people have started working on them, they have never had to ask, ‘Is the mathematics there that I need to be able to create this?’ because the mathematics has been there,” she said. “If we stop researching mathematics and we don’t invest money in it and invest time in it, then when we need something technologically in the future our technological development will come to a halt, because the mathematics we need to develop won’t be there.”

She admitted there is another reason for her interest in the theoretical research.

“I find a beauty in mathematics. To me, learning new mathematics and asking new questions and seeing how it works and discovering these things is a cathartic moment,” Mimbs said. “It is a time when I meet God. I see how complicated God made the world, and how beautiful God made the world and how all of these things are so related to each other.”

All of the grant recipients received the opportunity to visit with director Michael Dorff of BYU and co-directors Joyati Debnath of Winona State University and Travis Jarvis of BYU in May. She said the three program directors provided the attendees with invaluable information.