First Mason mathematics student-alumni conference and research symposium a success
Where can an advanced degree in Mathematical Sciences take you? Mason mathematics graduate students experienced the answer first-hand during the inaugural George Mason University Mathematical Sciences Alumni-Student Conference.
The first department-sponsored networking opportunity of its kind, this popular hybrid-format event attracted students, faculty, alumni, and administration in January just before the Spring 2022 semester. Participants attended a full day of keynote speakers, lightning research talks, panel discussions, and networking opportunities.
“It is an inspiration to meet people who have walked the same path and listen to their experiences,” said attendee Cigole Thomas, Mathematical Sciences PhD student. “It was a great way to start the semester,” she added.
Igor Griva, Associate Professor, recently appointed the department’s new Director of Alumni and Industry relations and the Director of the Industrial Immersion Program (IIP), coordinated a team to create this opportunity for students to network with and learn from Mason’s math alumni.
“We recognize that meaningful discussions about possible career paths and professional development opportunities aimed at sharing research and educational experiences are critically important to our graduate students,” explained Maria Emelianenko, Mathematical Sciences Department Chair, who commended the event organizing committee members for their vision and enthusiasm.
“Our alumni pool is so vast, and those who joined us were so gracious with their time and insights,” Emelianenko added. “Our students immediately felt their positive support. Their enthusiasm was contagious, and students jumped at the opportunity to learn about their successes and life stories.”
Alumni speakers kicked off the event with a panel featuring Zichao (Wendy) Di, Computational Mathematician at Argonne National Laboratory; Elie Alhajjar, Assistant Professor at The United States Military Academy; Zhusong Mei, Quantitative Developer at Millennium Management; and Josh LeCure, Senior Director, Strategic Analytics at Comcast.
“The careers of the alumni were quite different, exposing current students like me to a variety of possibilities to consider following graduation,” shared Michael Merkle, a second-year PhD student at Mason.
Following the morning sessions, all participants could network over lunch with alumni and the special guest, College of Science Dean, Fernando Miralles-Wilhelm.
During the afternoon session, selected graduate students shared their research in three minute “Lightning Talks.” These talks included presentations by Long Nguyen, Cigole Thomas, Tracey Ollerich, Jessica Masterson, Michael Merkle, and Raina Saha, and covered diverse topics including COVID-19, dynamical systems, and cryobiology.
The conference concluded with a career panel of several math professionals, featuring Elie Alhajjar, Assistant Professor at The United States Military Academy; Josh LeCure, Senior Director, Strategic Analytics at Comcast; Ratna Khatri, Research Scientist, U.S. Naval Research Laboratory; Lucas Bouck, Ph.D. student, University of Maryland; and Diego Torrejon, Senior Staff Machine Learning Engineer, BlackSky.
“What I found most helpful from the panel was the advice given regarding job applications and interviews,” Merkle explained.
According to Dean Miralles-Wilhelm, “The event was a great success. This program clearly helped our students better understand the numerous, diverse, and even perhaps unexpected professional options they have post-graduation. I encourage all departments to follow suit,” Miralles-Wilhelm said.
When asked to sum up the event, Thomas shared, “This is one of the many reasons why I love Mason. It feels like everyone here is rooting for you to succeed.”