Faculty, staff, and students recognized with Department of Mathematics Impact Award


The Department of Mathematics Impact Award recognizes faculty, staff, and graduate students in the Department of Mathematics for work which has substantially improved the welfare of members of our community since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Selected by the department's executive committee, particular emphasis was placed on work which has helped students to succeed and thrive throughout the past year, including innovations in the virtual classroom.

Thank you to these individuals and groups for their innovation that helped our students to succeed and thrive throughout the past year.

IT specialist, NetMath Program

As IT specialist for the NetMath Program, Nathan Arvan is responsible for maintaining and enhancing the user-friendliness of multiple aspects of the NetMath IT infrastructure. These include most of our administrative and studentfacing apparatus, including the Nexus record application. When the pandemic hit last spring, we had one week to transition from paper-based exams, designed to be taken in-person with proctors, to a fully online format. He was tasked with building the online exam system, and he was able to set up a mechanism that was functional, flexible, and met the needs of our program at a critical juncture. The online exam system was made available to students free of charge, and allowed them to complete their NetMath course with minimal interruption to their original timeline. Last fall as the pandemic continued to adversely affect our students, NetMath made the decision to grant an automatic, free extension to every student currently registered in a NetMath course. Again, Arvan was a key contributor in ensuring a smooth rollout of the extensions, from sending email notifications to all affected students to automated entry of the new extended end course date in every Nexus student record. In both instances, we were able to pivot and meet the needs of our students at a difficult time, thanks largely to his efforts.

Graduate Student Mentoring Program

Recognizing the unique challenges of starting graduate school remotely during the pandemic, graduate students Emily Heath, Grace McCourt, and Mina Nahvi saw an opportunity for the department to welcome its incoming students by providing them with peer mentors. As organizers of the Graduate Student Mentoring Program, they recruited 31 returning students and paired 37 incoming students in the Math and Actuarial Science programs with mentors. Each mentor met with their mentee over Zoom several times throughout the fall semester in addition to checking in over email. The mentors were provided with suggestions for topics to discuss with their mentees, from managing teaching responsibilities and finding an advisor to joining the AWM or IGL and exploring Champaign-Urbana (as much as possible during the pandemic). Mentors were encouraged to introduce their mentee to other graduate students to expand their support network, especially to include students with similar research interests or hobbies. In a survey collected at the end of the semester, the response from both returning and incoming students was overwhelmingly positive, and the program is expected to run again next year.

Director, Math Merit Workshop

As director of the Math Merit Workshop, Jennifer McNeilly has gone above and beyond to keep lines of communication open between Merit students, TAs, and herself. By hosting regular Merit TA zoom meetings, she’s been able to facilitate an exchange of ideas that allow us to share what works and what we’re still working on, while also checking in on our well-being. She also has been quick to respond in a kind and empathetic manner when we have concerns about our students’ well-being, whether this involves checking in with the students via email or zoom, recommending resources, or helping TAs advocate on their behalf. Teaching online is a struggle at the best of times, but McNeilly’s efforts to alleviate the struggle and amplify the best of times have been absolutely invaluable in the time of COVID.

The Summer Illinois Math (SIM) Camp organizers, instructors, assistant instructors, and support faculty and staff conducted successful virtual programs for students in 8th-12th grades during the COVID shutdown last summer. They completely restructured the program in order to continue to provide the experience for the students, gaining useful skills and knowledge for themselves in creating the experience. They prepared supply packets for the participants to be distributed through a curbside pickup at the Assembly Hall. When there was civil unrest on the days surrounding this event, they adjusted again and shipped the packets to the campers. It would have been easy to cancel the program many times throughout the process, but they persevered and provided the opportunity to the middle and high school students who gained from the camp. Overcoming all of the challenges they faced provided growth for the organizers, instructors and assistant instructors, as they shared their enthusiasm for mathematics with the younger students.

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