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The University of Texas at ArlingtonThe University of Texas at Arlington

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UTA receives National Science Foundation grant to continue successful scholarship program for undergraduate math students

SURGE students
SURGE students include, front row from left, Whittney Lebruce, Jodi Treszoks, Mariah Ochoa, Jessica Bao; back row from left, Kristopher Connett, Amyn Karimi, Luke Jester, Henry Alvarez, and Andrew Soto-Levins.

The University of Texas at Arlington Department of Mathematics has received a new four-year, $998,652 grant from the National Science Foundation to continue a highly successful program that provides funds for high-achieving, financially disadvantaged undergraduate students to pursue degrees in mathematics.

The new grant is the third for the math department’s System for Undergraduates to Reach Goals in Education or SURGE program, following awards in 2008 and 2013. The project includes a comprehensive mentoring system involving faculty, doctoral students and industrial scientists, as well as opportunities for undergraduate research.

“Mathematics plays a very important role in so many different jobs and industries,” said Jianzhong Su, professor and department chair. “A thorough understanding of mathematics is critical for the technological advances that are happening so rapidly in our world. That is why encouraging students’ interest in studying mathematics through programs such as SURGE is so important.”

Principal investigator of the grant is Tuncay Aktosun, professor of mathematics and SURGE program director. Co-principal investigators and SURGE faculty members include Associate Professor Ruth Gornet, Professor Hristo Kojouharov, Associate Professor Barbara Shipman, and Su.

“Dr. Aktosun and the PI team have done a tremendous job in mentoring undergraduate math students for the last 10 years through the SURGE program,” Su said. “We have an outstanding record in assisting our students in getting bachelor degrees in mathematics, especially students from historically underrepresented groups, including females and underrepresented minorities.”

The project also will foster collaboration between UTA and two large community college systems in North Texas: the Dallas County Community College District and Tarrant County College. The UTA Department of Mathematics will host regular activities for DCCCD and TCC students and mathematics professors through the SURGE program.

“The SURGE program is a superb example of an initiative that is directly addressing the urgent need for highly talented STEM graduates, mathematics in particular,” said Morteza Khaledi., dean of the College of Science. “This new grant from NSF reflects well the UTA Mathematics Department as a national leader in teaching and mentoring of undergraduate math majors.”   

The SURGE project will build on an existing mathematics learning community at UTA, anchored by the local student chapter of the Mathematical Association of America. In addition to close interactions with their faculty, peer and industry mentors, SURGE students will have opportunities to take on leadership roles in the local MAA chapter, enable peer mentorship among all mathematics majors and work on outreach and other community services.

The program also pairs SURGE students who are interested in continuing on to graduate studies with graduate student mentors. They’re encouraged to participate in faculty research projects and research experiences for undergraduates programs at UTA or other universities. The grant also sends them to conferences to interact with other mathematicians. These activities give students an early exposure to graduate studies and research, builds their confidence in pursuing advanced study and doing research, and establishes connections with research mathematicians outside of UTA.