College of LAS « Illinois

New scholarship program in mathematics is a success

Offers aimed at high-achieving students are accepted at a record-setting rate

Lucas Trojanowski and Clara Yam pose in front of Altgeld Hall. They are among several high-achieving mathematics students who received reconfigured scholarships under a new program at the Department of Mathematics.
Lucas Trojanowski and Clara Yam pose in front of Altgeld Hall. They are among several high-achieving mathematics students who received reconfigured scholarships under a new program at the Department of Mathematics.
When speaking of college recruitment, the first thing that may come to mind is football or basketball programs scouring the nation for top athletes. But the same holds true for Illinois’ Department of Mathematics, which recently restructured its scholarship program to help elite math students choose Illinois.

After consideration by faculty and alumni, the department decided to offer four-year scholarships at $6,000 per year to high-achieving students who were considering Illinois. Out of 25 offers, seven students accepted the scholarships and began attending Illinois this fall.

This represented a record-setting 28 percent scholarship yield rate—the percentage of students who accept a scholarship and agree to attend—for the department, which is considered an excellent rate in terms of recruiting students who are at the top of their class.

For Lucas Trojanowski, a recipient of the Vincent O. Greene Scholarship in Mathematics, Illinois’ offer was easy to accept because of the strong vote of confidence it provided him.

“My math scholarship has motivated me to do more with my education by constantly reminding me that I’m here to build a career and that I should do everything that I do with a purpose,” Trojanowski said. “It also serves as a reminder that the University of Illinois believes that I can do great things, and it makes me feel like the school truly wants me to be successful.”

The idea of a scholarship reconfiguration was developed by the Math Development Advisory Board (MDAB), a group of 12 mathematics faculty and alumni that addresses departmental initiatives. Sheldon Katz, professor of mathematics and chair of the MDAB, said finding the right way to arrange the department’s scholarship offers had been a priority.

“Before that we had tried varieties of scholarship configurations,” Katz said. “Sometimes they were fewer than four years, sometimes less than $6,000. That way we offered more scholarships, but fewer of them were being accepted. So having this size and duration of scholarship really seemed to work.”

According to A.J. Hildebrand, emeritus professor of mathematics who is a member of the selection committee for the scholarships, the $168,000 commitment to the most recent group of undergraduate scholarships is a significant increase over last year. The department hopes that by opening the door to the strongest students, their presence will have a positive impact on the entire program of 1,200 math majors.

Five separate scholarship titles were awarded to incoming students for the fall semester. Zhaohan He and Broderick Portell each received the Illinois Mathematics Excellence Scholarship; Trojanowski and Justin Black were both awarded the Vincent O. Greene Scholarship in Mathematics; Jonathan Alvarez received the Gail V. Kellogg Scholarship; Alice Chudnovsky earned the Ruth V. Shaff and Genevie I. Andrews Mathematics Scholarship; and Clara Yam was awarded the Susan C. Morisato Mathematics Scholarship.

Chudnovsky has used her award from the department as a means of motivation, especially as a minority in the field.

“The scholarship pushes me to prove that, as a minority, women are still just as capable of doing mathematics, if not better, than men,” Chudnovsky said.

Portell hopes to both to add to the department’s overall quality, as well as benefit from it.

“I have noticed that the mathematical ability of the people around me is far more superior than those I am used to being around,” Portell said. “I am excited about this, though, because it will help me learn at a much faster rate. Receiving the scholarship definitely motivates me.”

Joey Figueroa
11/7/2016

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