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Department Newsletters

1998 - Volume 6 Number 1: October 6, 1998

Advice on Graduate School

Record Number of Undergraduates Hired by the Department

Mathematics Club

Fall Mathematics Enrollment

The Putnam Examination

History of Mathematics Course

Course Coordinators

Department Web Page

New Special Permission Process

Useful Information

 

Advice on Graduate School

 

On Monday, October 19, 1998, there will be a meeting for undergraduates interested in studying mathematics at the graduate level. The meeting will take place at 7:30 PM in Room 525 of the Hill Center. Mathematics faculty members will discuss the graduate admissions process and the Graduate Record Examination and answer questions.

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Record Number of Undergraduates Hired by the Department

 

The use of undergraduate students in the undergraduate program in mathematics continues to grow. Nine undergraduates are being used as recitation instructors, primarily in precalculus. The total number of sections being taught by these students is 14. Undergraduates are serving as peer mentors in 62 sections of first-year calculus. Approximately half a dozen students are helping with the grading in 200-level courses. A few individuals are handling two assignments, but the total number of students involved is about 75.

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Mathematics Club

The first meeting this semester of the Mathematics Club will take place on Tuesday, October 13, at 8:00 PM in Room 423 of Hill Center. There will be brief organizational meeting followed by a talk by Professor Michael Saks for a general mathematical audience. All mathematics students are encouraged to attend.

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Fall Mathematics Enrollment

For each of the last several years, enrollments in undergraduate mathematics classes have been up approximately 4 to 5% over the previous year. This trend is continuing. The total enrollment on September 11, 1998, was 9407. On September 12, 1997, it was 8980.

Enrollments grew in all areas except in first-year calculus. The number of precalculus students is up by nearly 10%. The growth at the 200-level is due in part to demand for Math 250, Linear Algebra, by students majoring in engineering and computer science. The growth at the 300- and 400-level is welcome, since until recently there had been a decline in interest in these courses.

The following table summarizes enrollments for fall 1998 and fall 1997:

 

 

Fall 1998

Fall 1997

Noncredit

1592

1485

Liberal Arts

337

329

Precalculus

2283

2097

Other 100-Level

3283

3357

200-Level

1284

1146

300- & 400-Level

628

566

Total

9407

8980

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The Putnam Examination

 

The William Lowell Putnam Examination is a national mathematics competition for undergraduates held each December. Prizes are awarded to individuals and to college teams. The exam, which consists of two three-hour sessions, tests ingenuity and insight rather than advanced knowledge. Thus first and second year students can perform well. However, sophistication is required for most of the problems.

This year’s Putnam Examination will be held on Saturday, December, 5, 1998. Professor Michael Saks is running some review sessions for Rutgers students planning to take the test. It is too late to sign up for this year’s examination, but interested students should contact the Undergraduate Office early next fall to sign up for the 1998 competition.

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History of Mathematics Course

 

Last spring the department began a two-year effort that is hoped will lead to a permanent course on the history of mathematics. Professor Simon Gindikin taught a course on this topic as a section of Math 395, Studies in Mathematics. In the spring of 1999, Professor Gregory Cherlin will teach a history of mathematics course, again under the number Math 395. In the fall of 1999, the department will review the results of these two courses and make a decision concerning the syllabus of a permanent course.

Students who wish to study the history of mathematics in the spring of 1999 should register for Section 01 of Math 395 during the fall registration period.

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Course Coordinators

 

Here is the list of course coordinators for the current semester:

Math 115: Professor Amy Cohen, assisted by Dr. Lewis Hirsch.

Math 135: Professor Stephen Greenfield (4-credit format) and Professor Richard Wheeden (5-credit format).

Math 151 and Math 153: Professor Richard Lyons.

Math 152: Professor Michael O'Nan.

Math 244 and Math 251: Professor Richard Falk

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Department Web Page

 

Over the summer the web page for the Department of Mathematics was redesigned. The page now contains a number of links that should be of interest to undergraduates. These include the new special permission page (see the following article), the Undergraduate Math Major Brochure, a description of the Peer Mentor Program, Course materials (information about Math 135, 151, and 251 for the current semester and some other courses from previous semesters), information about faculty and graduate students, and a history of the Rutgers Mathematics Department written by Professor Charles Weibel

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New Special Permission Process

 

Mathematics is required for a great many majors. It is also a graduation requirement for most undergraduates, even those who are majoring in humanities. For this reason, the Mathematics Department tries very hard to get as many students as possible into the mathematics course appropriate for them.

The Registrar has the primary responsibility for enrolling students in courses. Departments set "stop points", the preferred maximum sizes of sections. Continuing students register for classes in order based on the number of credits earned. Incoming students are registered in mid summer through a process of "freshman sectioning" administered by the college deans and the scheduling office. Students admitted at the last minute register as best they can. Students are added to sections on a first-come first-served basis until stop points are reached.

Once a section has reached its stop point, a student can be admitted only with a special permission number. Many departments give instructors the special permission numbers for their classes and leave it to the instructors to decide how many extra students to permit to add the course.

In the Mathematics Department, special permission numbers are issued by the Undergraduate Office. Approximately 15% of all enrollments in undergraduate mathematics classes involve a special permission number. Traditionally the first decisions about special permission have been made on the first Friday of the semester. A group of about five faculty members has begun work about 5:00 PM and finished around 1:00 AM. A member of the secretarial staff has come in at 9:00 AM on Saturday to respond to telephone inquiries from students.

The department is frequently asked why it expends so much effort on the special permission process. Here are some of the reasons:

  1. Giving students access to the registration system only on the basis of credits earned is unfair to many students. The Mathematics Department recognizes the following circumstances as justifying priority for specific sections of math courses: conflicts with other required courses, participation on a Rutgers sports team, status as a commuter, conflicts with work schedules, and interference with religious observances.
  2. Students change their mind or find out that they need a course after the initial registration period. When most sections are closed, the Touch-Tone Registration System is equivalent to a lottery. It is not able to decide who has the most compelling need for the course.
  3. Enrollments are difficult to predict in advance. The department's budget is too restricted to permit building in extra capacity to meet unexpected demand. When the department makes a mistake, there should be a mechanism for getting the most deserving students into the courses they need.

In the past, students filled out paper forms to apply for special permission numbers. With mathematics enrollments growing at roughly 5% per year, the number of requests was becoming too large to handle.

Last spring it was decided to switch the application process to the World Wide Web. Amir Shimoni, an undergraduate majoring in mathematics and computer science, was hired to implement the system under the guidance of the vice chair. This type of web application was new to Rutgers and involved many challenges. However, with the cooperation of the Registrar and Rutgers Computing Services a system was designed, implemented, and tested in time to be put in operation on August 26, 1998.

There were a few problems, but all the evidence available indicates that the new system is a success. The long lines of students near the department office were eliminated. The amount of department staff time devoted to the special permission process was decreased dramatically. The amount of time needed by the faculty to make decisions about requests was also reduced. Students did not have to travel to the department to apply or to learn the results of their request.

Student comments were collected by the system. While there were some complaints, most of the comments were very positive. There were many pleas that the system be expanded to handle courses in other departments.

The system will be refined and used again for the spring semester. It will be put in operation in mid January. By this time, students who fail a prerequisite course this term will have been removed from spring courses. Until this happens, it is not possible to determine which sections have space in them.

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Useful Information

 

Here are the telephone numbers and e-mail addresses of Mathematics Department administrators:

Chair, Antoni Kosinski, 445-2393, kosinski@math.rutgers.edu.

Undergraduate Vice Chair, Charles Sims, 445-2390, sims@math.rutgers.edu.

Graduate Director, Peter Landweber, 445-3864, landwebe@math.rutgers.edu.

Director of Basic Skills, Lewis Hirsch, 445-2288, hirsch@math.rutgers.edu.

Associate Vice Chair, Michael O'Nan, 445-2390, monan@math,rutgers.edu.

Head Undergraduate Advisor, William Sweeney, 445-2390, wsweeney@math.rutgers.edu.

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Contact Us

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Department of Mathematics

Department of Mathematics
Rutgers University
Hill Center - Busch Campus
110 Frelinghuysen Road
Piscataway, NJ 08854-8019, USA

Phone: +1.848.445.2390
Fax: +1.732.445.5530