In 1990, the Executive Committee of the Association for Women in Mathematics (AWM) established the annual Alice T. Schafer Prize for excellence in mathematics by an undergraduate woman. The prize is named for former AWM president and one of its founding members, Alice T. Schafer (Professor Emerita from Wellesley College), who has contributed a great deal to women in mathematics throughout her career. The criteria for selection includes, but is not limited to, the quality of the nominees' performance in mathematics courses and special programs, an exhibition of real interest in mathematics, the ability to do independent work, and if applicable, performance in mathematical competitions.
Jeanne Nielsen, a senior at Duke University, was awarded the second annual Alice T. Schafer Mathematics Prize.
In addition to the Schafer Prize winner, AWM is pleased to recognize Zvezdelina Stankova, a junior at Bryn Mawr College, who was nominated and selected as runner-up in the Schafer Prize competition. AWM is also pleased to recognize the eight outstanding women who were nominated for the Schafer Prize and given Honorable Mention: Sarah Marie Belcastro (senior, Haverford College), Debra Boutin (senior, Smith College), Cheryl Grood (junior, University of Michigan), Karen King (senior, Spelman College), Speranta Marcu (senior, Santa Clara University), Edith Mooers (senior, University of Washington), Jessica Polito (junior, Harvard University), and Diana Thomas (senior, University of Montana).
Two nominees were given special recognition by the Prize Committee for their outstanding achievements in mathematics so early in their careers: Yick Chan, a sophomore at Barnard College, and Millie Niss, a first-year student at Columbia University.
Schafer Prize Winner: Jeanne Nielsen
Jeanne Nielsen was described as a "highly original, enthusiastic, and talented young mathematician" and one of the best undergraduate mathematics majors her nominators had seen anywhere. Nielsen began to show promise as a research mathematician the summer after her sophomore year when she obtained results in finite group theory which have been submitted for publication. More recently, her interest in algebraic and differential geometry has yielded some impressive research results there. Professor Robert Bryant, in his letter nominating her for the prize, said, "Her mathematical maturity and insight are astonishing." Nielsen received an Honorable Mention in this year's Putnam exam, a national mathematics competition for undergraduates, finishing 30th out of 2347 contestants.
Runner-Up: Zvezdelina Stankova
Zvezdelina Stankova is on a full scholarship at Bryn Mawr College, having won a competition in Bulgaria to identify gifted students to study in the United States. As a high school student she participated in the International Mathematics Olympiad on the Bulgarian team; she won silver medals in 1987 and 1988. Stankova finished 101st in the 1991 Putnam Competition. Next year, her senior year at Bryn Mawr, she will be taking graduate courses at the University of Pennsylvania and hopes to graduate with both a bachelor's and a master's degree in mathematics. "One of the brightest young people I have ever known, Zvezde is truly a star, as her name suggests," said Professor Rhonda Hughes in her nomination letter.
Honorable Mention: Sarah Marie Belcastro
Sarah Marie Belcastro is a senior at Haverford College. She has written a senior thesis in algebraic combinatorics and a paper with Gary Sherman based on her participation in a Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology.
Honorable Mention: Debra Boutin
Debra Boutin is a senior at Smith College. In joint work with Michael Albertson of the Smith faculty, she has written a research paper in graph theory. She is also thirty-something and a single parent.
Honorable Mention: Cheryl Grood
Cheryl Grood is a junior at the University of Michigan who has successfully completed some very demanding courses in the Department. She participated in an REU program at Rose-Hulman in 1990, and this resulted in a paper in computational group theory.
Honorable Mention: Karen King
Karen King is a senior at Spelman College and will begin graduate work at the University of Maryland in the fall. She has been engaged in research projects on coding theory at NASA and at Spelman. She gave talks at the Conference on Undergraduate Research at Caltech and at a meeting of the Mathematical Association of America in the spring.
Honorable Mention: Speranta Marcu
Speranta Marcu is a senior at Santa Clara University. Her results in a summer research project were presented at the Conference on Undergraduate Research at Caltech in March.
Honorable Mention: Edith Mooers
Edith Mooers is a senior at the University of Washington who, to quote her nominating faculty member, "performed at a stellar level" in an advanced Lie theory course. She has participated in an REU program at the University of Washington, as a result of which she has written a research paper with the conference organizers.
Honorable Mention: Jessica Polito
Jessica Polito is a junior at Harvard University who has taken Harvard's accelerated program with great success and is at the level of some of the first year graduate students. She was one of the top 200 in the 1991 Putnam Competition.
Honorable Mention: Diana Thomas
Diana Thomas is a senior at the University of Montana. She is writing a senior thesis on fluid flows and turbulences. Her work resulting from an REU program at the University of Colorado (Boulder) was presented at the Conference on Undergraduate Research at Caltech in March.
Special Recognition: Yick Chan
Yick Chan is a sophomore at Barnard College who won the annual mathematics prize competition at Barnard/Columbia: her answer to one of the problems is described as "more enlightening than the answer designed by the creators of the exam." She is described by a Barnard faculty member as "the most talented undergraduate we have seen at Barnard in my 17 years here."
Special Recognition: Millie Niss
Millie Niss is a first-year student at Columbia University. She wrote a research paper in combinatorics in her very first semester. She is described by a faculty member as the "strongest undergraduate student I have ever worked with, irrespective of year, sex, or any other arbitrary category."