Twenty-First Annual Alice T. Schafer Prize

posted Jan 9, 2011, 6:55 PM by AWM Editor   [ updated Aug 1, 2013, 3:25 PM ]

Alice T. Schafer Prize for Excellence in Mathematics by an Undergraduate Woman


In 1990, the Executive Committee of the Association for Women in Mathematics (AWM) established the 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 (1915-2009), one of the founders of AWM and its second president, who contributed greatly to women in mathematics throughout her career.  The criteria for selection include, but are 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.


AWM is pleased to present the twenty-first annual Alice T. Schafer Prize to Sherry Gong, Harvard University.


Additionally, the accomplishments of four outstanding young women, all senior mathematics majors, were recognized on Thursday, January 6, 2011. AWM was pleased to honor Ruthi Hortsch, University of Michigan, as runner-up for the 2011 Schafer prize competition.  Jie Geng, University of California, Berkeley, Yinghui Wang, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Fan Wei, Massachusetts Institute of Technology were recognized as honorable mention recipients in the Schafer prize competition.  Their citations are available from the AWM.



Sherry Gong


Sherry Gong is a senior at Harvard University where her performance in her classes has been outstanding.  She began with Harvard’s famous problem solving class, in which she achieved a score above 100, and since her sophomore year has taken numerous graduate mathematics courses, earning As in all of them.  Whether in a class or independently mastering background for a research project, her recommenders were universally amazed by her ability to master sophisticated mathematics rapidly.


Gong has been involved in four different research projects, and is the author or co-author of three papers.  She spent summer 2008 at the Duluth REU researching cyclotomic polynomials; her paper was published in the Journal of Number Theory.  In 2009 she worked with a group at MIT that did research on computing the dimension of the space of characters of the Lie algebra of Hamiltonian vector fields on a symplectic vector space; their work will be published shortly. She and an economist have published a paper in Integers on congruence conditions characterizing primes.  Most recently she did research on periodic cyclic cohomology of group algebras of torsion free groups at Vanderbilt.


As a high school student, Gong medaled repeatedly in the International Mathematical Olympiad, winning a gold medal in 2007.  After entering college, she returned to the Mathematical Olympiad Summer Program as a grader and also served as a grader for the Mathematical Olympiad of Central America and the Caribbean.  In 2010 Gong served as one of the coaches for the USA team for the China Girls’ Mathematical Olympiad.  Five of the eight girls on the team won gold medals, and the head coach describes Gong as “a young lady with a great heart, thoughtful and gentle,” who pushed the students with “acute mathematical insights and inspiring personality.”


Gong’s mentors describe a remarkable young mathematician, exceptionally talented and original, with one commenting she is already "comparable to some of the best mathematical minds I know."


Response from Sherry Gong


I am deeply honored to be selected to receive Alice T. Schafer Prize. I would like to thank the AWM for inspiring and encouraging women in mathematics. I am grateful to many people who have brought me to this stage mathematically. Thank you to Zuming Feng, for teaching, guiding and encouraging me throughout my high school years. To Dennis Gaitsgory, who has been an amazing teacher and adviser. To Guoliang Yu and Pavel Etingof for guiding me in undergraduate research and sharing with me their penetrating mathematical insights, and in particular, to Joe Gallian who introduced me to the world of mathematical research through his wonderful REU program. I would like to thank the Harvard and MIT mathematics departments for the wisdom and guidance they have shared with me.



Schafer Prize Runner-up



Ruthi Hortsch is a senior mathematics major at the University of Michigan, where she has excelled in undergraduate courses and is currently taking second-year graduate mathematics courses. She is a mathematical leader who has served as a peer-tutor, as a course assistant, worked with gifted high school students, and organized a problem solving class. 


Hortsch has been involved in three successful mathematics research projects (in addition to doing research in physics).  She worked with a group at Michigan on vertex algebras, and their work has recently appeared in the Journal of Algebra.  She is in the process of preparing for publication her results from a project in which she solved the problem of describing the de Rham cohomology of a particular exceptional curve as a representation for the automorphism group of that curve.  During summer 2010, she solved a challenging problem “initially intended as a possible PhD thesis topic” which drew upon knowledge of number theory, group theory, algebraic geometry, algebraic topology, and complex analysis.  


Her recommenders describe her as having “a talent that is already strong,” someone who “keeps getting better and better,” and predict that she “has an exceptional and brilliant career ahead of her.”


    Response from Ruthi Hortsch: I am honored to be the runner-up for the Schafer Prize. Thank you to the AWM for this distinction, and for their hard work and dedication to advancing the work of women in mathematics. My deepest thanks to my family, whose love and encouragement has always supported me.

Many people, particularly at the University of Michigan, have provided me with support and while I cannot name them all, my thanks goes to them. I am particularly grateful to Stephen DeBacker, who instilled in me a passion for mathematics and whose advice and encouragement has been integral these past few years. Thank you to Mike Zieve, whose infectious energy has made working on research with him a joy and whose mathematical insights have given me a deeper understanding, to Bryden Cais, whose advice and guidance have shaped my interests, and Djordje Milicevic, whose teaching and care have encouraged and inspired me.


Schafer Prize Honorable Mention



Jie Geng is a senior double majoring in Mathematics and Economics at UC Berkeley. Her coursework is very impressive: she aced both her undergraduate and several graduate mathematics classes, showing broad mathematical interests and abilities. Her recommenders describe her as “terrific and “the best undergraduate I have taught in over two decades at Berkeley and Stanford.”


In addition to her outstanding academic performance, Geng has devoted a lot of energy during her undergraduate studies to teaching mathematics, both in China, her country of origin, and at UC Berkeley. She has also been involved in mathematical research, as part of the RIPS (Research in Industrial Projects for Students) program at the Institute for Pure and Applied Mathematics, where she studied the effects of carbon emission penalties on the use of different fuels.

    Response from Jie Geng: I am honored to be selected as an honorable mention for the Schafer Prize. Thank you AWM for supporting women in mathematics. I would like to thank all the professors and other people who have brought me to my mathematical maturity. I would like to thank Professor Pitman and Professor Adhikari for noticing me, bringing me confidence and giving me advice for my pursuit in probability and statistics, and for their dedication to undergraduate teaching. To Mike Leong for introducing me the possibility of doing statistics and training me to become an experienced Math and Stats tutor. To RIPS at UCLA for a wonderful summer research program, especially to Hai Qian for being a responsible and helpful academic mentor. To Baoping Liu, Yuhao Huang, Theo Johnson-Freyd and Michaeel Kazi for being extremely approachable TAs and my role models as young mathematicians. Further thanks the Berkeley mathematics department and statistics department for their incredible range and depth of course offering, guidance and encouragement.


Schafer Prize Honorable Mention


Yinghui Wang is a senior mathematics and economics major at Massachusetts Institute of Technology who has excelled in a wide variety of undergraduate and graduate mathematics classes.  Wang’s recommenders uniformly praised her motivation, mathematical maturity, clear exposition, independence, and creativity.   


Wang has been active in three separate research projects though the SPUR and UROP programs at MIT.  Wang’s results from one of those projects, involving the “perfect solution” to a complex analysis problem with important applications in differential equations, has already appeared in the IMA Journal of Numerical Analysis.  Last summer, Wang participated in the SMALL REU at Williams College, where her work generalizing theorems by Zeckendorff and Lekkerkerker for Fibonacci numbers has led to three articles that are expected to appear in strong journals.  Moreover, her presentation of these results at Ohio State’s Young Mathematicians Conference last August was recognized with the top prize, and she has been invited to speak on this work at an AMS Sectional meeting.


    Resonse from Yinghui Wang:  I am very honored to be a Honorable Mention of the Alice T. Schafer Prize. Thanks to the AWM for this award and for their invaluable effort in encouragement and recognition of women in mathematics. I would like to thank all teachers who have guided, helped and nurtured me in mathematics, especially my advisor Ju-Lee Kim, David Jerison, Steven J. Miller, Richard Stanley and Gilbert Strang. I am also very grateful to the MIT mathematics department for providing an inspiring and wonderful environment in which I could pursue my love in mathematics. Finally, I would like to thank my parents for their constant and unconditional support to me.


Schafer Prize Honorable Mention


Fan Wei is a junior mathematics major at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In addition to her outstanding coursework and successful mathematical competition career, she is already an accomplished researcher, having worked on a number of projects. Wei’s recommenders describe her as a very quick learner, “very impressive,” with a “bright future as a research mathematician.”


One of Wei’s research projects relates to the weak Bruhat order and separable permutations, and was presented at the Permutation Patterns conference, where it was “enthusiastically received” and “stirred up a lot of interest.” The subsequent paper will be submitted to the proceedings of the conference. Wei’s other project, on the splitting fields of generalized Rikuna polynomials, was completed while she was a participant in the SMALL REU at Williams College. Wei is described as having been “an essential part” of the group of students in charge of the project, which, once the writing is completed, will be submitted for publication.


    Response from Fan Wei: I am very honored and grateful to receive the certificate of Honorable Mention for the Alice T. Schafer Prize. It is a great encouragement for me and I would like to thank AWM for providing this award and including me as part of its honor.  I owe thanks to my mom and dad for their constantly love, understanding, and tolerance. My home has always been my motivation and will always be. I also want to express my thankfulness to Prof. Stanley for his nomination and being such a nice advisor and teacher. He guided my first math research and gave me my first impression of the math community.

   I want to thank Williams College SMALL REU, my advisor Prof. Pacelli, and my teammates for giving me such a great summer experience. I am also grateful to MIT math department, especially Prof. Artin, Prof. Edelman, David Jordan, Prof. Kumar, and also Prof. Brams at New York University for their great help, patience, and support. I also thank all my friends for giving me the second family. I am lucky to know all of them.