Twenty-Second Annual Alice T. Schafer Prize

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 honors 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-second annual Alice T. Schafer Prize to Fan Wei, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.



Fan Wei


Fan Wei is a senior at MIT, who distinguished herself both by her outstanding coursework and by the excellence and unusually broad range of her research. She has authored or co-authored five upcoming papers in fields as diverse as Number Theory, Combinatorics, Statistics, and Tropical Geometry. She has participated in multiple undergraduate research projects at MIT, and in two summer REU programs. Of the latter, the first was at Williams College (Summer 2010), where she co-wrote a paper investigating the properties of Rikuna polynomials. The second one was at University of Minnesota-Twin Cities (Summer 2011), where she produced two papers: one on a connection between the evacuation of Young tableaux and chip-firing, and the second on tropical properties for general chain graphs. The latter paper is single-authored.


Fan has already presented her results at two conferences: Young Mathematician’s Conference, Ohio State University, 2010, and Permutation Patterns, Dartmouth College, 2010. Her work is being described as “elegant,” “intricate,” “very creative,” “quite surprising,” and “having stirred up a lot of interest [in the area].” According to her mentors, she is expected to have a very successful career as a research mathematician, because “she learns very quickly” and has “an excellent instinct for seeing what needs to be done and then doing it.”


In addition to her varied research projects, her coursework at MIT is absolutely outstanding: she has earned the top grade in 21 advanced mathematics courses, 5 of which were at graduate level.  Her MIT instructors describe her as “incredibly bright,” “truly outstanding,” “one of the best students I have ever had in the course,” and “destined to excel.”


Aside from her research and coursework, Fan was part of a Meritorious Winner Team for the Mathematical Contest in Modeling (2010), she is a mentor for the Girl’s Angle Math Club in Cambridge, and she has served on the board of MIT’s Society of Women Engineers.


For her outstanding research abilities, as well as the breadth of her research interests, the excellence of her academic work, and the service she provides to the mathematical community, Fan Wei is the winner of the 2012 Alice T. Schafer Prize.


Response from Fan Wei


I am very honored and grateful to receive the Alice T. Schafer Prize. It is a great encouragement for me and I would like to thank AWM for providing this award.


First and foremost, I want to thank my parents for their constant love, understanding, and tolerance. My home has always been and will continue to be my motivation. My gratitude goes to my mentor and nominator, Richard Dudley. His meticulous research style is exemplary of the rigor of mathematics and continues to inspire me. I want to thank my first research supervisor, Richard Stanley, for introducing me to the world of mathematical research. Furthermore, I want to express my gratitude to the hosts of UMN REU - Gregg Musiker, Victor Reiner and Pavlo Pylyavskyy – and the hosts of Williams College SMALL REU, especially Allison Pacelli, for providing me with two memorable summers. I am also grateful to the MIT math department, especially Prof. Artin, Prof. Edelman, and Prof. Kim for their great help, patience, and support. Lastly, I want to thank all my friends for giving me a second family. I am lucky to know all of them.


Schafer Prize Runner-up


Jennifer Iglesias, a senior mathematics major at Harvey Mudd College, has been “blazing a bright mathematical trail” since middle school, when she discovered her aptitude and passion for proofs at MathPath.   In high school, Iglesias was twice selected as a member of the US team participating in the China Girls Math Olympiad (CGMO), where she earned a gold medal in her senior year.   At Harvey Mudd, she earned the math department’s highest honor, the Giovanni Borrelli Mathematics prize for an outstanding senior mathematician.  She continues to excel at mathematics competitions, scoring in the top 200 of the Putnam exam as a junior, and placing 80th out of over 300 participants at the International Mathematics Competition in Bulgaria.


In addition, Iglesias has done mathematics research at two REU programs, where her work has led to a total of four separate manuscripts either in preparation or already submitted.  Her recommenders note that each of these papers will “almost certainly lead to publication in research journals.”   One of her research mentors exclaims that she is “heads and shoulders above any other undergraduate I’ve had the pleasure to know,” and another describes discussing mathematics with her as “like talking to a colleague.”  Iglesias has presented talks on her research at the Nebraska Conference for Undergraduate Women and at the 2011 Joint Mathematics Meetings. 


Iglesias also devotes considerable energy to working with the next generation of talented mathematicians. She earned high praise from her recommenders for the quality and breadth of her teaching and mentoring activities, from teaching at MathPath, to serving as a student coach for the US CGMO team, to working at the Mathematics Olympiad Summer Program. 


Her recommenders enthuse that Iglesias is “the ideal student who just happens to know everything”, someone capable of producing “beautiful mathematical results,” and call her an “exceptional mathematician” with “extraordinary potential.”

Response from Jennifer Iglesias: I am deeply honored to be the runner-up for the Alice T. Schafer Prize. I would like to thank the AWM not only for this award but also for their devotion to mentoring and nurturing women mathematicians. There are many people who have helped and encouraged me to pursue mathematics, and I can't possibly thank them all here. I first became interested in math when I joined my middle school math team, unfortunately I was the only girl and one of the youngest students. I am extremely appreciative of Mr. Chuck Linneman, as he was the middle school teacher in charge of the math team program and the first to really encourage me to pursue and enjoy mathematics. I also want to thank Prof. Micheal Orrison who has enthusiastically taught some of my favorite classes and provided me with my first research opportunity. I am truly grateful for all the Harvey Mudd professors for all their awesome teaching and support. Thanks to Prof. Garth Isaak and Prof. Glencora Borradaile, my two amazing REU advisors, who constantly supplied me with interesting problems, and advice on graduate schools. Lastly, I would like to thank my major advisor, Prof. Andrew Bernoff, for all the times I run into his office worried about one thing or another, and he always manages to make all my worries vanish.



Schafer Prize Honorable Mention


Victoria (Tori) Akin is a senior mathematics major at the University of Georgia.  She has taken numerous honors and graduate mathematics courses with a near-perfect grade point average.  Her professors give high praise to her innovative approaches to challenging mathematics problems, her leadership in problem-solving with classmates, and her clear expository style.   She is a Goldwater Scholar, and has also been awarded a prestigious University of Georgia Foundation Fellowship. 


Akin’s research experience is already extensive.  Her work includes two summer REUs: one in 2010 with Charles Johnson at William and Mary on a project involving the completable patterns of TPk matrices, and another in 2011 on an inverse Galois problem with Jorge Morales at Louisiana State University.  Akin has also been a Research Assistant on an ongoing project simulating influenza virus dynamics in lung tissue.  This highly quantitative research was done under the supervision of Andreas Handel in the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at UGA; she will be first author on the resulting research paper.


Response from Victoria Akin: I am extremely humbled and grateful to be selected as an Honorable Mention for the Alice T. Schafer Prize. I am thrilled to be honored by an organization that supports and encourages women in mathematics. I would like to offer my deep thanks to the University of Georgia mathematics department, particularly Dr. Ed Azoff, Dr. Brian Boe, and Dr. Ted Shifrin. I would also like to express my gratitude to Dr. Andreas Handel for his relentless support. In addition I am very grateful to Dr. Charles Johnson and Dr. Shahla Nasserassr for their invaluable guidance at the William and Mary Reu, as well as Dr. Jorge Morales for his inspiring instruction at the Louisiana State University REU.



Schafer Prize Honorable Mention


Meng Guo is a senior at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where she is a James Scholar, as well as a recipient of the Mathematics Department Selma Wanna Award for the best continuing junior and of the Roy Brahana Prize for the most exceptional undergraduate mathematics career. Her coursework is absolutely outstanding: she has aced a total of 7 graduate level mathematics courses and is on track to raise that number to 15 by the time she graduates.  Her instructors describe her as “outstanding”, “extremely impressive, bright, and ambitious,” “the most phenomenal undergraduate student I have known in 25 years,” whom “by force of will […] is shaping her own destiny, and that destiny is to be a mathematician.”


In addition to her exceptional coursework, Meng has been involved in a number of independent study and research projects at UIUC, and has been a top performer on the local math contest scene, as well as in the Putnam Competition. Meng’s professors have “great enthusiasm for her future prospects” and expect that she is “headed towards a stellar academic career.”


Response from Meng Guo: I am honored to be selected as an honorable mention for the Schafer Prize. It is a great encouragement for me and I would like to thank AWM for their invaluable effort and dedication in supporting women in mathematics. I am grateful to many people, particularly at UIUC who helped and nurtured me in mathematics. Thanks to Matthew Ando who guided me into topology and shaped my interest in math and whose advice and care inspired me. Thanks to Eugene M. Lerman who instilled in me a passion and confidence for mathematics and made working on research with him a joy. Thanks to Charles Rezk whose mathematical insights gave me a deeper understanding and whose teaching and help encouraged me. Further thanks to UIUC mathematics department for offering many interesting courses and providing a wonderful mathematical environment. Finally, I want to express my thankfulness to my parents for their love, understanding and tolerance, which always supported me.