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Man standing in a clssroom with students raising their hands

Intercollegiate Biomathematics Alliance Director Olcay Akman works with students at the Cross-institutional Undergraduate Research Experience. (Photograph by Professor Emeritus of Marketing Rodger Singley)

ISU hosts national biomathematics research conference

Stevenson Hall transformed into a hot spot for biomathematics research from May 29–June 1, as Illinois State hosted bright minds from across the country for the fourth annual Cross-Institutional Undergraduate Research Experience (CURE).

The four-day workshop was organized by the Intercollegiate Biomathematics Alliance (IBA), a consortium of national institutions that are pioneering the study of biomathematics. The IBA is based at Illinois State University, which is one of 12 institutions in the consortium, with members coming from as far as Alaska and Washington, D.C.

Students attending the Cross-institutional Undergraduate Research Experience took part in activities and workshops: Associate Professor Megan Powell (left), Marshall Johnson, Catherine Roberts, Illinois State Damian DeDivitis, Anna Singley. (Photo by Rodger Singley)

Students attending the Cross-Institutional Undergraduate Research Experience took part in activities and workshops: Associate Professor Megan Powell (left), Marshall Johnson, Catherine Roberts, Illinois State student Damian DeDivitis, and Anna Singley. (Photograph by Professor Emeritus of Marketing Rodger Singley)

Over the course of CURE, the students, guided by faculty from Illinois State and other IBA institutions, had the opportunity to gain research experience in biomathematics while sharpening their scientific skills.

The students participated in the research process from start to finish—the inception of the research problem, the development of the problem, the collaboration of solving the problem, and the completion of the research. Additionally students were taught how to write scientific papers, how to present in professional conferences, and how to operate computer programs for problem-solving.

While CURE attracted students from all over the country, it hosted a handful of Illinois State students as well. Sara Liesman, a biomathematics graduate student, attended CURE to research algorithms. “The best part of this conference has been the research opportunities and the group of people in attendance,” said Liesman.

CURE is a selective workshop, accepting students based on merit. This year, 16 students were accepted from a pool of nationwide applicants. When applying, students must submit their transcript, a statement of purpose, and a letter of recommendation. Once accepted, students have all their expenses covered by the IBA.

Biomathematics is a new field in the world of science, steadily becoming more prominent and applicable. “Biomath is used to solve real-life problems in biological aspects of life,” said Olcay Akman, a professor of mathematics at Illinois State and the director of the IBA. Biomathematics has been used to track infectious diseases, to predict mortality, and to learn more about the environment and climate change.

Illinois State has been at the forefront of this emerging field. The University started its biomathematics program in 2007 and has become a leading force in the study of biomathematics. Illinois State has the only biomathematics graduate program in the state and is one of the few schools in the nation that offers a master’s degree in the subject. CURE has helped the University become a center for biomathematics, as well as serving as a recruiting tool for the University.

Damian DeDivitis, a sophomore math major at Illinois State, attended CURE to learn more about the field. “After taking Introduction to Undergraduate Research last year, I have been inspired to learn more about biomathematics,” said DeDivitis.

This year, some of the students participating in CURE came to Bloomington-Normal all the way from the University of Alaska Southeast in Juneau. One of those students was Marshall Johnson, a recently graduated mathematics major. “My favorite part of this conference was seeing all of the crazy things you can do with mathematics. It’s interesting to see how math and biology can be applied to real-world problems.”

Another highlight of CURE is the networking opportunity that it gives to like-minded students. “The best part of this conference has been connecting with other students and faculty,” said Ray Rice, a University of Alaska Southeast student.

group of people gathered outside

The 2019 attendees of the Cross-Institutional Undergraduate Research Experience from the Intercollegiate Biomathematics Alliance. (Photograph by Professor Emeritus of Marketing Rodger Singley)

Associate Professor of Mathematics Megan Powell, a CURE faculty member from the University of North Carolina Asheville, has witnessed the networking take place firsthand. “I started bringing students here four years ago, and it has always been successful in exposing students to research and collaboration,” said Powell. “The best part is seeing the camaraderie between the students with shared interests.”

For more information about the IBA and CURE, visit About.IllinoisState.edu/IBA.

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