A Hit in the Big Time

by Roland Minton on September 10, 2014

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Taylor Ferebee and Stephen Wolfram

Taylor Ferebee is a sophomore, double majoring in Physics and Mathematics. Her summer research at Wolfram Science Summer School (WSSS) is one of the best research experiences ever. Taylor designed a movie app in close consultation with Stephen Wolfram, the world famous inventor of Mathematica and author of the visionary manifesto A New Kind of Science. The app will reside in the Mathematica cloud. She is continuing her work with Wolfram during the school year and has plans to return to WSSS next summer.

Taylor found about WSSS while searching for summer research possibilities. She sent in her application, and was one of four Americans and two teenagers chosen. She quickly found herself working on preparatory homework problems – if you can call unsolved mathematical teasers “homework” – while reading A New Kind of Science and writing proposals for potential summer projects.

The on-site portion of WSSS was a month in Boston, attending lectures on mathematical logic, programming, game theory, image processing, and data scraping (the latter two tailored to her interests), collaborating with interns from around the world, and having one-on-one meetings with Stephen Wolfram (he calls this “ultimate professoring”) to determine her project. Her project ended up being an app that inputs critical information about movie marketing (e.g., genre, title, colors used in posters, season of release) and predicts the success of the movie. She used machine learning algorithms and sophisticated statistical procedures (it might be relevant here to note that this fall she is enrolled in our introductory statistics course) in developing her predictions. Her 2014-15 school year project with Wolfram is to develop software to enable the viewing of videos from the Wolfram cloud.

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Taylor, as she says, “struck gold” with her summer work: brainstorming with interesting and famous people (check), learning cutting-edge mathematics and programming techniques (check), becoming friends with bright young scientists and artists around the world (check), securing her future and landing the perfect job forever (well, I may have gotten carried away on that one, but she’s got a foot firmly in that door).

Taylor emphasizes how thoroughly all of this depended on her taking the time to find the opportunity and then apply. She also brought important assets to the table: previous research experience with NASA and an inquisitive mind that explores ideas just for fun. She describes Stephen Wolfram as “whimsical but logical” and applies the same phrase to the other members of WSSS.

“Whimsical but logical” could serve as a desired characteristic of all Roanoke College graduates. The whimsical part means combining computer science and criminal justice, or physics and Italian. You’re missing the point if you’re wondering what good such combinations could do for you. After all, an interest in mathematics and film worked out quite well for Taylor Ferebee.

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Taylor (upper left) in class at WSSS


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For senior physics students Cam Cassady (middle right) and Chris Valentine (far right), the summer was spent engaged in research at Oak Ridge National Laboratory near Knoxville, Tennessee.  Their research projects were a result of the Visiting Faculty Program funded by the US Department of Energy.  Under the direction of ORNL research scientist Matthew Blackston (middle left) and RC faculty mentor Matthew Fleenor (far left), their summer research focused on coded-aperture imaging.  Coded-aperture imaging is an indirect technique used in astronomy, medicine, and nuclear security to observe materials that emit high-energy particles.


Cam and Chris presented their research at the ORNL campus-wide student poster session, attended by over 1000 students and scientists.



Mathematicians in Portlandia

by Roland Minton on August 19, 2014


Congratulations to Roanoke College mathematics majors Jon Marino and Sam Parsons for winning prizes for their research presentations in Portland, Oregon, on August 8! Their papers on “Integer Compositions Applied to the Probability Analysis of Blackjack” and “Protecting Confidentiality and Scientific Integrity Through Synthetic Data and Mediator Servers,” respectively, were named winners in the Pi Mu Epsilon student talk competition at MathFest, a national meeting of the Mathematical Association of America.

Roanoke College made its mark at MathFest, with four professors and three students attending. Mathematics major Heather Cook gave a well-received talk on “Assessment of Water Quality in the Chesapeake by Parameter Estimation.” This was Heather’s third straight year giving a talk at MathFest, and the seventh straight year a Roanoke College student has presented work.

Jon’s research (integer compositions and blackjack) was his Honors in Mathematics project and was sponsored by Dr. David Taylor. The work explains and extends an interesting pattern that Dave discovered while working on his probability textbook. Sam’s research was her Summer Scholar project, working with Dr. Adam Childers. Her work offers a solution to the dilemma of allowing others to verify analyses of sensitive data without publishing the data. She is a rising senior and plans to continue her research. Heather’s research was also with Dr. Childers, and represents the first of many collaborations between Roanoke College students and the Virginia Institute of Marine Science.

MathFest is an excellent meeting at which students can interact with the mathematics community at large, network with students from around the country, gain invaluable experience presenting and answering questions about their research, and learning that the work they do at Roanoke College is of high quality. Plus, they had a good time!




August 15, 2014

Please watch this short video about a local valedictorian’s hero. http://m.wdbj7.com/levi-helm-craig-county-high-school/26399194 Mr. Boyer is Geoff Boyer, a Roanoke College mathematics major, class of 1998. Geoff has a great sense of humor, served as volleyball coach for several years, and has done PA and radio announcing for the Craig County football team. He is a wonderful […]

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Singing Our Praises

August 13, 2014

One way to sing the praises of our MCSP students is to note that many of them sing in the Roanoke College Choir, the Oriana Singers, and a cappella groups such as Looking for an Echo. The Choir has a remarkable record of performances abroad and professional recordings, and has just been named a Finalist […]

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Princeton Review Ranks Roanoke as a Great School for Majors in Computer Science

August 5, 2014

The 2015 rankings from the Princeton Review are in, and Roanoke College once again finds itself among the 379 Best Colleges.  In addition to this ranking, the Princeton Review has named Roanoke College as a great school for majors in Computer Science.  This is the fourth consecutive year that the Computer Science department has received […]

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We Get the Best Jobs!

June 3, 2014

Which major prepares you for the best jobs? It partly depends on how you define “best jobs” but CareerCast ranks jobs on the basis of work environment, income, outlook, and stress. These are broken down into subcategories (for “stress” they use level of risk, toughness of deadlines, and 9 other factors), the scores are added […]

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Nobody Expects the Math Inquisition

May 7, 2014

Our chief weapon is surprise. Yes, surprise and fear. Our two weapons are fear and surprise. And ruthless efficiency. Our three weapons … among our weapons are … Let’s start over. In a process that we hope is more logical than the Monty Python sketch quoted above, senior mathematics majors undergo an oral examination by […]

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Roanoke College Shines at Record-Setting Meeting

May 1, 2014

The spring meeting of the Maryland-DC-Virginia section of the Mathematical Association of America (MAA), held on April 26 at James Madison University, set records for student participation and overall participation. Roanoke College was in the thick of it. Dave Taylor finished his two-year term as Section program chair, putting together an excellent program of 54 […]

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Marino’s Math Research Counts, Wins Award

April 30, 2014

Jon Marino, a senior mathematics major, now counts among his honors the top student research prize from the spring meeting of the Maryland-DC-Virginia section of the Mathematical Association of America (MAA), held on April 26 at James Madison University. Marino earned first place in the student paper competition, which had a record number (23) of […]

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