Clocktower

Contact Info:
Dr. James Peirce
Professor, Department of Mathematics & Statistics
jpeirce@uwlax.edu

The University of Wisconsin - La Crosse (UWL) Mathematics & Statistics Department is proud to offer a 10-week Summer Research Experience for Undergraduates program in the beautiful city of La Crosse, Wisconsin.

Through workshops, seminars, and retention activities we will help 8 students develop the motivation and wide-ranging skills necessary to transition into scientific careers including becoming professional mathematical biologists. Our REU program aims to give the participants as thorough an interdisciplinary research experience as possible with a focus on the model development, analysis, and validation processes of the mathematical modeling cycle. This will be achieved through our mathematics and biology mentors who will provide introductory lectures and tutorials tailored to meet project and student needs. Student experiences will then swiftly transition from classroom sessions to daylong research-level activities and eventually to the preparation of presentations and/or manuscripts for dissemination. Throughout the summer, team-building activities will supplement research and educational activities to develop an environment that places high priority on collaboration and interaction among students and between students and their mentors.

Each group will meet daily with their research advisors, with increasing independence as the summer progresses.  We expect that the summer projects will result in presentations at a national meeting (such as the International Symposium on Biomathematics and Ecology Education and Research or the MAA-AMS Joint Mathematics Meeting).

Students will be given the opportunity to develop their research questions and then share their findings in both academic settings and with resource managers. We will also provide participants with educational and social activities to create an environment that is conducive to collaboration.

Our previous REU Site provided mentoring to 24 students through collaborations among mathematics, statistics, and biology faculty, as well as with federal scientists. Products from these collaborations include multiple research papers that have either been published or are being prepared for publication.  One published paper in particular, "Using a Summer REU to Help Develop the Next Generation of Mathematical Ecologists", was specifically inspired by our 2016-18 REU site and appeared in the Bulletin of Mathematical Biology.

The 2019 REU program will build upon UWL’s successful track record of fostering undergraduate research in mathematical biology from our previous NSF-funded Undergraduate Biology and Mathematics-Group: Collaborations on Riverine Ecology program (2010-13) and our recent REU Site: University of Wisconsin La Crosse REU in Mathematical Ecology (2016-18). The University of Wisconsin - La Crosse has a national reputation for excellence in fostering undergraduate research, which has led to hosting the 2009 and 2013 National Conference on Undergraduate Research.  Additionally, the University of Wisconsin - La Crosse is the host to the biennial Midwest Mathematical Biology Conference and is hosting the International Symposium on Biomathematics and Ecology Education and Research in October 2019.

Program Dates:  June 3, 2019 - August 9, 2019
Stipend:  $5000 and a $75 weekly food allowance. 
Note:  Funding for the 2019 REU program is currently under review by the National Science Foundation.  Upon approval, notification of acceptance may begin as early as February 15th.

Who Should Apply?

Who Should Apply:

Relation Majors/Areas

  • Mathematics
  • Biology/Ecology

Projects in Summer 2019 will focus on Population and Disease Dynamics within the Mississippi River Basin.  Students will explore questions in one of the following two working groups:

Combining Empirical and Theoretical Approaches to Better Understand the Persistence and Potential Mitigation of Swimmer’s Itch in the Upper Mississippi River Region.

Waterfowl diseases are currently influencing both the ecology and economics in the UMR Region.  One of the key emerging issues is swimmer’s itch, which is caused by flatworm parasites that are harbored by birds, but also require snails to complete their life cycles.  When snails release the worms, the worms not only infect birds, but they can also “accidentally” penetrate the skin of people who come in contact with contaminated water. Although this issue has consequences for both waterfowl and humans in the region, there are few reliable strategies for controlling these parasites. As part of our previous REU experience, we developed a modified SIR model for exploring control options for swimmer’s itch within a single year given various degrees of financial investment (Peirce and Sandland, 2018). Our next aim is to have students expand upon this work to develop predictive models aimed at reducing this problem over prolonged (and more realistic) periods under various monetary constraints. As with our previous REU, we will continue to emphasize both theoretical and empirical approaches by having students parameterize their models using data that they glean from past studies and collect from the field.

Buch, K., Hendrickson, R, Pellet, J, Peirce, J., Sandland, G. Optimal Control of Treatment in a Mathematical Model of Swimmer’s Itch. To be submitted. Target: Natural Resource Modeling (2018).

Using modified SIR Models to Investigate Interventions against Fungal Blight in American Chestnut Trees.

The US population of American chestnut, Castanea dentata, has increasingly fallen prey to a blight pathogen, Cryphonectria parasitica. At the same time, infection of C. parasitica by a hypovirus has been seen to reduce the expansion rate of blight cankers. Early linear population projection matrix models suggested the possibility of recovery by hypovirus-infected populations (Davelos & Jarosz, 2004), but recently more complex models have called long-term viability into question, suggesting that apparent recovery may be no more than a transient phenomenon (Baines et al. 2014). Thus, the efficacy of introducing hypovirus as an intervention against blight is an important open question. This research project will improve our understanding of the issue, and it will explore established and novel blight-control measures. Students will develop and use differential-equation models to investigate and evaluate different intervention strategies. Models will be parameterized based on our extensive data sets on chestnut tree-blight-hypovirus dynamics. Students will compare outputs from these models to results acquired using past techniques. Together, this scaffolding approach will allow us to explore and identify ways in which hypovirus introductions may (or may not) be used to positively influence American chestnut survival.

Davelos, Anita L., and Andrew M. Jarosz. "Demography of American chestnut populations: effects of a pathogen and a hyperparasite." Journal of Ecology 92.4 (2004): 675-685.

Davelos Baines, Anita, Eric Alan Eager, and Andrew M. Jarosz. "Modeling and analysis of american chestnut populations subject to various stages of infection." Letters in Biomathematics 1.2 (2014): 235-247.

Prerequisites

Few undergraduates have experience with mathematical modeling, ecology, and creating numerical simulations.  We understand this and will teach the mathematical, ecological, and programming methods necessary for the projects. The ideal applicant will have experience with differential equations and familiarity with topics in ecology or natural resource management; background with R, matlab, or other programming language(s) will be helpful for the applicant.

Application Info

Eligibility

Participation in the UWL REU in Ecological Modeling of the Mississippi River Basin is limited to students who meet the following criteria.

  • U.S. Citizen or Permanent Resident
  • Current Undergraduate with at least one semester of coursework remaining before obtaining a Bachelor's degree

Application Materials

The following materials are to be included in the application

  • Online application form 
  • Unofficial transcript (uploaded with application)
  • 2 letters of recommendation (include names of recommenders in application form; submit letters of recommendation via email to Dr. James Peirce jpeirce@uwlax.edu)

Application Timeline

  • December 1, 2018 - Application opens
  • February 15, 2019 - Priority deadline
  • March 1, 2019 - Application deadline
  • March 15, 2019 - Decisions complete

Instructors

Events

Events:

  • Campus and department orientation
  • Team-building activities
  • Tour of United States Geological Survey (USGS) facility
  • Visit with the Biostatistics division of Mayo Clinic
  • Guest lectures by area professionals
  • Continuous social interactions with Dean's Distinguished Fellows at UWL
  • Participation in UWL's College of Science and Health Summer Research Celebration in early August

Benefits

Benefits:

  • Competitive Stipend
  • Suite-style apartments
  • Travel expenses to and from La Crosse and to and from one national meeting
  • Full access to campus recreation and campus library/computing facilities
  • Wireless internet throughout campus

Over the past three summers our REU participants have been trained in modeling techniques ranging from branching process, temperature-dependent disease dynamics, and data science. To date, the inaugural REU Site resulted in two publications in professional journals (Haider et. al (2017), Bennie et. al (2018)) with two more in preparation (Buch et. al (2018), Sandland (2018)), and numerous talks and poster presentation a regional and national conferences. The most recent 2018 summer will likely result in four publications. Select examples from the past 3 years:

[1] Haider*, H. S., Oldfield*, S. C., Tu*, T., Moreno*, R. K., Diffendorfer, J. E., Eager, E. A., & Erickson, R. A.. Incorporating Allee effects into the potential biological removal level. Natural Resource Modeling, 30(3) (2017):  e12133. The group studying the effects of wind energy development, the students derived a new metric for potential biological removal that better accounts for Allee Effects - the effects of low populations on extinction risk.

[2] Bauer*, J., Lieberman*, K., Rouleau*, R., Allen, M, Baines, A. A Model of Virulent and Hypovirulent Strains of Fungus and Survivability of American Chestnut Forests. To be submitted. Target: Letters in Biomathematics (2018). In an attempt to control the spread of a fungal blight that has been infecting American chestnut trees for the past 100 years, students modeled the dynamics of various tree communities over time with the effects of virulent and hypovirulent forms of the blight using an epidemiological model. Their results have been very encouraging thus far for the chestnut community in their efforts to abate the effects of blight in various communities in the Midwest.

[3] Gahm*, K., Budd*, S., Baumann, D., Bennie, B., Haro, R., Erickson, R., Janikowski, K.J., Van Appledorn, M. Analysis of Wood Dynamics in Large River Systems. To be submitted. Target: Geomorphology (2018). In an effort to understand the distribution of large woody structure in large rivers such as the Upper Mississippi River (UMR), students analyzed a long-term dataset of wood occurrence in three UMR navigation pools using random forest models, mixed-effects logistic models, and t-tests. The students found relationships between wood presence and aquatic habitat strata, water depth, and wing dam or revetment presence, indicating that both transport- and source-related variables may be important to understanding wood dynamics in large rivers.

*REU student authors

 

Our REU has sought to expose under-represented groups to mathematical ecology and its application to natural resources management. As remarked above, we successfully recruited a significant proportion of underrepresented minority and/or first-generation college students and increased their likelihood of attending graduate school. The results of student work have had an impact on natural resource management. We achieved this by using an interdisciplinary team of academic and government researchers who all work closely with natural resource managers. Our students shared their results with the US Geological Survey and US Fish & Wildlife (USWFS) biologists, who incorporated our students' findings into their work. For example, the results from Haider et al. (2017) were used by a USFWS Endangered Species group to help select a type of model used for a species listing decision. Additionally, our students presented their results with state policy makers (representatives for Sen. Baldwin and the Wisconsin Chief of Staff for Rep. Kind). Faculty mentors utilized the invasive species dataset collected during the first REU program as a tangible realistic study for exercises in their upper level multivariate statistics course.

Summary of Results

Objective 1: Training Undergraduate Students in Various Sub-disciplines of Mathematical Ecology. We trained twenty-four undergraduate students in the area of mathematical ecology through research projects ranging from disease ecology to data analytics. During the course of the summer, students learned introductory material in both mathematics and ecology, participated in field sampling in the Upper Mississippi River, and developed and implemented their own research projects.

Survey results: Frequent and direct contact with research mentors was a key factor in successfully training our undergraduates in the sub-disciplines of mathematical ecology. Of the 24 participating undergraduate students, 87.5% were extremely satisfied with the interactions that they had with their research mentors while the remaining 12.5% was satisfied with this relationship. No students reported dissatisfaction with their faculty interactions. In terms of mentor quality, students were either extremely satisfied (62.5%) or satisfied (12.5%) with the backgrounds of their mentors and mentor preparedness.

Research products: Students were required to present their research results at a number of meetings including the UWL College of Science and Health Summer Celebration of Undergraduate Research (August 2016), the International Symposium on Biomathematics, Education and Research (Oct. 2016, Oct. 2017), the Joint Mathematics Meetings (Jan. 2017, Jan. 2018), and to members of various government agencies (e.g., the USGS and the USFWS). Before the end of the program, student pairs were also required to begin writing a formal manuscript of their projects.

Objective 2: Motivating Undergraduate Students, Especially Underrepresented and/or First-Generation College Students with Limited Access to Research at their Home Institution, to Attend Graduate School. A substantial fraction of our 24 students were part of underrepresented minority groups and/or were first-generation college students (45.8%). Additionally, 66.6% of our students were female. The proportion of students that reported that our REU increased their likelihood of attending graduate school contained a representable proportion of the aforementioned students from underrepresented minority groups or students that were first-generation college students (50%).

Survey results 83.3% of all participants reported that the REU increased their likelihood of attending graduate school. Three of the students from 2016 have recently completed their first year in graduate school. In the 2017 cohort, over half of the students are presently in a STEM related graduate program.

Student testimony: A number of students had their perspectives changed through our REU program. One individual stated that the “...REU experience, greatly changed [her/his] view [of] research for the better.” In some cases, the program appeared to convince some of our students to continue on with mathematical biology research. This was exemplified by one of our participants who wrote, “talking with the professors helped me see the benefits of going to grad school, and I haven't talked to many people about their own grad school experience so hearing the stories from the mentors helped convince me it is the right thing to do.”  Another individual stated that “after studying several math models, [she/he was] very interested in doing a Ph.D. in applied math and/or math bio programs.” Based on assessment results and student written comments, it appears as though our REU program was successful in motivating students to pursue positions in STEM-related fields in general, and in mathematical biology Ph.D. programs in particular.

Objective 3: Preparing Participants to be Successful in an Interdisciplinary, Collaborative Setting

Our REU program was based upon student collaborations, which is now an essential skill across interdisciplinary projects and programs. Project ideas, model development, data collection and eventually the written products were all successfully achieved as part of a research team. Moreover, research teams were expected to provide feedback to other groups during our weekly meetings. This included feedback on all parts of the research process including critiques of posters prior to conference presentations.

Student testimony: Students appreciated and genuinely enjoyed being part of a mathematical biology research team. This appeared to enhance student experiences in the program. For example, one students reported that our REU was “a very good research experience for [her/him], because [she/he] was able to collaborate with others who were excited about mathematics.” Another individual stated that “one of the best things about the program was the gratification of working on something as a group; collaboration in mathematics can be very fulfilling.” Finally, at the end of the program, one of our students highlighted that the “being able to work with a group of students with a similar project basis, while also pursuing an unique project individually gave me the confidence to be able to work both in a collaborative and individual environment for the project.”