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Benedictine students propose solutions to real-world (math) problems

September 20, 2012

Lisle, Illinois ~Benedictine University students don’t simply study mathematics as undergraduates at Benedictine University – they solve real-world problems, conduct research and present their findings to some of the country’s top mathematicians.

Two of those students, Farina Kanwal and Andreana Holowatyj, were recently commended for their work at the 2012 Mathematics Association of America MathFest conference in Madison, Wis.

More than 180 students from across the country attended the conference, and only 16 of them–including Kanwal, a sophomore Biology major from Roselle, and Holowatyj, a senior Medical Humanities and Mathematics major from Mount Prospect, received outstanding speaker awards for their research.

Kanwal won the award for her presentation, “The Dynamics of a Susceptible, Vaccinated, Exposed, Infected, Recovered (SVEIR) Epidemic Model with Pulse Vaccination,” during which she used mathematical models and formulas to explain the percentage of the human population that health professionals would need to vaccinate in order to completely eradicate a disease.

Kanwal said the experience broadened her view of the health profession.

“For me, the most amazing part was the realization that as a doctor you can treat the disease, but by being a mathematician you can tell the doctor or the pharmaceutical producers what amount of medicine or what measure is required to control the spread of a particular disease,” she said.

Holowatyj also won the award for her presentation, “Hextile Planar Isotopy and Reidemeister Moves,” which explored a particular problem in geometric knot theory and combinatorics.

The award was Holowatyj’s ninth conference presentation and fourth award. For the past three years, her research has taken her to such places as Boston, Pittsburg, New Orleans, Prague (Czech Republic) and New Zealand to share her work with other mathematicians. She is currently preparing her results and theorems for publication.

In addition to her mathematical research, Holowatyj is also unraveling some of the mysteries related to breast cancer, and in August co-published a paper in the American Journal of Translational Research on a gene found in breast cancer patients that resists drug treatment.

The paper, “Genomic amplification and a role in drug-resistance for the KDM5A histonedemethylase in breast cancer” is indexed in PubMed, the U.S. National Institutes of Health’s National Library of Medicine and Google Scholar, among others.

“My experience with MathFest has been the stepping stone to earning fellowships in other scientific areas of research as well as achieving other successes,” Holowatyj said. “Mathematics is utilized in every other academic field in some means, and I know that this education, research and experience will be influential in my career for decades.”

Both students took undergraduate courses in mathematics then participated in summer research programs with Tim Comar, associate professor of Mathematics at Benedictine, who helped facilitate their research projects and encouraged them to present their findings.

“This is something that actually sticks with students, rather than something that comes and goes for an exam,” Comar said. “This gives them a much more hands-on experience than a classroom environment, and it’s preparing them for future work in the workplace or graduate school.

“At Benedictine, undergraduates work closely with faculty on their research projects,” he added. “They’re not just a low-level person in a lab only doing what they’re told to do. They are heavily involved in the research and problem solving process.”

Since coming to Benedictine, Comar has overseen research projects for six students who have won awards at MathFest, including one student who so impressed managers at Argonne National Laboratories that they hired her before she graduated.

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Benedictine University is an independent Roman Catholic institution located in Lisle, Illinois just 25 miles west of Chicago, and has branch campuses in Springfield, Illinois and Mesa, Arizona. Founded in 1887, Benedictine provides 55 undergraduate majors and 15 graduate and four doctoral programs. Benedictine University is ranked No. 1 among the country's fastest-growing campuses between 2002-2012 in The Chronicle of Higher Education's list of private nonprofit doctoral institutions, and Forbes magazine named Benedictine among "America's Top Colleges" for the fourth consecutive year in 2014. Benedictine University's Master of Business Administration (M.B.A.) program is listed by Crain's Chicago Business as the sixth largest in the Chicago area in 2014.

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