Students gain exposure to new math concepts from visiting Boston professor

Students gain exposure to new math concepts from visiting Boston professor

Students gain exposure to new math concepts from visiting Boston professor

Sydney Espinueva, left, and Aurienne Cruz
Alex Leon Guerrero, front, and Brian Lee
(From left) Dr. Jaeyong Choi; Dr. Hideo Nagahashi; Kangsan Yoon; Sydney Espinueva; Dr. Hyunju Oh; Dr. Jennifer Balakrishnan; Brian Lee; Aurienne Cruz; Alex Leon Guerrero

A Boston University professor whose journey into mathematics started at the University of Guam was back at UOG over the holiday break to instill some of that same mentorship into the next generation of Guam students.

Jennifer BalakrishnanJennifer Balakrishnan grew up in Guam, and as a high school student, she attended some classes at UOG, where her father, Narayana Balakrishnan, was a chemistry professor for many years.

“The faculty were so generous with their time,” she said. “I remember Dr. Arlo Schurle had all these books and would lend them me. I would read them and ask him questions. I know he must have had an enormous teaching load — but he spent all this time talking to this high school student. […] So if I can do even just a little bit of that while I’m here, it would be great.”

A series of workshops at UOG

Her research at Boston University involves computational tools for algorithms in number theory, and as part of her National Science Foundation–funded research grant, Balakrishnan built in a set of workshops at UOG. She plans to offer three workshops, and the first one — Computational Number Theory: Computing Databases of Elliptic Curves — took place the week of Dec. 19.

“This was the community that helped me get my start in math, so I'm so happy to come back and be able to do this,” she said.

New topics, new tools

The specialized topics of number theory and computational number theory complement the mathematics courses at UOG. Her workshops are meant to teach students new topics and new mathematical, but also computational, tools like Python, SageMath, and Magma.

Sydney Espinueva, a senior secondary education math major, signed up for the workshop to broaden her exposure in her field and said that coding is something she’d like to use in her future classroom.

Math CoDER Workshop
Dr. Jennifer Balakrishnan instructs high school and UOG student participants of her Computational Number Theory workshop on Dec. 21, 2022.
Some high school students attended the workshop as well, including Harvest Christian Academy junior Kangsan Yoon, who has participated in summer research mentorship programs under Dr. Hyunju Oh, associate professor of mathematics at UOG.

“It’s new territory for me, but I do like some of the things I’m able to understand, like the number theory, and having that knowledge,” he said.

Balakrishnan said programming skills are highly useful and translatable to other areas of life; for instance, number theory is highly relevant for cryptography, which makes it possible to do online banking and use debit cards.

“It’s been great to watch the students take this new set of topics and go for it,” she said, adding, “It would be amazing if any of them came to Boston for a Ph.D. […] The students here have enormous potential.”