SMCC Teams Up with ASU to Bring Advanced Math Opportunities to Students

Monday, April 24, 2023

SMCC professor Bechir Amdouni and SMCC students Leslie Millan, Fernando Robles and Mariana Godinez Pedraza

South Mountain Community College professor Bechir Amdouni teamed up with Arizona State University Professor Dr. Malena Español to bring the world of higher mathematics to a group of SMCC and ASU students this past year, culminating at a joint research presentation April 14-15 during the Mathematical Association of America (MAA) Southwestern Section Conference held in El Paso, TX. Each student earned $3,000 for their work, awarded by a Center for Undergraduate Reach in Mathematics (CURM) grant.

Three SMCC students - Leslie Millan, Mariana Godinez Pedraza and Fernando Robles - teamed up with four ASU students on the year-long effort. The SMCC trio attended a variety of mathematics events and activities that expanded their knowledge of math concepts, such as solving systems of linear equations. They also learned math concepts outside of their SMCC courses such as linear algebra, numerical linear algebra, programming (Matlab), and Latex.

Exciting for SMCC students was the broader connection to ASU, with opportunities to explore the campus, attend lectures and networking events, and conduct research as part of a larger group. One the team’s joint research projects focused on improving image deblurring in the fields of science, including for biology, astronomy and medicine. Another focused on the Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS), one of three main instruments aboard the Mars Odyssey spacecraft. Built and maintained by ASU, it continuously takes both infrared and visible light images (IR and VIS, respectively) of the surface of Mars.

At the MAA conference in April, the combined team of seven students presented and defended their research.

“Mentoring students and seeing them blossom into researchers has been humbling,” SMCC math professor Bechir Amdouni said. “This type of exposure is particularly important for SMCC students, who often aren’t introduced to this level of math.”

Of SMCC’s student population, 55 percent are Hispanic and more than 70 percent identify as first-generation college-going students. In any given semester, only 1 percent of all math students are enrolled in 200-level math courses.

“First-generation college students often don’t know that a passion for mathematics can lead to amazing career opportunities, as they’re just never introduced to it in their day-to-day lives” Amdouni said. “But they know now that it can lead to bigger things.”

Funded by the National Science Foundation, CURM provides money for academic year undergraduate research groups throughout the United States. These groups develop student enthusiasm for the mathematical and computational sciences, provide mentorship to support students through graduation, and develop essential research skills to prepare them for success in graduate school and their careers.

“The funds from the grant were a tremendous help - SMCC students are juggling so many responsibilities besides school, including work and supporting their families,” Amdouni said. “These important life obligations can be roadblocks, and sometimes prevent students from exploring new ideas and concepts. The money from CURM was a huge help for them in easing those pressures, and allowing them to work towards their educational goals."