May 2, 2015
On average, 63 percent of students involved in Professor Michael Dorff’s nationwide CURM (Center for Undergraduate Research in Mathematics) program go on to graduate school.
In these same students’ entire university math departments, only 18 percent of students pursue graduate studies. Comparing these percentages, it’s easy to see that CURM is a game changer.
CURM was founded in 2007 by mathematics professor Michael Dorff in an effort to give students at other universities the same kind of research experience offered at BYU.
He and co-director Professor Tyler Jarvis have been so successful at meeting this goal that CURM has received the 2015 “Program that Makes a Difference” Award from the American Mathematical Society (AMS).
The AMS gives only one or two of these honors each year, and it chooses programs that have developed successful, replicable models for supporting students from minority backgrounds in earning advanced degrees.
“I feel really honored for [the award],” Dorff said. “It’s a great recognition for BYU, for the college, and for the Department of Mathematics.”
The CURM program is funded by the National Science Foundation, and it offers grants to fund student research groups at different universities. Dorff said that he basically took the BYU research model and applied it to other schools.
“This is in some ways a service component,” he said. “We’re helping other universities and other professors, and we get to bring them to BYU.”
For professors to apply to the program, they need to be working with a group of two or more students. In recent years, they have had as many as five times as many applicants as spots available in the program.
“We require the professors to do research in math with a group of students,” Dorff said. “It’s modeled like a laboratory science.”
With a focus on underrepresented groups in mathematics, these grants give students opportunities they wouldn’t otherwise have to become involved in meaningful research. Each student is required to write a paper and present at the CURM spring research conference at the end of the program.
Since CURM’s inception, it has offered support to 304 undergraduate students from over 70 universities. These students have authored 130 joint research papers and given 311 conference presentations.
Dorff received his doctoral degree in complex analysis from the University of Kentucky in 1997. He started the BYU “Careers in Math” speaker series and has earned the BYU Maeser Excellence in Teaching Award. In 2010, he received the Mathematical Association of America’s Haimo Teaching Award for successful and influential mathematics teaching.
Dorff has always loved math and problem solving and said he sees math as a puzzle or a game. He has spent his career sharing this love with students and looking for other ways to serve. Recently, he started another NSF-funded project to prepare students for industrial careers in math. His focus is always on the success of students, even those who don’t attend BYU.
“What’s the BYU motto? It’s ‘Enter to learn, go forth to serve,’” he said. “We’re serving other people, helping them out, and I think that shows a good message of BYU.”