Math conference opens eyes of SMWC students

March 7th, 2013 | SMWC

Shelby Becker

by Lisa Luper, Communications Intern 

Is math an abstract concept, or a matter of life and death? Three students from Saint Mary-of-the Woods College (SMWC) learned more about the importance of mathematics at the 14th Annual Nebraska Conference for Undergraduate Women in Mathematics at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln on January 25-27, 2013. This event allows outstanding women undergraduates to mingle with a select group of current women graduate students and professional women in math related fields. 

Shelby Becker, a biology senior from Indianapolis, Ind., who is minoring in mathematics and chemistry, submitted an abstract and was chosen to make a presentation at the conference. Her presentation was titled, “Using Eye-Gazing Data to Predict Radiologists’ Cognitive Behavior during Breast Cancer Screening.”

The presentation focused on errors that radiologists made when conducting breast cancer screenings. She analyzed the data sheet from a study in order to understand how these errors occurred and how they could be prevented.

“30 percent of radiologists missed problems in screenings. Either they never saw it, or they saw it, but did not identify it as a problem,” Becker said.

Becker said that she was excited to present at the conference.

“It was a big honor to be selected to do this,” Becker said. “I represented the College as an expert.”

Assistant Professor of Mathematics James Valles, Jr. accompanied the students. Valles explained that conferences are valuable for students because they see the purpose and reason for mathematics and the practical ways in which it is used.

“It makes the subject come alive,” Valles said.  “They get to see what is being done with mathematics and what they can do with it. When we are talking about areas such as X-rays and breast cancer, we are talking about literally life and death situations. Suddenly it’s not just an abstract concept anymore.”

Also attending were Rachel Ring of Terre Haute, Ind., who is majoring in biology, and Samantha Reed of Bloomington, Ind., a double major in math and education. Besides the student presentations, the conference featured panel discussions, poster presentations, plenary talks and break-out sessions with other students across the country.

Valles added that the opportunity to network with other students and faculty is a valuable benefit as well as the presenting, especially for those that go on to graduate school. 

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