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Anita E. Thomas (B.S. 2013)

Daniel Burnham, notable architect and co-developer of the Plan of Chicago, was quoted to have said, "Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men's blood. Make big plans, aim high in hope and work." Applied mathematics student Anita E. Thomas is taking Burnham's advice quite literally.

"After graduation, I will completely focus my efforts on a career in national security, my goal being to achieve the title of National Security Agency mathematician," says Thomas. "I will earn my Ph.D. in applied mathematics, which will grant me the challenge of solving our nation's top security questions."

Thomas, who attended Lake Central High School in St. John, Ind., came to IIT because she was looking for a small technology-focused school close to home that offered an academically challenging environment and high-quality undergraduate research opportunities. By her second year in the program, she had already worked on a summer research project on computer-assisted graph theory and presented research talks on her results to fellow students and faculty.

Thomas's faculty mentor, Associate Professor Michael Pelsmajer, has encouraged her to travel to mathematics conferences, where she will have opportunities to further showcase her endeavors.

While coursework keeps Thomas busy throughout the year, she still finds time to mentor and tutor high school students in a program she founded, Math and Mentorship. She helps to lead IIT's Math Club, serves as a representative on the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering, and has been offered membership in the IIT Chapter of the National Society of Leadership and Success. When Thomas wants a change of pace, she practices the art of belly dancing.

Jack Dobbin (B.S. 2008)

"Math is all about problem solving in the abstract. You learn critical reasoning and out-of-the-box thinking that you can then apply to anything. The focus is not on the subject matter itself, but on the process." Applied math graduate Jack Dobbin had a handle on the process of college life as well as abstract mathematics. He credits being involved in a close community, in his case the Delta Tau Delta fraternity, with guiding much of his growth as a student and an individual. Being involved in campus life, through the Greek community or as an orientation counselor to incoming freshman, gave Dobbin a grounding from which to take advantage of all the opportunities IIT and Chicago could offer. Currently attending Washington University Olin School of Business, and studying for a Masters in Finance, Dobbin says his math background comes in handy as he navigates his classes, and still has friends at IIT who he visits regularly.

Xiaoyan Zeng (Ph.D., 2008)

The geographic distance between Hong Kong and Chicago was considerably shortened for Xiaoyan Zeng when her college adviser showed her a brochure about IIT. Zeng was especially interested in the opportunity to come to the United States and work alongside IIT’s highly qualified faculty. “They are all active in research and collaborate with other research institutions like Argonne National Laboratory and the University of Chicago,” she says. IIT awarded Zeng with a Fieldhouse Fellowship, which allowed her to pursue joint research in Monte Carlo and quasi-Monte Carlo methods at both IIT and Argonne.

Zeng’s research in Monte Carlo methods focuses on approximation, integration, and stochastic optimization in high dimension. While she enjoyed doing academic research, Zeng also likes seeing the practical applications of her research. One of her favorite IIT classes was on Monte Carlo methods in finance, which looks at how computational algorithms are used in the real world, such as in options pricing. Stochastic optimization, Zeng’s other area of interest, has practical applications in data classification, traffic networking, energy markets, and other fields. Now a post-doctoral research fellow at Argonne, Zeng is applying the skills she developed at IIT in the Laboratory for Advanced Numerical Solutions at Argonne.

Fred J. Hickernell, Professor

Achieving academic excellence through interdisciplinary relationships is an IIT hallmark that Fred Hickernell, professor of applied mathematics, has the opportunity to utilize each day. His research not only combines ideas from several areas of mathematics, statistics, computer science, and various application disciplines, but also offers him an additional bonus. "The advantage of being an applied mathematician is the ability to solve different problems that on the surface may seem unrelated, but actually are similar," he explains. Hickernell searches for ways to avoid the curse of dimensionality in problems of many variables. These ideas lead to time and cost savings in computer simulation for product design and in pricing financial derivatives.

Before coming to IIT, Hickernell spent nearly 20 years in the Far East, where he moved up the ranks to professor of mathematics at Hong Kong Baptist University. He is a fellow of the Institute of Mathematical Statistics and the American Scientific Affiliation, and he serves as associate editor for four academic journals, including theSIAM Journal on Numerical Analysis. In 2007, he was honored with the IIT College of Science and Letters Dean’s Excellence Award for Research.