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Senior receives award for research project

Nicole Michels | Monday, November 12, 2012

Senior MurphyKate Montee never questioned her decision to pursue a double major in honors mathematics and music, despite the intimidating course load.


“I’ve known that I love math since middle school – it’s never been a question what I want to do with my life and where I’ve wanted to go with my life,” Montee said. “I’ve known since eight grade since I was going to be a mathematics professor … but [music and mathematics] are both equally important to me.”


Her achievement in mathematics earned her the 2013 Alice T. Shafer Mathematics Prize from the Association of Women in Mathematics, a national award meant to honor an outstanding undergraduate female mathematician, Montee said. 

“It’s an award that’s given out for excellence in mathematics to an undergraduate women majoring in math,” Montee said. “The point of the award is to encourage women in mathematics.”


The Association for Women in Mathematics (AWM) established the award in 1990.  Former winners have continued on to be distinguished mathematicians. Five Notre Dame students had placed highly in the competition in previous years, but Montee is Notre Dame’s first winner.


The application process for the award was unique, Montee said.


“It’s an interesting application process – they say [to] send a letter of nomination and anything else you want,” Montee said. “I sent in two recommendation letters: one from the assistant advisor here and one from a professor that I worked with this summer at Williams College. … I also sent in a personal statement, my CV and a copy of three papers that I’ve written for publication.”


Montee said attention garnered by her recent research likely played a large part in her successful bid for the prize.


“This past summer I was at the SMALL program at Williams College where I worked with Professor Colin Adams, a very well-known knot theorist,” Montee said. “I was in the group that was working with him, and we came up with some really surprising results that were not expected at the beginning of the summer.”


Montee said her summer experience researching at Louisiana State University after her junior year also encouraged her development to be the mathematician she is today.


“This past summer was where it all came together,” Montee said. “That project is being submitted for publication, and I also worked on a side project that has been submitted for publication as well.”


Montee said she hopes to have all three projects published in the near future, two of which have been submitted to peer-reviewed professional journals and the ArXiv, an open e-print archive of preprint academic papers. She said she expects to submit the third project for publication soon.


Montee currently is working on a senior honors thesis, titled “On the Construction of the Chern Classes of Complex Vendor Bundles.”


Montee said her passion for mathematics has driven her far in the field.


“I just absolutely love mathematics; I love the rigor and the beauty of mathematics,” she said. 


Though the discipline is traditionally considered to be a male-dominated discipline, Montee said this has never stopped her.


“Today I don’t think there is any disadvantage to being a woman in mathematics – I think everyone is really encouraging, especially here [at Notre Dame,]” Montee said.


Montee said any student – male or female – considering mathematics should try the discipline.

“I think people should do what they love. … If you love mathematics and have a talent for mathematics, we’re always looking for more mathematicians,” Montee said. “People tend to get scared away from mathematics, maybe from all the calculations people have to do, but in real life there are not a lot of calculations that go into pure math – there’s a lot of logic and rigorous thinking or reasoning. … It’s beautiful, an art form in and of itself.”