Hendrix-Rhodes-Sewanee Math Symposium

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History of the Hendrix-Rhodes-Sewanee Undergraduate Mathematics Symposium

The Hendrix-Rhodes-Sewanee Undergraduate Mathematics Symposium has a long and rich history of promoting independent projects and research by undergraduate students. In the nineteen years since the symposium began more than one hundred students from the three schools have made presentations.

The symposium dates from 1978 when Bob Eslinger of Hendrix College approached colleagues at two other schools about shared meetings as a forum for students involved in undergraduate research. In a letter to Angelo Margaris at Rhodes (then Southwestern at Memphis), Bob informed Angelo that a joint colloquium with Hendrix students and students from the math club at Sewanee had been planned for mid-April at Sewanee. He noted that he and the Hendrix students would be passing through Memphis and suggested a similar colloquium between Hendrix and Southwestern students.

Quoting from Bob′s letter: "I came to Hendrix two years ago from Sewanee and inherited a well-established undergraduate research program. To continue the growth and vitality of the program, I am interested in establishing ties with other institutions with whom we can share scholarship in mathematics at the undergraduate level. I envision this visit to Southwestern as a step in that direction."

Thus in 1978 separate meetings were held at Southwestern and Sewanee. Afterwards in a letter to Stephen Puckette at Sewanee, Bob wrote, "I thought our first common symposium was a good beginning, and I hope that we will make it an annual event, perhaps an annual three-way event with Southwestern."

The first combined meeting was held at Southwestern the following year. Angelo Margaris at Southwestern suggested the current rotation schedule: "I would like to suggest that every four years it meet once in Conway, once in Sewanee and twice in Memphis."

In 1980 Sewanee began the tradition of having an invited lecture by asking Richard Arenstorf from Vanderbilt to speak. Since that time invited lectures have been given by national and regional leaders in mathematics as well as alumni of the three schools. In 1981 Hendrix hosted a joint symposium with the Journal of Undergraduate Mathematics National Conference. While the attendance peaked that year with an influx of 34 students from other colleges around the country, the symposium has continued to have an average of eight student talks each year.

Recently the symposium has come full circle. Previous student speakers Charles Yeomans from Sewanee, Tommy Ratliff from Rhodes and David Sutherland from Hendrix have each pursued mathematics careers and have returned to give invited lectures at the symposium. David Sutherland is also now a faculty member at Hendrix. Dedication to the symposium has remained strong in the face of numerous challenges. The distance between Sewanee and Hendrix, scheduling conflicts and retirements of some of the original faculty members have created difficulties. The enthusiasm from young faculty members and the continued interest of students will keep the symposium going strong well into the twenty-first century.