SF State News {University Communications}

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Ardila awarded prestigious NSF CAREER grant

Sept. 1, 2010 -- When he first read the criteria, Assistant Professor of Mathematics Federico Ardila knew he had a realistic shot at a National Science Foundation CAREER grant, awarded annually to young faculty for integrating research and education.

A photo of Assistant Professor of Mathematics Federico Ardila.

Assistant Professor of Mathematics Federico Ardila. Photo courtesy of Federico Ardila.

Ardila had a compelling argument. His online mathematics course for students from SF State, University of California, Berkeley, and Universidad de Los Andes in Bogota, Colombia, is part of his SFSU-Colombia Combinatorics Initiative, which has succeeded in having students work together to complete mathematical research projects and exchange ideas. It has already led to several students from Colombia completing master's degrees at SF State and moving to doctoral programs at such schools as MIT and Cornell.  

Ardila's hunch was correct, and this summer the National Science Foundation awarded Ardila a  CAREER grant, the organization's most prestigious honor for young faculty.

"I was really excited about the grant," Ardila said. "I felt like I had a good story to tell. It's interesting because I read about the criteria and it really felt like a natural fit. I read it and said, 'this is what I've been passionate about for the past few years.'"

Ardila's main area of research rests in combinatorics, the study of finite or countable discrete structures that has applications in such areas as physics and computer science. Examples of using combinatorics include scheduling classrooms in a university or calculating the probability of a sequence of events. In August, Ardila helped organize the conference Formal Power Series and Algebraic Combinatorics, a gathering of the top combinatorics mathematicians from around the world that was hosted by SF State.

The NSF CAREER grant will allow Ardila to continue teaching the online classes, while also supporting his research. The NSF also gave him additional funding to take SF State students to Colombia to work alongside students there.

Math and international education have long been a part of Ardila's life. As a student in Colombia, he represented his home country four times in the Mathematical Olympiad, a world-wide mathematics competition for high school students. He currently serves on the advisory board and sees the competition as a way to find new math talent.

"We've had kids from really tough backgrounds take the exam and suddenly they're in the top five in their country and they had no idea," Ardila said. "I've been interested in attracting people from areas where we don't normally find them, both in the Bay Area and Colombia. If you walk around San Francisco you can see the kids and see who the future of the country is. They just need somebody to inspire them, and that drives a lot of my work."

Ardila is the latest SF State faculty member to receive a CAREER grant. Currently nine SF State faculty have active CAREER grants, including Yitwah Cheung, Diana Chu, Kimberly Tanner, Mary Leech, Rahul Singh, Teaster Baird Jr., and Andrew Ichimura.

-- Michael Bruntz


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