Ken Ono

University of Wisconsin-Madison
2005 DTS Award

Jeanne L. Narum, Director, Project Kaleidoscope, interviewing Dr. Ken Ono.

If a visitor were to come into your classroom/lab— the environment in which you work with students— what impression would s/he leave with?

The visitor would note the active involvement of all members of the research team. The students are not afraid of asking `dumb questions’, and they work late. Basically, I hope that the visitor would be impressed by level of energy in the research team.

What brought you to an interest in "advancing the frontiers of education" and to connecting your research to that work?

Unlike the experimental sciences, pure mathematics is a subject driven by ideas and proofs. People offer proofs, and so we must invest in new talent by providing research opportunities for enthusiastic students of all levels. Educating students, at all levels, comes quite naturally with research in pure mathematics.

Were there risks in doing this? What were they? What made you persevere? How have you documented the successes of your educational efforts?

I have not taken any risks. It has always been my practice to actively engage students of all levels in my research program. My students have been honored for achievements in many ways. Some have won medals representing the US in the International Mathematics Olympiad, some have won prestigious awards, such as the Westinghouse and Intel Science Talent Searches, and others have won more advanced honors such as Sloan, Heisenberg, and Chateaubriand Fellowships. Basically, the successes are documented by the quality of science that the students have produced.

What connections have been of most value in pursuing these efforts, within your campus community as well as in the broader professional communities to which you belong?

I have made important contacts with my professional society, the American Mathematical Society, and with Science Service, the largest non-profit organization in the nation devoted to advancement of education in science. These organizations have helped advertise my programs, as well as disseminate our findings.

What kind of institutional culture needs to be in place to nurture careers of faculty actively seeking to integrate their research and education?

Most pure mathematicians work in research universities, and so the culutre for pure mathematics is already present.

What can be done at the national level to encourage and support efforts like your and those of many other leading agents of change on campuses across the country?

The DTS program is a fantastic vehicle for motivating scientists to consider the prospect of amplifying their educational activities. Perhaps the NSF, as well as other federal funding agencies, could devise similar programs in other settings (perhaps within individual divisions).

Please tell us about the project that you will be undetaking as part of the DTS award. How can others become involved with and/or continue to be informed about your work?

I am working closely with the American Mathematical Society in its "Who wants to be a mathematician?" outreach program. This program is a nationwide traveling game show which is modelled after the famous television program "Who wants to be a millionaire?". We will visit communities across the nation awarding scholarships and prizes to talented high school students. I will also offer annual “Summer Institutes” at the University of Wisconsin for talented high school students and undergraduates. These students will be actively engaged in research in number theory.