For her summer 2019 enrichment project, Leenah Shalhoub, a rising sophomore at North Carolina State University studying Applied Mathematics, participated in a Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) in Combinatorics and Algorithms for Real Problems at the University of Maryland, College Park (UMD). REUs are highly- competitive programs funded by the National Science Foundation and hosted at campuses across the U.S., which enable students to engage in specialized projects with leading researchers. Leenah was just one of nineteen participants in the program, selected from over 200 applicants!
Under the guidance of Professor Gasarch, the REU was designed “to bridge the gap between the theory (algorithms, probability, combinatorics, Theoretical Machine Learning) and other disciplines within Computer Science (AI, Operations Research, practical machine learning).” Leenah spent 10 weeks applying software skills, theorems, and mathematics to determine the allocation and distribution of resources to solve her professor’s research problem, “Muffin Mathematics: Nobody Wants a Small Piece”. This required Leenah to develop a theoretical framework that would best distribute evenly a set number of muffins for a set number of students, and in the process determine what the largest size can be. This theoretical framework can then be applied to other situations of optimization. Utilizing Julia, a programming language platform, Leenah discovered multiple solutions to the problem.
Regarding her REU, Leenah said, “This REU was a valuable experience because I learned a new programming language that I never heard about before yet now can use for other programming projects.” She also expressed that the support she received from her research professor improved her knowledge of mathematics overall, helping her to feel more confident and knowledgeable in her future coursework. Leenah now looks forward to additional opportunities with challenging research in the future!