Fulbright award recipient to Prague

Prestigious Fulbright to send Monaghan of math to Prague

February 12, 2019
Mark Tarnacki
Staff Writer
Jo Ellis-Monaghan

Jo Ellis-Monaghan

Jo Ellis-Monaghan, chair of the Saint Michael’s Department of Mathematics and Statistics, was officially notified recently that she has been awarded the Fulbright-Charles University Distinguished Chair position for spring 2020 at Charles University in Prague during the second half of her sabbatical next year.

The Fulbright Distinguished Chair Awards comprise approximately 40 distinguished lecturing, distinguished research and distinguished lecturing/research awards ranging from three to 12 months. Fulbright Distinguished Chair Awards are viewed as among the most prestigious appointments in the Fulbright Scholar Program. The criteria state that “Candidates should be eminent scholars and have a significant publication and teaching record.”

“We are absolutely thrilled that Professor Ellis-Monaghan will have this opportunity that she so richly deserves,” said Saint Michael’s President Lorraine Sterritt. “It is a perfect example of the intercultural exchange that is critical at this time in history. We applaud the organizations that make such exchange possible.”

In Prague, Ellis-Monaghan will collaborate with researchers at Charles University, notably Andrew Goodall, Martin Loebl, Jaroslav Nesetril, and Robert Samal, to develop new mathematical theory for graph polynomials and their domains, with applications in DNA self-assembly. She will be contributing to an international project currently in progress to create a unifying theory of graph polynomials, focusing specifically on developing a Hopf-algebraic framework for graph polynomials. She also will teach graduate/upper-level undergraduate courses in graph polynomials and DNA self-assembly, sharing pedagogical practices from the U.S. and learning those of the Czech Republic.

“I am looking forward to the opportunity for very rich collaborations with colleagues I have known for a long time at Charles University,” Ellis-Monaghan said. “The education system is quite different from ours at Saint Michael’s, and in addition to the primary focus on research, another benefit of the Fulbright will be an exchange of pedagogical ideas and practices.”

She made a collaborative visit to Prague several years ago “but only for a far, far too brief few days. It is an incredibly beautiful city with a rich history,” said Ellis Monaghan, who also in the international sphere will be running a workshop on graph polynomials funded by the Leibniz Institute at Schloss Daghstuhl in Germany in Fall 2019.

Ellis-Monaghan applied at the end of last summer for this position because it was a natural mechanism and location for the current direction of her research, she said. Charles University, historically known as the University of Prague, is the oldest and largest university in the Czech Republic, founded in 1348 as the first university in Central Europe. It is named for its protector at the time of its founding, the Holy Roman Emperor and King of Bohemia Charles IV.

More about the recipient

Ellis-Monaghan, who has been at Saint Michael’s since she starting as a part-time instructor in 1992 before climbing the professional ladder to become full-time faculty and now chair, also serves as the Editor-in-Chief of the professional journal in her field called PRIMUS. The title acronym stands for Problems, Resources, and Issues in Mathematics Undergraduate Studies.

She earned her bachelor’s degree from Bennington College, a master’s from the University of Vermont and her doctorate from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Her areas of expertise include algebraic combinatorics, especially graph polynomials, and applied graph theory in statistical mechanics, computer chip design and bioinformatics. Courses she teaches at Saint Michael’s include Calculus I, II, III, Applied Graph Theory, Linear Algebra, Real Analysis, Abstract Algebra, Senior Seminar. She is co-author of a 2013 book, Graphs on Surfaces: Twisted Duality, Polynomials, and Knots, (with I. Moffatt, SpringerBriefs in Mathematics).

She also has authored or co-authored numbers book chapters and journal articles including several with her Saint Michael’s Colleague Greta Pangborn of the computer science faculty. During the academic year and summers for many years, in collaboration with Pangborn, she has worked with several students on collaborative research projects and facilitated interdisciplinary work with students doing research in mathematics and also in computer science, physics, biology, or chemistry. She is recipient of numerous prestigious grants over many years for her research including from NASA and the National Science Foundation.

Outside of Saint Michael’s, Ellis-Monaghan paints and makes pots. “I grew up on an island in Alaska, and can gut and gill a salmon in under fifteen seconds,” says Monaghan, currently a resident of Grand Isle.  “I still live on an island and grow lots of fruits and vegetables.”

Prague will afford her pursuit of another distinctive interest mentioned in her application, reflecting a classic example of a well-rounded liberal arts education leading to an interesting and multi-faceted later life: “I am very eager to immerse myself in the incredibly rich art and architecture of the Czech Republic,” wrote the Saint Michael’s mathematician in her Fulbright application. “In addition to an undergraduate degree in art, I am a novice iconographer, having worked for the past several years under a master iconography.” She looks forward to bringing back technical notes, sketches and possibly photographs to her fellow iconography students in the U.S., she said.


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