Prof. Chris Seaton Honored With National Mentorship Award In Mathematics

Dr. Christopher Seaton, professor of mathematics at Rhodes, is a 2021 recipient of the Mentor Award from the Council on Undergraduate Research’s (CUR) Mathematics and Computer Sciences Division. The award recognizes three mentors (early career, mid-career, and advanced career) for their leadership and accomplishments in mentoring undergraduate students in research involving mathematics, computer science, or statistics.

“Working on research with Rhodes students is one of my most enjoyable activities as a faculty member, and I am extremely excited and honored to have been selected by the CUR for this award,” says Seaton who is being recognized in the award’s advanced career category.

Since joining Rhodes in 2004, Seaton has motivated students to overcome reservations about learning difficult mathematical concepts, and his courses include Multivariable Calculus, Vector and Advanced Calculus, Cryptology, Linear Algebra, and Complex Variables. Seaton also encourages students to pursue applications of this material outside of mathematics while appreciating how mathematics is present in everyday structures and shapes.

In particular, Seaton studies singular spaces including orbifolds that are geometrical shapes (sphere, cube, cone) with folds formed from an entirely smooth surface and are suited for understanding patterns. An example is a cone that can be made by folding a smooth sheet of paper in on itself. A piece of checkered paper, as another example, can be folded and folded along its symmetries until it is a single square. This piece left is the orbifold, which has features of the original pattern. The singular spaces Seaton studies include higher-dimensional “surfaces” that represent physical systems.

“The study of singular spaces brings together many areas of mathematics, so it is a great pleasure to always be able to learn about new ideas and approaches. It is also a great area in which to find problems that can be tackled by students. I benefit immensely from having a fantastic group of collaborators, and I am always pleased to invite students to join this group.”

Seaton recruits students and teaches them the skills needed to perform computations for his research that he has presented nationally and internationally, including seminars in Brazil, Korea, Denmark, and China. His work also has been published in several top journals in mathematics, including Compositio Mathematica, Advances in Mathematics, and the Transactions of the American Mathematical Society. In 2015, Seaton received Rhodes’ Clarence Day Award for Outstanding Research and/or Creative Activity.

Nine of Seaton’s manuscripts have featured student co-authors. In addition, his students have made presentations at the annual Joint Mathematics Meeting, known as the world’s largest annual mathematics gathering. Lawton Walker ’21, who participated in its 2021 virtual meeting says, “Working on research with Professor Seaton was an incredibly enjoyable experience that has helped prepare me for graduate school and my future career.”

“Chris has led numerous students to cutting-edge work on questions that are usually reserved for those in grad school or beyond,” says Associate Professor of Mathematics Dr. Eric Gottlieb. “The articles that they have co-authored with him in scholarly journals are evidence that they are making real contributions to the discipline. Their work with Chris offers a great example of what undergraduate research can look like at a place such as Rhodes.”

Rhodes’ Professor of Biology Dr. Terry Hill and Professor of Psychology Dr. Marsha Walton were awarded mentoring awards by CUR in 2020. Professor of Chemistry Dr. Loretta Jackson-Hayes is a 2021 recipient of the CUR Chemistry Division Outstanding Mentorship Award, and Assistant Professor of Chemistry Dr. Shana Stoddard is a 2021 recipient of the Mentor Award (Early Career) presented by CUR’s Health Sciences Division.

Founded in 1978, CUR is an organization of individual, institutional, and affiliate members from around the world. Its mission is to support and promote high-quality mentored undergraduate research, scholarship, and creative inquiry.