SSU Students Learn More Than Just Math at Thai University

lamp students in thailandHow was your summer? Well, for two Sonoma State University math students and math professor Martha Shott, it was international. They spent the summer, or six weeks of it, at least, in Thailand with the the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP) program.

Shott worked with eight students, including SSU math majors Travis Hayes and Ericka Chavez, in a faculty mentor capacity while students studied with faculty at Chiang Mai University, situated in Northern Thailand in Chiang Mai, a city of 150,000.

The LSAMP program pairs up students from CSUs with faculty mentors in a foreign country to broaden their cultural education and connect them with faculty around the world. LSAMP has been working with CMU for the past four years.

Most of the CMU faculty has done some schooling in America, and their English is strong, says Shott. Students went to the university on a regular 9-5, M-F schedule, but did some sightseeing on evenings and weekends to temples, a tea plantation and even an elephant sanctuary. English was generally understood, but it was helpful to learn a few words in Thai, says Shott.

Chavez says the trip was productive for her research. "My biggest breakthrough was when I was able to find two equations that connected the radicals with the sequence," she says. "This took a lot of scratch paper, smoothies and meetings with my math professor Dr. Shott."

But Chavez wasn't just learning about math. " I was able to interact with other students staying at my hotel," she says. "Some were from Austria, Haiti or other countries, and it made our conversations very unique, allowing me to learn how others live around the world."

As a bonus for the math majors, the International Math Olympiad happened to be taking place in the city, and the math majors got a kick out of watching the U.S. team of high schoolers take home a gold medal.

The LSAMP global awareness program gives students a chance to do hands-on research, which not all get to do at their campus. It also improves communication skills by forcing students to craft a presentation for an audience for whom English is a second language.

"The fact that I was able to live in a completely different country in which they drive on the other side of the street, among other things, is something I will never forget," says Chavez.

LSAMP is sponsored by the National Science Foundation. It is designed to broaden participation in science, mathematics, engineering and technology (STEM) disciplines and increase the number of students receiving baccalaureate degrees, and ultimately Ph.D.s, in STEM disciplines. It is open to mathematics, physics, biology, geology, computer science, engineering science or chemistry majors who are U.S. citizens or permanent residents and face social, educational or economic barriers to careers in STEM.

--Nicolas Grizzle

Math major Travis Hayes had a particular exciting summer in Thailand, and wrote about his breakthroughs, life-changing moments, and unforgettable memories for News Center.

I would spend wake up around 9 a.m. to get ready. I would either stay in my hostel to do math research, or make my way to Chiang Mai University's math department, is a 20-minute walk from where I was staying in Chiang Mai.

Once it a little past noon, I would venture to the cafeteria to get lunch, which was often just rice and chicken. I would also occasionally buy a fruit called mangosteen as a snack to hold me over until 3:30, when I would then head back to the hostel and seek out food.

The best option was always street food. My friends and I would buy pad Thai (classic Thai food), chicken and fried rice, chicken on a stick, and many other assorted delicacies found on the street. One of my favorites was savory crepes near my hostel.

As the late evening rolled around, I would either casually socialize with my fellow LSAMP and SMRT friends, who all lived in the same hostel as me, or, if it was required, I would spend the evening continuing my work on my math research. By 1 a.m. I would fall asleep and start the day fresh and new again the next morning!

Weekends were dedicated to touring Chiang Mai and other neighboring cities. We traveled to beautiful Chiang Mai temples like Doi Suthep or Doi Inthanon. We also spent a weekend going to an elephant nature preserve, where we got to observe, bathe and feed rescued elephants.

Rarely did I find myself alone and doing nothing. We would go out to local stores and other places in the evening to relax and enjoy our Thailand experience. A majority of us would also go out with our Thai friends to fun and exciting places--they always knew where the best food and activities were.

I would like to say that my entire project was a breakthrough for me! I loved my project greatly. Without going into too much detail, I was informed that "getting my approximations and calculations within 60 percent of the exact value would be amazing." But with persistence and quite a few late nights working on my project, I was able to get my approximations and calculations around 90 percent.

I was told that my work was so unique that I should consider writing an undergraduate paper. That's amazing! I didn't think anything like this would happen during my trip to Thailand. I even was informed of a conference where I could again present my work in Washington D.C. in February! This experience in Thailand was such an amazing opportunity.

Memorable Moments
I think the most memorable moment outside of my studies was June 17. That weekend, my girlfriend had flown from California to Thailand to visit me. We spent the morning at an amazing breakfast restaurant and the afternoon ziplining through a forest area right outside of Chiang Mai. To top the whole day off, I proposed to my girlfriend, which went fantastic! Becoming engaged to my girlfriend/fiancé was definitely the most memorable moment for me on this trip.

Aside from developing my personal life, my other most memorable experience comes from hanging out with my Thai friends. I cannot describe how friendly and amazing they all were. I got to ride passenger on their motorbike one day to a temple, and then to a market later that day. They all spoke fantastic English and were always so amused when I attempted to converse with them in Thai. Of course, I wasn't able to do so perfectly, but they always were laughing with me and correcting my poor grammar and pronunciation.

I think of all the times I spent with my Thai friends, going to Sunday Walking Street was the most memorable and exciting. Walking Street is a huge market that only comes around on Sunday and they sell just about anything you can think of during the evening. Kano, my Thai friend, would show me where the good stuff was and then barter or bargain with the vendors to try and get the prices down for the things I was interested in. Although Kano had been there dozens of times, she still was enthusiastic about the whole experience. If I could do anything in Thailand again outside of studies, it would be to meet up with Kano and her friends and venture to Sunday Walking Street again.

--Travis Hayes

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