Auburn mathematics students benefit from Fulbright classroom instruction

AUBURN – Since 1946, Fulbright scholars have crossed the oceans to participate in the international education exchange program designed primarily to enhance lecturing and advanced research on the hosts’ campuses. Auburn University’s College of Sciences and Mathematics has the unusual benefit of not only hosting Fulbright scholar Cristina Fernandez of Spain for her research on coding theory, but also of welcoming her teaching skills in the classroom.

“Having Dr. Fernandez offer an honors calculus course in the college is a rare opportunity for our freshmen to not only learn in a cross-cultural setting, but to experience an internationally acclaimed and talented professor in the classroom,” said Dean Stewart Schneller.

Professor of mathematics and statistics Kevin Phelps was instrumental in arranging this unique opportunity.

“I believe that international education exchange is at the heart of the Fulbright program,” Phelps said. “Being involved with students in a small class is one of the best ways to promote mutual understanding and respect for different cultures.”

Fernandez, whose yearlong visit to Auburn began in May 2008, teaches an honors class that includes 25 freshmen. “They are very motivated and do well,” she said. “In Spain, I teach much larger classes of 40-80 students, sometimes 100, who are studying to be computer engineers. They are not always as motivated as my Auburn honors students.”

Fernandez has served since 2003 as an assistant professor at her alma mater, the Autonomous University of Barcelona, where she teaches computer engineering. She earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics in 2000, a master’s degree in computer science in 2003 and a doctorate degree in computer science in 2005. Fernandez has published eight articles in professional journals and has presented at 12 national and international conferences.

Each year the U.S. Department of State’s Visiting Fulbright Scholar Program selects 800 individuals to study in more than 140 countries. Funding is mainly from an annual appropriation from the U.S. Congress, supplemented by participating governments and host institutions through cost-sharing and indirect support, such as salary supplements, tuition waivers and university housing. Phelps, who serves as the Fulbright program’s sponsoring faculty associate for Fernandez, says it is a fairly rigorous process of application and selection.

At Auburn, Fernandez is continuing her research on coding theory, which is a branch of mathematics concerned with accurately transmitting data signals from one location to another. It involves many different disciplines – electrical engineering, computing and mathematics – coming together to successfully recover these signals.

Dean Schneller describes Fernandez’s participation on campus as a “unique coalescence of several university priorities: attracting noted scholars, internationalization of our classroom offerings, enhancing the honors college, and placing highly regarded academicians in the freshman experience.”

(Contributed by Christy Truitt and Charles Martin.)

Contact: Tim Meeks, (334) 844-2445 (meeksta@auburn.edu), or
Charles Martin, (334) 844-9999 (marticd@auburn.edu)