COSAM News Articles 2017 May Claire Zhang and William Mills receive Andrew C. Connor Memorial Award

Claire Zhang and William Mills receive Andrew C. Connor Memorial Award

Published: 05/17/2017

By: Sid Maddox

Recent undergraduate mathematics students William Mills and Claire Zhang were named co-recipients of the Andrew C. Connor Memorial Award. The award was established by friends and relatives of the late Andrew C. Connor and recognizes the most creative undergraduate student(s) enrolled in math classes.

The late Andrew C. Connor, also known as “Andy” to friends and family, dedicated a great portion of his professional life trying to prove the Poincare conjecture. In fact, in his final days battling cancer, Connor contacted mathematics colleagues at Auburn and asked them to join him in Birmingham so he could show them his proof.

“He also called Wolfgang Haken at the University of Illinois,” said Jo Heath, professor emerita of mathematics. “Later, after Andy died, Haken presented a paper at a topology conference in Florida describing Andy's work and the one thing that was still missing. Andy had been very close, and I am of the opinion that Andy believed he had proved the conjecture when he died.”

His approach to proofs was known to be spectacularly creative, and this is why the annual award is given to a student(s) who exhibits the most creativity in a mathematics class. Connor’s family and friends funded the award to honor his legacy.

Recipient Claire Zhang graduated with a degree in mathematics this spring with a 4.0 GPA. She will join the faculty at Bayside Academy in Daphne as an eighth-grade math teacher. In addition to the Andrew C. Connor Memorial Award, Zhang is a recipient of the Comer Medal for Excellence in Physical Sciences, one of the oldest and highest honors bestowed at Auburn University. Zhang was also the Undergraduate Dean’s Research Award recipient for her work on anti-Ramsey problems in graph theory. 

“I am so honored to receive the Andrew C. Connor Memorial Award this year and would like to thank Dr. Pete Johnson for nominating me,” said Zhang. “Mathematics is a subject that I have always been passionate about. I grew up as a very curious child, and most often my response to things I learned would be ‘Why?’ That’s the reason I fell in love with math.”

William “Carter” Mills graduated in fall 2016 and is currently studying graph theory at Auburn while working toward a doctorate.

“I am deeply honored to receive the Andrew C. Connor Memorial Award,” said Mills. “The path to discovering my passion for mathematics has been a long and winding one. I am grateful to my parents, who have supported me often more than I deserve along the way, and to the math faculty at Auburn, whose enthusiasm for the subject showed through brilliantly in their teaching without exception.”

Past recipients of the Andrew C. Connor Memorial Award include Graham Gordon (2012), Adam Blumenthal and Bradley Fain (2013), Mary Elizabeth Whitley (2014) and Doyon Kim and Nick Ericson (2015).

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