On This Day: Adjunct Professor of History Katie Uva Lights Up LinkNYC

On This Day: Adjunct Professor of History Katie Uva Lights Up LinkNYC

Replacing New York City’s long outmoded pay phones, LinkNYC kiosks have become recognizable beacons on thousands of city blocks, offering free wifi, advertising space, and the occasional illuminating factoid. But where do they get their material? Baruch History Department Adjunct Professor Katie Uva, under contract with the Museum of the City of New York, has recently contributed dozens of “On This Day” New York City history facts to the LinkNYC kiosks. She took some time to answer a few of my questions.

Dan: How did you get involved with The Museum of the City of New York and how were you selected for this project?

Katie: From 2013-2018 I worked as a Museum Educator, giving tours to school groups, college classes, and various adult groups. After leaving that job, I hosted New York City trivia nights at the museum from 2018-2021. And then this summer I was asked to write some new “On This Day” facts for the LinkNYC kiosks. Through my time working as a Museum Educator and then hosting trivia, as well as working for the Gotham Center for New York City History at the CUNY Graduate Center and regularly teaching New York City History at Baruch and Lehman, I’ve acquired some expertise in New York City history but also a good eye for what’s broadly entertaining or sparks curiosity about this city. I’m a historian by training and a lot of my work involves research and substantive interpretation, but it’s also nice to just do something fun and simpler sometimes.

Dan: What are a few of your favorite history facts that you contributed?

Katie: I don’t want to give away the “On This Days”; you’ll have to keep an eye out for them as they turn up on the LinkNYC kiosks! But I will give you one fact for each borough:

Staten Island is home to the highest point on the eastern seaboard; Todt Hill (401 feet tall).

Queens has the most public library branches in the city.

Brooklyn has the most subway stops.

Manhattan is the birthplace of the Oreo cookie.

The city’s largest park and the nation’s oldest golf course are both located in the Bronx.

Dan: How do you feel a resource like “On This Day” affects the collective understanding of history in New York City?

Katie: I think there’s often a slightly pejorative connotation to the idea of trivia or factoids, but I love being able to share bits and pieces of information about New York City. We live in a fractured media landscape, so I really like that the LinkNYC is one common source of information, but that it also has a certain serendipitous quality–it’s generally by chance that you happen to pass one and notice one of these history tidbits. 

For some people who have lived here a long time, I think the “On This Days” will provide a glimmer of recognition, a sort of “I remember that!” moment on your commute. For more recent residents, it’s a light, fun way to learn more about where you live and help develop more of a feeling of rootedness. And my favorite factoid/trivia moments are when someone finds out something interesting enough to share with other people and it starts a conversation, so my hope is that some of my “On This Days” will do that.

Baruch’s Math Department Receives $40,000 Per Year from Jane St. Capital

Baruch’s Math Department Receives $40,000 Per Year from Jane St. Capital

For years, Baruch Math Professors Adam Sheffer and Pablo Soberón have run the NYC Discrete Math REU, not only mentoring countless students but helping to change the demographics of Mathematics PhD programs around the United States. 

Each summer, hundreds of promising undergraduate students from around the world apply to join Baruch College’s Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) Program. Sheffer and Soberón founded the program in 2017, and under their stewardship it has seen tremendous growth. Last summer, there were around 500 applicants for only 12 spots. “I guess you could say it’s become competitive,” Sheffer said.

Gathering in New York City for an 8-week intensive course of study, admitted undergraduates are given the opportunity to do advanced research work in combinatorics, discrete probability, theoretical computer science, and a variety of other topics. During this period, working closely with a dedicated faculty mentor, each student makes progress towards solving a problem on their own or collaboratively, sometimes publishing a paper. The real goal of the mentors, however, is not to publish but rather to support the student in whatever they wish to achieve as they go forward. These are all experiences that make alumni of the program especially desirable candidates for esteemed PhD programs. Like many REUs around the country, the program has typically received much of its funding from the National Science Foundation. Now, Baruch’s REU adds the Wall Street based global trading firm Jane St. Capital to its list of supporters. 

Jane Street Capital is one of the world’s largest market-makers, trading more than $17 trillion worth of securities in 2020. Jane St. heard about some of the success stories that have come out of the program and reached out offering their sponsorship. “Jane St. Capital has consistently provided generous support to the math community. They also hire many promising young mathematicians, usually not from CUNY, but from programs like MIT and Harvard,” Sheffer said. “So, out of the blue, they emailed me and said, ‘We want to sponsor your program. We’ll give you up to $40,000 a year.’”

Funding from the National Science Foundation helped make the program possible to begin with, but carries with it a number of stipulations. For one, it can only be used to fund students who are either American citizens or permanent residents. The Jane St. Capital funding on the other hand, will help the Baruch Math Department realize one of its main goals: expanding access to a high-quality mathematics education for students from disadvantaged backgrounds around the world. Many promising international students are not eligible to attend most summer programs, and this funding will help open the door to them.

“Our program is not meant to take just the people from MIT or Harvard. We get a ton of applications from these places, but that kind of misses the point of our larger mission within the math community,” said Sheffer. “We mostly try to take different types of students. Students who seem to have a lot of potential but have not yet had the opportunity to demonstrate it. That is where we feel we can really make a difference.”

For instance, in one of the other programs that Sheffer runs, he recently mentored a group of 30 students. Some were from universities like Columbia, Princeton, and Brown. But the best student in the group was from Egypt. “It was someone from the University of Egypt. He did amazing work and is an amazing person. So, of course I wrote him very strong letters of recommendation and really pushed him. He ended up getting accepted into several PhD programs in the US. I think that’s a case of someone with a tremendous amount of potential who, without the program, would have probably been limited to Egypt. Because of the program, he had a paper to show for himself. The paper even won an award. That’s how he managed to move to the US and do a PhD here. So now, with Jane St.’s help, I’m so pleased that we can continue to provide more opportunities to people like him from all over the world.”