Mathematical and Theoretical Biology Institute

Mathematical and Theoretical Biology Institute - Arizona State University
Arizona State University
Academic Level
Issue Area
Key Personnel
Program Focus
Undergraduate Research


The Mathematical and Theoretical Biology Institute (MTBI) is embedded in ASU’s Simon A. Levin Mathematical, Computational and Modeling Sciences Center to connect the center’s education-through-research mission directly to trans-disciplinary undergraduate and graduate programs in the mathematical sciences. MTBI seeks to recruit students to careers in the mathematical sciences by providing an intensive research experience of student-driven research where participants actively contribute to setting the research agenda. Students are exposed to advanced topics in applied math to prepare them to do quality research, and familiarize them with tools essential for success. Through these research activities MTBI aims to increase the number of Ph.D.s from underrepresented U.S. populations in fields where mathematical, computational, and modeling skills play a critical role. This program exposes current undergraduates from various institutions across the country to scientific research by letting them address relevant questions in theoretical biology. Their success is measured directly by the quality of their students’ technical reports, and by their acceptance to and completion of graduate school. The programs keeps in contact with students not only during the program but also throughout their graduate education and well into their careers to continue to provide support, mentorship, and community.

Program Description

The objectives of MTBI’s summer research program are to encourage and facilitate the access to, and the successful completion of, graduate studies in mathematics and science. A collaborative learning environment and community among students and faculty aids students in their research and provides a source of support in graduate school and beyond. MTBI gives students insight of what to expect in the pursuit of a Ph.D., and aims to strengthen and diversify the pool of U.S. students pursuing graduate degrees in the math sciences. Alumni progress is monitored for at least six years after participation to provide support, community, and to measure program success.


From 1996 through 2016, MTBI has recruited and enrolled a total of 456 regular first-time undergraduate students and 77 advanced students; 269 (70%) are underrepresented minorities (approximately half of them Latino).

Through February 2017:

  • 274 out of 388 (71%) of U.S. MTBI participants enrolled in graduate or professional school programs
  • 108 MTBI student participants have completed their Ph.D.s  67 were Hispanic/Latino;

Overall, the numbers of MTBI alumni affiliated with various universities continues to grow. The ASU’s AY17 graduate program of 22 students is comprised of eight MTBI participants as undergrads. All receive continued mentoring as graduate students. In addition, large communities of MTBI alumni have been established at other institutions: University of Iowa Mathematics Department 10 Ph.D.s since 2005, including seven URMs Cornell University 20 Ph.D.s., 17 to URM since 2003 Arizona State University 43 Ph.Ds. since 2006, 30 to URMs Within ASU’s Applied Math for the Life and Social Sciences program, for which MTBI serves as an incubator, they have awarded 30 Ph.D.s since 2008, 18 to Hispanic/Latino students (60%). Past participants who have received their doctorates continue to support the program as returning faculty, bringing the cycle full-circle.