Math 496A – Topics in Algebra, Combinatorial Optimization – Fall 2019



A goal of this course is to offer a rigorous, welcoming, and rewarding experience to every student; you will build that experience by devoting your strongest available effort to the class. You will be challenged and supported. Please be prepared to take an active, critical, patient, and generous role in your own learning and that of your classmates.


General Information

            Lecture: TT 2:30-3:50pm in Duncker 3

            Professor: Laura Escobar

            Office hours: Mondays 2-3pm, Wednesdays 3-4pm, or by appointment, in Cupples I 211A

            Email: laurae (at) wustl (dot) edu

            Website: Canvas,



Math 309, or permission of instructor. Some familiarity with what a proof is and how to produce one will be helpful, but students need not have taken Math 310.


Textbook and Topics

There is no required textbook. Much of the course will follow parts of:
- Lectures on Polytopes by Günter Ziegler.
- A Course in Combinatorial Optimization by Alexander Schrijver.
- An Introduction to Convexity by Geir Dahl.


A detailed schedule will be kept in Canvas and updated as the course progresses.


Grading Information

Homework 20% Due every other week on Thursday (with few exceptions)
Midterm 25% October 10
Presentation 15% November 5-7 ~10 minutes
Quiz 15% December 5 25 minutes
Take home final 25% Due December 16 Cumulative


You are expected to regularly attend lectures, but especially all lectures during the week of presentations. Absences on the final exam require a documented excuse and meeting with the professor.


Letter grades will be given based on your overall score. The cutoffs will be no higher than the following: A-: 85%, B-: 70%, C-: 60%, D: 50%



Learning combinatorics requires constantly practicing solving problems. For this reason there will be homework due every other week. The homework will have some problems that require thinking about them for longer than one day. I recommend you start solving it early. The problems will be posted in Canvas and you will submit your solutions through Crowdmark.


Your lowest homework assignment score will be dropped. For this reason, there will be no late homework allowed. If, for whatever reason, you cannot or forget to turn in a homework, it will count as your dropped homework score.


Collaboration and Citations: Group work on assignments is encouraged. You must acknowledge any collaborations, with a statement such as “I worked on problem 1 with XYZ and received help on problem 2 from ABC”. You are also allowed to use any resources to solve the homework provided you cite them properly. However, homework should be written up independently and using your own words.


Citations and acknowledgments are worth one point for each HW problem. Being honest about how you came up with the solutions will in no way affect your grade, but it is merely a matter of academic honesty. Failure to do so may lead to an academic integrity charge.


Academic Integrity

All students are expected to adhere to the University's academic integrity policy.


Plagiarism is a form of cheating or fraud; it occurs when a student misrepresents the work of another as their own. See above for details on what is allowed.


Do not post any course materials online without my permission.



During the week of November 5-7 there will be ~10-minute in class student presentations on a topic of each of the students’ choice. It could be about a topic from the book, a solution to an exercise, a paper in combinatorial optimization, or an application of combinatorial optimization to industry.


Disability Resources (DR)

Special accommodations for exams are offered to students who have registered in a timely manner at Disability Resources (DR). Information about DR may be found at Students who desire to use this service should go to the DR early in the semester, well before the first exam. Once approved for accommodations, students should work with DR for these exams.


Academic Support

If you are looking for support in the areas of time management, navigating resources, managing procrastination, effective study strategies and test anxiety, meet with one of The Learning Center’s peer academic coaches ( for strategies.