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Rising Stars

Our rising stars are young, up-and-coming mathematicians which are already exhibiting promising potential & providing outstanding contributions for the math community.

Keisha Cook

Doctoral Candidate, Department of Mathematics
University of Alabama

What is your personal and educational background?

I am originally from Marietta, Georgia. I attended The University of Alabama for undergrad, where I majored in mathematics and minored in educational studies. I remained at UA after becoming interested in mathematical and computational biology. During my time as a graduate student, I founded the UA Student Chapter of the AWM. I am a PhD candidate, advised by Dr. Roger B. Sidje. I will graduate in May 2019.

 

Please describe an experience (or 2) that helped you discover/ cultivate your interest in the mathematical sciences.  

In 2014, I participated in The EDGE Program. EDGE prepared me for graduate math courses, but also welcomed me into an amazing network of women mathematicians! The cohort provided a support system that remains today. Learning from successful women, especially women of color, was truly inspirational. The mentorship provided was crucial to my success thus far. I returned as a mentor and will always give back to EDGE. In 2017, the Q-Bio Summer School at Rice University cultivated my research interests by introducing me to interdisciplinary collaborations. We were able to work with researchers from around the world, in all fields from STEM to medicine, to produce new ideas related to quantitative biology.

 

Please share any words of wisdom/inspiration or anything you would like to promote. 

Mentorship is beneficial to overall success. I believe that learning from people (women) that are successful in your field will help you figure out your pathway to success. It is important to try new things and say yes to new opportunities. It is also important have a career that you enjoy. Whether your path is academia, industry or both, do what you love and love what you do!

Michole E. Washington

Mathematics Education, Ph.D. Student Applied Mathematics, Masters Student
University of Michigan - Ann Arbor

I was raised on the southside of Atlanta by an independent, strong mother. We experienced a series of unfortunate events throughout my childhood and teenage years that forced me to find peace in an unusual place — mathematics. We were not able to afford summer camps/programs, so instead I’d wander into libraries to read math books for the next grade level. My mom, encouraging towards my “odd” academic interest, arranged for me to attend Westlake High School’s Math & Science Magnet program in SW Atlanta. However, even being in this rigorous program for four years did not make a college education guaranteed because at the end of the day we were still victims of generational poverty. To my surprise, I was not only accepted to the Georgia Institute of Technology, but was also offered a full-ride through the G. Wayne Clough Tech Promise Scholarship which was specifically for academically qualified students with systemic financial barriers.

My matriculation through Georgia Tech was most positively affected by being a member and leader in the National Society of Black Engineers, conducting research at the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute in Berkeley, CA, and studying abroad in the Budapest Semester in Mathematics in Hungary. In 2016, I graduated as the 9th Black woman to earn a B.S. in Applied Mathematics from the institute which came with great celebration, however, the accomplishment continues to leave me quite unsettled. I was the only Black student in all of my advanced courses with no shared cultural/ethnic relations to the faculty of an institute in a city with a significantly high Black population. It was partly this stark reality that prompted me to found, Afrithmetic, a mathematics educational company. Through this company I was able to offer tutorial services, content workshops, and summer programs to uplift students and families who did not usually have access to quality service.

I am now at the University of Michigan pursuing my Ph.D. in Mathematics Education and Masters in Applied Mathematics with research interest focused on the experience of Black students in mathematics as they transition from high school into four-year universities. I have taken a step back from Afrithmetic to focus on my doctoral studies, but I am actively looking for interested people to help reboot its most significant programs.

Robert Walker

Graduate Student
University of Michigan-Ann Arbor

Q: What is your personal and educational background?

A: I hail from Urbana, Illinois, from a working-class family, raised by a single mother. I went to undergrad at the Urbana-Champaign campus of the University of Illinois, majoring in both math and philosophy. I am a Ph.D candidate at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, advised by Karen Ellen Smith. I am formerly an NSF Graduate Research Fellow, and am currently a Ford Foundation Dissertation Fellow. I will graduate in 2018.

 

Q: Please describe an experience (or 2) that helped you discover/ cultivate your interest in the mathematical sciences.

A: As an undergrad, the summer research component of programs such as Ronald E. McNair Scholars did a lot to kindle my passion for advanced mathematical study. I received mentorship from three Illinois math professors in conducting research projects: Matthew Ando, Bruce Reznick, and Andy Schultz. My project under Andy eventually led to a thirteen-month collaboration that culminated in a joint publication in the Journal of Number Theory. The empowerment I felt in doing research sold me on aspiring to be a mathematician.

 

Q: Please share any words of wisdom/inspiration or anything you would like to promote.

A: To undergraduates, my advice is to participate in research programs such as McNair Scholars or MSRI-UP. Your research mentors can write strong letters in support of applications both for graduate schools and for fellowships from, e.g., the Hertz Foundation, the Ford Foundation, or the National Science Foundation. To graduate students, I would additionally suggest trusting your mathematical taste for what techniques and problems excite you. Also, run your own race, at a pace you’re comfortable with. To anyone, as far as your academic writing (e.g., application essays, preprint drafts), save copies in more than one place!

April Harry

Recent Ph.D. in Statistics
Purdue University

When I began college as a Deciding major at Xavier University of Louisiana, I had no idea what subject I wanted to pursue. However, the moment I took my first undergraduate-level Calculus class, I started to feel a pull in the direction of the mathematical sciences. The superb faculty and staff in Xavier’s mathematics department helped to cement my decision to major in math. It was their encouragement that lead me to attend summer research programs, and ultimately to attend graduate school.

My Xavier mentors also introduced me to the Enhancing Diversity in Graduate Education (EDGE) program. Because of EDGE, my support network expanded drastically. I was now connected to individuals at every level—from tenured professors, to post docs, to fellow graduate students—all invested in my success.

I am proud to say that in December 2017 I became the first African American woman to earn a Ph.D. in Statistics from Purdue University. The wealth of advice and encouragement that my EDGE and Xavier networks have offered throughout this journey was absolutely crucial.

Currently, I’m a fellow at Insight Data Science in Seattle, where I’m learning to leverage my skills in statistics and machine learning to create useful products with industry applications. Wherever my career in the mathematical sciences leads me next, my own experiences remind me of the importance of paying it forward. I look forward to supporting the next generation of students the way so many others have supported me.

Tai-Danae Bradley

Graduate Student
CUNY Graduate Center

I was born and raised in Richmond, VA. As a kid, I had many different interests – music, sports, art – but I came into mathematics much later in life. I attended The City College of New York for my undergraduate education and played on the women’s basketball team in my first two years. I hadn’t decided on a major, but I’ve always liked science and figured I’d use it to forge a career in athletics.

But that changed in my second year! I had a phenomenal teacher for Calculus III.

He had (and still has!) an extraordinary gift for explaining complex ideas in easy ways. I had never heard math spoken with such clarity and insight and – more strikingly – with such humility. I felt as though I had been granted access into a world which was, until then, completely invisible to me. I was – and still am – enamored by how mathematics is so expertly woven into the world around us. That’s when I decided to major in math and physics. It was such an exciting time, and that excitement still hasn’t worn off!

I’m now a PhD student at the CUNY Graduate Center working in algebraic topology and applied category theory. In my free time I enjoy sharing mathematics through my blog Math3ma and, more recently, through PBS Infinite Series on YouTube.

John Urschel

Graduate Student
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

When I was a kid, I loved doing puzzles books. I had no idea that what I was doing was math. My mother, though, recognized a talent in me and became determined to nurture it. Education was important to her. She had grown up in a rough part of Cincinnati and had been the first person in her family to go to college. As a single mother, she wanted more opportunities for me. So she encouraged me, buying me workbooks, racing me in Sudoku, and spending countless hours playing games with me, without ever letting on that she was cultivating my reasoning, logic, and mathematical skills. I was a good but indifferent math student in high school. It wasn’t until I got to Penn State that I realized that I had an aptitude for math — and, more important, a strong drive to learn. One of my professors, Vadim Kaloshin, introduced me to mathematical research and mentored me through my first paper. He gave me Arnold’s Mathematical Methods of Classical Mechanics and patiently answered my questions as I struggled through it. It was extremely difficult, but making my way through that book made me a better mathematician. Doing mathematical research reconnected me to that first love of discovery and problem-solving that I had felt as a kid — the surge of satisfaction and excitement that I felt when I had figured out something on my own and understood it deeply. There is no better feeling.