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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.

Noelle Sawyer

Mathematics Ph.D. Candidate
Wesleyan University

I’m from the Bahamas, where I have a big, wonderful and supportive family. After high school there, I majored in math and history at Vassar College. Currently, I’m in the math PhD program at Wesleyan University under the direction of Dave Constantine.

While I was an undergrad, I tutored, ran recitations at Vassar, and taught summer school math at my old high school, all of which confirmed what I already knew: I love teaching math. I thought that research was something that I had to get out of the way to get a degree and teach a college math class. Turns out, I love doing math research as well.

I felt very isolated when I first got to Vassar, and again when I started out at Wesleyan. Both times, finding some kind of community around myself has been a major part of any success that I’ve had. I’m so much better at everything I do when I can recreate the feeling of community that I had around me when I was at home. In doing so, I’ve found friends I’m still in almost constant contact with from Vassar, and a collection of friends and mentors while I’m in grad school that have supported me along the way.

Find people who make you feel like you have a community around you, whatever that means to you. If you can’t find it in your department, look elsewhere. Sometimes it takes a while, but having that support is like nothing else.

Danielle Middlebrooks

Ph.D. Candidate
Applied Mathematics, Statistics and Scientific Computation
University of Maryland, College Park

What is your personal and educational background?

I was born and raised in the Bronx, NY. For as long as I can remember, I have always been interested in math and science. As I got older, my interest in math grew more and more. I attended Spelman College and obtained a B.S. in mathematics. My amazing network of professors encouraged me to apply to graduate school and pursue a PhD. I am now a doctoral candidate at the University of Maryland- College Park where I will be graduating in May 2020.

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

My senior year of high school, I enrolled in AP calculus BC. While my purpose in enrolling was to earn college credit, this class opened my eyes to the beauty behind mathematics and truly sparked my interest. This interest in math cultivated when I joined Math RAMP as a sophomore at Spelman College. Math RAMP is a research and mentoring program that provides valuable research experience to Spelman math majors and prepares students for graduate studies. Before joining the program, I had no idea what math research even entailed, let alone that it would be something I would be able to do. The program introduced me to summer REU programs which led to my first publication in a mathematics journal.


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

Nothing worth having comes easy. No matter what your goals are, continue to work towards them and don’t let setbacks steer you away from accomplishing them. I’ve had many bumps in the road on my path in graduate school. But any failures were used as stepping stones to success.

Talon Johnson

Ph.D. Student
Department of Mathematics
University of Texas, Arlington

What is your personal and educational background?

 I was born in Dallas, TX, and raised by a phenomenal and caring woman, my grandmother. I attended Morehouse College for my undergraduate studies, where I majored in mathematics. During my time at Morehouse, I developed an interest in mathematical and computational biology. Currently, I’m a PhD student at the University of Texas at Arlington (UTA), under the supervision of Dr. Jianzhong Su. At UTA, I received the GAANN fellowship and helped found the College of Science Black Graduate -Student Association (COSBGSA), serving as the co-president over the past two academic years. I will graduate in 2021.


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

As an undergrad, I felt a sense of furtherance and support since the first day I stepped on the third floor of Dansby Hall (math department of Morehouse) that came from the faculty. They encouraged their students to be engaged in mathematics, whether it be in class, at conferences, REUs, etc. Their passions resonated with me and I wanted to enhance my own mathematical outlook. In 2014, I became a MARC-U*STAR scholar, in which I had the wondrous opportunity to conduct research in my last two years with Dr. Shelby Wilson. Through her expertise and mentorship, I felt more attuned with this idea of research in mathematical biology, which led me to winning a poster session at the JMM in 2015. But I would like to thank all of the Morehouse math faculty for presenting me with opportunities, such as, MATH SPIRAL and NIMBioS SRE, which helped cultivate my interest in the mathematical sciences and steer me to the road of graduate school.


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

To the all students of math, my advice as you travel and navigate the realm of the mathematics is to be curious and patient. Whether it be pure or applied, your mathematical journey will be a difficult one, but mathematics is a culmination of centuries of those people who ask the questions, “What if…?” and “Why does it work?” These type of questions come up a lot in mathematics and they take time to understand so that one can achieve results.