Two Math Students Named Goldwater Scholars

2006 Goldwater ScholarsHaving already worked with Professor Schreiber, senior Evan Saltzman is actively engaged in two additional research projects at the College. One involves generating analyses of voter data with Ron Rapoport, the John Marshall Professor of Government and chair of the government department; the other has him trying to come up with a better staffing model for the call center at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation with Lawrence Leemis, professor of mathematics.

In part, on the basis his undergraduate accomplishments, Saltzman, who is majoring in mathematics and economics, was one of three William and Mary students to receive a prestigious Goldwater Scholarship for the coming year. Joining him as Goldwater scholars are sophomore Blair S. Ashley, who is majoring in neuroscience and kinesiology, and senior Kendra L. Letchworth, who is majoring in mathematics and physics. The scholarships, valued at up to $7,500 a year for up to two years, were awarded to 323 undergraduate students nationwide who are studying mathematics, science or engineering.

In Saltzman's case, enrolling in a metapopulation-ecology course, taught by Schreiber and John Swaddle, Robert and Sara Boyd Associate Professor of Biology, began a "chain of events" that led to successive research opportunities. "My project looked at a way of modeling eveolutionary processes mathematically," Saltzman said. "The significance is that we can show, from a theoretical standpoint, that we can have biodiversity. We've actually come up with a theoretical model that can predict what conditions are most conducive to biodiversity."

For Saltzman, the excitement of discovery is matched by the privilege of working with faculty at the College. Each professor, he said, has worked hard to explain and model the ins and outs of research. In the case of the biodiversity research, he said, "Schreiber comes up with a lot of theories; I'll go out and try to program them-it is my job to test. I'm not just crunching numbers for him but am actively involved in testing theories and then trying to revise them as I probe further."

All three scholars chose William and Mary over schools with greater reputations for research. Not one of them regrets that choice. Ashley leaned toward attending William and Mary from the beginning because of its moderate size and its student-to-faculty ratio. She particularly was impressed by the acceptance rate of its graduates into medical schools-three times the national average. Now, as a campus tour guide, she routinely is asked by prospective students and their parents whether the strength of the science programs suffers because the College is viewed as a liberal-arts institution. "I justify that by the recent accomplishments of scientists here," she said. "I tell them, 'The principal investigators, who also serve as our professors, have a lot of national and private support behind them. They are being published in major journals. They are a hidden gem on campus."

Her research experience only solidifies the claims she makes as a guide. She has worked in the laboratory with Robin Looft-Wilson, assistant professor of kinesiology, studying vascular physiology, and has taken three successive classes with Shreiber as she concentrates on "the interface between mathematics and biology." Not only have the professors worked with her individually, she has helped bring them together. "Professors here are very eager to learn from each other and to collaborate on each other's projects," she said. "The three of us are keeping an open dialogue."

Letchworth credited the large amount of research opportunities as being, in part, responsible for her receiving the Goldwater Scholarship-that and maintaining a 4.0 grade-point average at the College. She has immersed herself in physics and mathematics courses, a combination she describes as "fascinating" in that "you get a remarkable sense of how well mathematical structures describe the physical universe."

In her case, Dennis Manos, CSX Professor of Applied Science and professor of physics, as well as vice provost at the College, was instrumental in helping her discover the investigative possibilities at the College. "He provided me with an incredibly challenging class during my freshman year and gave me my first opportunity to do research," she said. Along the way, Marc Sher, professor of physics, has provided what she considers invaluable guidance in choosing classes and in applying for national scholarships, such as the Goldwater. In the laboratories, she has worked with equipment, including spectrometers and plasma chambers, and she has contributed programming work and mathematical research in spectroscopy. "I definitely enjoy the programming and analytical research more," she said. "The research I have done most recently involves searching for faster, more accurate methods for calculating a spectral-line-shape profile."

When they are not attending classes, reading texts or conducting experimental analyses, Ashley, Letchworth and Saltzman have found numerous outlets on campus to help alleviate the stresses of their academic inquiries. Saltzmann enjoys the social opportunities of his fraternity, Alpha Epsilon Pi, participates on the College tennis club and helps organize events for the math club, including its recent parties dedicated to the numbers pi, where apple pie was served, and E, where pizza and cake were featured.

Ashley serves as a waitress at a local restaurant, which enables her to "develop another friend base," she said. When possible, she participates in club basketball games. She also finds that serving as a tour guide tends to be mildly therapeutic. "It provides a nice reminder of why I came here and why I love William and Mary so much," she said.

Letchworth said that she began taking piano courses as a means of temporarily escaping from what she called all of the "analytical and logical work" in which she is involved. "The honest answer for how I balance my academic and 'other life' is that I don't sleep very much," she said.