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Transylvania senior Jessica Williams spends five weeks at mathematics program for college women

Jessica Williams with Einstein statue
Williams poses with Einstein at the National Academy of Sciences, in Washington, D.C.

LEXINGTON, Ky.—Transylvania University senior Jessica Williams spent five weeks this summer studying mathematics at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., through the Summer Program for Women in Mathematics.

A mathematics major minoring in computer science and philosophy, Williams was one of only 16 female college seniors selected for the program from colleges and universities around the country. All 16 received a travel allowance, campus room and board and a stipend. The program, founded by mathematics professor Murli M. Gupta, offered seminars led by research mathematicians that enabled the students to obtain a deep understanding of basic concepts in several areas of mathematics, to learn how to do independent work and to gain experience in expressing mathematical ideas orally and in writing. Panel discussions were held on graduate schools and careers in mathematics.

“I can’t really articulate how much I gained from my five weeks in Washington, D.C.,” said Williams. “It was a once in a lifetime kind of opportunity. The graduate level material and mathematical skills I learned will aid me in the classes I take at Transy in my senior year and in graduate school. In addition to an exposure to higher-level material, the program provided an immense amount of information on graduate school, careers in academia, industry and government, and on the challenges that women face in this field.  The faculty and staff were very supportive, and answered hundreds of questions that we had about our final undergraduate years and the years that will follow.”

The program encourages female students to pursue higher mathematics in a field traditionally dominated by males. All the instructors are female, including the teaching assistants, who are graduates of the program.

“The opportunity to sit across from a working female mathematician at dinner and talk casually with her about her research and experiences, along with the chance to tour where mathematicians work in industry and government and speak directly with employees about future career options, was invaluable,” said Williams. “I made contacts in all areas of the field that will benefit me when I am applying to graduate school and when I am looking for a job.”

Williams credits her experiences at Transylvania, and two of her professors in particular, with helping her prepare for this summer opportunity.

“I could not have gotten into this program without the higher level math classes I have taken at Transy or without help and instruction from my outstanding professors. I am especially grateful to Dr. [David] Shannon and Dr. [Ryan] Stuffelbeam for writing my letters of recommendation and encouraging me to take as many upper-level courses as possible, without which I probably would not have been accepted.”