Robin Dunn ’16 earned a top award for college mathematics and science: the Goldwater Scholarship that encourages highly qualified students to seek jobs in those fields.
“She is one of the very best students I have had the pleasure to work with in my 25 years at Kenyon College,” Brad Hartlaub, associate provost and professor of math and statistics, wrote in Dunn’s scholarship recommendation letter.
The mathematics major from Dublin, Ohio, was one of 260 college students chosen from about 1,200 applicants to the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Program, started in 1986 by Congress to honor the former senator. Many more students apply at individual colleges and universities, but Kenyon and other four-year schools are limited to four applicants each for the award, which provides up to $7,500 for tuition and fees.
Two other Kenyon students earned honorable mentions: Zach Weiner ’16, a physics and math major interested in cosmology and astrophysics research, and Scott Freeburg ’16, a biology major who wants to work in a biomedical research facility.
Dunn had to submit a research proposal to become a Goldwater Scholar, and her idea built on a research experience she completed last summer at Valparaiso University in Indiana. In her application, she proposed a formula to improve on a model to predict the price of stock options, important to people buying the options because accurate predictions give them an advantage.
“Statistics fascinates me. Really mathematics in general fascinates me. I find it very rewarding to be able to prove these eternal mathematical truths,” she said.
Hartlaub said Dunn ranks among the top of his students over the years who have gone on to earn graduate degrees from universities including Carnegie Mellon, Duke, Johns Hopkins and Stanford or got jobs with the Mayo Clinic, the Federal Reserve Bank or Goldman Sachs Group Inc.
Dunn’s win is especially impressive because the competition has become more intense as colleges and universities expand undergraduate research, Hartlaub said, with Kenyon’s last Goldwater Scholar named three years ago.
Dunn has accomplished a great deal in just three years at Kenyon, including winning third place in a national data analysis competition her first year for a project with a partner that examined a data set for well water problems in West Virginia, he said.
She heads to Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh this summer for her second Research Experience for Undergraduates, a program supported by the National Science Foundation.
In addition, Dunn tutors other students in data analysis and economics and is an intern for Kenyon’s Office of Institutional Research, gathering survey data about students’ experiences on campus. As president of the Newman Club for Roman Catholic students, she helps arrange rides for students to attend Mass at a church in nearby Mount Vernon.
Hartlaub said Dunn is an unassuming leader among her classmates and makes them feel comfortable about asking her questions on classwork.
The third-floor computer lab in Hayes Hall is a hub for math majors where they work on projects together and ask each other for help, Dunn said. “I really enjoy the community of the math department.”
The Goldwater application made her reflect on her interests in statistics and what kind of research she would like to pursue, which will be helpful when applying to graduate schools, she said.
Dunn said a career in statistics interests her because new problems always crop up that statisticians can help solve. “That would allow me to keep learning for my entire life, which I definitely want to do.”