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Savannah Bates won the Fred B. Noble Gold Medal for Scholarship, the University’s highest academic award for graduating seniors, at Spring 2017 Commencement.

Alumna uses NSF Fellowship to pursue mathematical biology graduate degree

Thanks to an undergraduate Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) opportunity, Jacksonville University alumna Savannah Bates ‘17 discovered a passion – mathematical biology.

“The REU was my first research experience and led me to several other research projects in mathematical biology and eventually choose to pursue that as a graduate career at North Carolina State University,” says Savannah, who pursued her passion and successfully secured a graduate research fellowship from the National Science Foundation (NSF). The NSF also runs the REU program.

The fellowship capped a Dolphin career filled with awards including:

  • John F. Golightly Award and Scholarship in Mathematics in 2015
  • Jacksonville University’s Student Woman of the Year in 2016
  • Division of Science and Mathematics and College of Arts and Science Student of the Year in 2017
  • The Phi Kappa Phi graduate fellowship in 2017
  • The Fred B. Noble Gold Medal for Scholarship in 2017
  • The Social Computing, Behavioral-Cultural Modeling, & Prediction and Behavior Representation in Modeling and Simulation (SBP-BRiMS) Grand Interdisciplinary Data-Science and Modeling Challenge championship in 2018

Jacksonville University math professors encouraged Bates, who graduated in 2017, to pursue REU opportunities, and she ended up working at Winthrop University on the mathematical modeling of cancer.

Savannah Bates ’17

“At the time, I had no idea math and cancer could be related, but I wanted to find out,” she says. “What I love about bio-math is that I can take a real, tangible problem and model not only the problem but how it could be solved.

“Bio-mathematicians can study diseases, invasive species, ecology, and even human behavior and emotion, which I think is amazing. The applications are limitless.”

The experience convinced Savannah to pursue a Ph.D. in Biological Mathematics at NC State and apply for the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP), the oldest graduate fellowship of its kind. The program recognizes and supports outstanding graduate students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, who pursue research-based masters and doctoral degrees at accredited U.S. institutions. Past fellows include numerous Nobel Prize winners, former U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, Google founder Sergey Brin and Freakonomics co-author Steven Levitt.

Savannah says the fellowship lightens her financial burden and allows her to focus on improving her research and teaching skills.

“With these skills, I hope to excel as a faculty member myself one day and create the same impact on my future students that the faculty at JU had on me when I was an undergrad,” she says. “I also think the faculty and administration at JU help to create a community that betters the students and I was so fortunate to have so many encouraging professors in the math department who helped to build my confidence and push me out of my comfort zone.

By Carley Strickney