Two New College Students Awarded Full Scholarships to Oxford
Timothy Duff and Kaitlin Statz, students at New College of Florida, have been awarded full scholarships for master’s degrees at England’s renowned University of Oxford, as members of the inaugural class of Frost Scholars.
The scholarship program was created by the philanthropic foundation of Patricia Frost, a member of the Florida University System’s Board of Governors. It provides 10 full scholarships a year for Florida residents graduating from the state’s public colleges who are pursuing further study in science, technology, engineering or math programs.
Duff, from the Tampa area, will continue his studies in mathematics, while Statz, from Mexico Beach and now of Sarasota, will study archaeological sciences. Both are expected to graduate in May.
Dr. Donal O’Shea, president of New College, said both students are prime examples of the small college’s penchant for outsized returns. “Both Tim and Kaitlin have made the most of their New College careers, by collaborating with their professors to explore and master their fields of study. We’re tremendously proud of them and know they will find success at Oxford.”
New College, with just 800 students, has a minuscule portion of the Florida university system’s population, but accounts for 20 percent of the first class of Frost Scholars.
During his first semester, he studied abstract algebra, calculus with theory, ordinary differential equations and mathematics seminar. And his abstract algebra teacher, Prof. Eirini Poimenidou, would have disagreed with Duff’s self-assessment. Taking the abstract algebra class as a first-year is unusual; finishing first in the class is even more so -- “unheard of for a first-year student,” Poimenidou said.
With the guidance of his advisor, Prof. Patrick McDonald, Tim developed a course of study that emphasized tutorials, where he could work on specific topics and problems and meet periodically with the professors. “He’s given me an unbelievable amount of flexibility in designing my program of study,” Duff said.
The system was perfect for Duff, McDonald said. “Tim was a very strong, self-motivated student, precisely the sort of student New College was designed to serve well,” he said. “I always had the sense that I was learning at least as much from our interactions as he was.”
Over the years, Poimenidou tracked his progress, with pride. “Tim is a very special student and one of the best, perhaps the best I have ever seen in my 24 years of teaching,” she said.
As it turns out, his self-designed course of study at New College may be good preparation for Oxford, which uses a similar tutorial-style system. And it puts him on the same campus as the most heralded mathematician in many years, Andrew Wiles, who in 1995 completed the proof of Fermat’s Last Theorem – a task that had confounded mathematicians for 358 years.
Duff’s senior thesis is titled "Deformations, Discrete Sampling, and Robust Toric Ideals." It broadly concerns applications of computational algebraic geometry to certain statistical problems, namely, discrete sampling, random graphs, and restricted independence models.
Duff hasn’t decided on his path after Oxford, though he is outspoken about math education.
“This is a really fun thing to talk about,” he said, “the way mathematics education is emphasized as being essential in the American pedagogy. It’s as if there’s a finite amount that everyone must learn in order to have the American dream. For example you can’t do your taxes if you can’t add. But people think of there being a ceiling to everything. They don’t conceive of it being limitless the way language is. But that’s silly, because it is a language. “
Poimenidou believes that Duff could be an excellent teacher. “He has a flair for being able to explain it to younger students as I have seen him do many times during his math seminars,” she said. “Tim is also a humble and caring human being. He is very deserving of this award.”
The thesis examined how the depictions of Silbury Hill, Windmill Hill and Avebury Stone Circle – all part of the same UNESCO World Heritage Site as the more famous Stonehenge – have changed through last 300 to 400 years, and how those illustrations have reflected artistic movements of their time.
Statz submitted an edited chapter of her thesis and an original paper to Oxford as part of her application. Her thesis advisor, Prof. Anthony Andrews, said the “very sophisticated analysis” of art and history so close to Oxford surely impressed the university.
The professors noted Statz’s combination of academic gifts, her devotion to the field and her work ethic make her a natural for the Oxford scholarship. “It fits her to a T. I can’t think of a better person for it to go to,” Andrews said.
The Frost Scholarships are for students in sciences, technology, engineering and math – hardly the skill sets of Indiana Jones. But modern archaeology is nothing like the movies, Statz said.
She plans to specialize in the analytical area of the field. Archaeologists today, she explains, use a multitude of techniques including geographic information system models to collect data, and analyze artifacts using radiocarbon and thermoluminescence dating and other methods.
In other words, archaeology doesn’t end when something is unearthed in the field. “People don’t realize that if you want the artifact data, there’s going to be someone in the lab getting the work done,” she said.
Andrews sees Statz’s abilities meshing perfectly in the Oxford program. “Archaeology is very graphic,” he said. “She’ll be able to use her skills and develop them further.”
Statz chose archaeology as her field of study because she appreciates how it provides “a concrete link to the past,” and that in turn gives Oxford and England a special appeal. “I’m looking forward to living in a city with history again,” she said.