Mathematical Sciences Student Wins Goldwater Scholarship
By Jocelyn Duffy
Sophomore mathematical sciences major Joshua Brakensiek has received a Barry Goldwater Scholarship to support his pursuit of a research career in mathematics and theoretical computer science. Brakensiek is one of 252 college sophomores and juniors nationwide chosen from 1,150 nominations for the 2015-2016 academic year.
Brakensiek came to Carnegie Mellon University's Mellon College of Science from Phoenix, as a Knaster-McWilliams Scholar. The Knaster-McWilliams Scholars program, which brings some of the nation's best math students to Carnegie Mellon's Mellon College of Science, is one of only a few scholarship-supported programs in the country that pairs an honors program with increased access to faculty and early research opportunities.
During his first two years at Carnegie Mellon, Brakensiek has taken full advantage of the program's research opportunities and the university's interdisciplinary environment, conducting research with faculty working in computer science, statistics and cosmology. His work with Computer Science Professor Venkatesan Guruswami on computational complexity theory and coding theory has resulted in a number of manuscripts that have been submitted for presentation at computer science and mathematics conferences and symposia, including one manuscript that was co-written with junior mathematical sciences major Sam Zbarsky. Brakensiek's astrostatistical research, done under the guidance of Chad Schafer and Peter Freeman, faculty in the Statistics Department and the McWilliams Center for Cosmology, will help researchers to analyze the enormous amounts of data that will be collected by the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope.
Brakensiek was also a member of the CMU team that placed second in the 2015 Mathematical Association of America's William Lowell Putnam Competition, the definitive mathematics competition for undergraduate students in North America. He placed among the top 16 of all 4,275 students who took the Putnam test and received the highest score out of the 206 CMU students who participated in the competition.
After earning his bachelor's degree, Brakensiek hopes to pursue a doctoral degree in either mathematics or computer science. His goal is to teach at the university level and conduct research in theoretical computer science.
"The Goldwater Scholarship recognizes students who have strong research profiles. Each university can only submit four candidates. At Carnegie Mellon, we always have a talented pool of sophomores and juniors in the STEM fields to choose from, which often makes it difficult to decide whom to put forward. But with Josh it wasn't a difficult decision, he had the unanimous approval of the entire internal selection committee," said Stephanie Wallach, assistant vice provost for undergraduate education and director of the Fellowships and Scholarships Office. "He is recognized by his teachers as a world-class problem-solver, and he is a delightful young man."
Goldwater Scholars receive one- and two-year scholarships up to a maximum of $7,500 per year for tuition, fees, books, room and board.
The Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation was established by the U.S. Congress in 1986 to honor Sen. Barry M. Goldwater. The scholarship program is designed to foster and encourage outstanding students to pursue careers in the fields of mathematics, the natural sciences and engineering.
According to the foundation, Goldwater Scholars have garnered prestigious post-graduate awards, including Rhodes, Marshall and Churchill scholarships, as well as National Science Foundation Graduate Fellowships.