Carnegie Mellon University

Shannon Gallagher

Shannon Gallagher (S 2014)

Mathematical Sciences major, Judith Resnik Award winner


Exploring the practical applications of mathematical thinking

Shannon Gallagher’s life has been examined with a fine-toothed comb—she’s been subjected to background checks and personal conduct assessments, and she’s had her fingerprints taken and references verified. But at the end of it all, she was granted security clearance to participate in a highly competitive summer program at the Department of Defense that attracts many of the best university mathematics students in the United States.

Clearly the Department of Defense didn’t make a mistake with Gallagher, because she’s not talking.

“It was a really exciting experience,” said Gallagher, a senior mathematical sciences major from Butler, Pa. “But I can’t say too much about it.”

In fact, Gallagher won’t say anything at all about the work she did the summer after her sophomore year. But the experience shaped the rest of her time at Carnegie Mellon and helped her choose a career path.

“I really enjoyed that experience, and it got me thinking: I like math and I like the practical applications of it. So I decided that I wanted to do something with applied math, which led me to statistics.”

Gallagher, who will graduate in 2014 with a B.S. in mathematical sciences, plans to pursue her Ph.D. in statistics at Carnegie Mellon.

In addition to her summer working at the Department of Defense, Gallagher spent a semester studying mathematics at St. Olaf College in Budapest, Hungary as part of the Budapest Semesters in Mathematics program for North American students.

“It was a wonderful experience,” she said. “I met many new people, learned some math and traveled all over Eastern Europe. I’m really glad I had the chance to do it.”

Back in the States, she participated in a Research Experiences for Undergraduates program at the University of Minnesota where she worked with Pavlo Pylyavskyy on a project in the field of combinatorial algebra.

At Carnegie Mellon, Gallagher is working with Statistics Professor Bill Eddy on a project with the U.S. Census Bureau—which required more security clearances. Gallagher is analyzing data from the U.S. Census to determine how accurate the data actually are. Specifically she’s looking at the process of record linkage, which assigns unique identifiers across multiple databases. This can help to pinpoint whether a college student has been counted twice, for example. She plans to work on this project throughout the summer.

Although she’s continuing her graduate work outside of the Mathematical Sciences Department, Gallagher is certain that the training she received there will serve her well in graduate school and beyond.

“I have greatly benefited from the rigorous and hard-working environment of the math department. My approach to thinking has changed drastically, and for the better.”