LINCOLN, Neb. – Torrington native and graduate of Torrington High School (THS), Molly Creagar, received a graduate research fellowship from the National Science Foundation (NSF).
Creagar is a graduate student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) studying Mathematics. She earned her bachelor’s degree in Mathematics in 2019 from the University of San Francisco. Her plans are to continue at UNL and pursue her Ph.D. in mathematics after earning her master’s degree in May.
One of the reasons she decided to attend UNL for graduate school was because of the initiatives the mathematics department does towards empowering women studying in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields.
“My main visit to UNL was during the Nebraska Conference for Undergraduate Women in Mathematics (NCUWM),” Creagar said. “During that conference, I talked to some grad students and was really impressed and appreciative of the support that the department gives to women in their program, which isn’t necessarily always common in Ph.D. Math programs.”
During her time at the University of San Francisco, Creagar and some of the other family math majors started a chapter of the Association for Women in Mathematics (AWM). She is now helping out with the chapter at UNL and hopes to continue to bring diversity and gender equality to the STEM fields.
Besides taking a full course load and doing research projects, Creagar is also a Graduate Teaching Assistant (GTA), taught a course during the fall semester and is teaching another this spring.
“In the fall, I taught College Algebra,” Creagar said. “This spring I’m teaching Contemporary Mathematics, which is a class for Liberal Arts majors and non-science majors. It kind of just introduces students to ways that math is used in the real world and not necessarily things you would’ve seen in high school or in other classes.”
When Creagar applied for the NSF Fellowship, she had to submit two separate essays during the application process. One essay was a two-page proposal about what she was proposing to do if she was awarded the research fellowship. The second essay was a three-page personal statement about her personal background, passions and how she got to this point in her life.
Her essay about her research proposal discussed how she wanted to use a certain type of way to model plant organisms and what the benefits of that type of research would be.
In the second essay, Creagar wrote about growing up in a small town and not understanding all of the things that a person could do with math. She also wrote about being exposed to different things at the University of San Francisco that she didn’t experience in high school and for wanting to give time and resources to women and gender equality in STEM fields.
The NSF uses two separate criteria when judging the essays and deciding who they will award the fellowship. Those two criteria are intellectual merit and broader impacts.
“You kind of need to have a good mix of both,” Creagar said. “In my opinion, my broader impacts were what got me the award. I think I’ve demonstrated, and I’m going to try to continue to demonstrate, a dedication to extending opportunities in STEM.”
This summer, Creagar has an internship with the United States Army Corps of Engineers. She’ll be working at one of their labs and using mathematical techniques to work on various projects. After the internship, Creagar will work on her research project for the NSF during her fall semester and will have the help of two of her Ph.D. advisors.
“Richard Rebarber is my advisor in the math department, and he does things in mathematical ecology and has a background in dynamical systems,” Creagar said. “Brigitte Tenhumberg is my co-advisor, and she is in the biological sciences department. It’s really nice to have the input from a biological standpoint.”
Growing up, Creagar was always surrounded by math. Her dad, Bob Creagar, is a math professor at Eastern Wyoming College (EWC) and the love of math was always in their household.
She also said that her time spent at THS helped her be prepared for college mathematics. Her math teacher John Kelly pushed her hard to be a successful student and having the opportunity to take some math courses at EWC while still in high school helped prepare her as well.
“I had a good understanding of what college mathematics would be like,” Creagar said. “I was exposed to things like calculus in high school which is something that isn’t necessarily always common. I think working with people at THS to be able to take college courses is definitely a strength of THS.”