Nyah Davis, a mathematics major from Des Moines, has been named one of two University of Iowa undergraduates to win the prestigious Goldwater Scholarship, along with biomedical engineering major Jack Lynn. Davis's algebra research focuses on the representation theory of quivers, or directed graphs.
Davis says one of the reasons she came to Iowa was because it has one of the most racial-, ethnic-, and gender-diverse graduate programs in the country. While that diversity is less evident in the undergraduate program, Davis is actively working to change that by taking leadership roles in student organizations and talking with faculty about translating aspects of the graduate program to the undergraduate curriculum.
She says she also chose Iowa because of the opportunity it presented.
The Goldwater Scholarship, established by Congress in 1986 in honor of U.S. Sen. Barry M. Goldwater, fosters and encourages outstanding students to pursue careers in the fields of mathematics, the natural sciences, and engineering.
The Goldwater is the premier undergraduate award of its type in these fields.
“I did come in as a declared math major, but I’ve been able to take classes in chemistry, art, literature, political science,” she says. “I don’t think I would have had that same chance to explore all my different interests at a STEM-heavy institution.”
What excites Davis about math is figuring out how its different pieces fit together.
“Many of my classes have been focused on one specific area of math. Then from side projects or work with graduate students and professors outside of classes, I started to see all the connections and how the different areas all fit together,” she says. “And it’s so cool. It feels more complex and also more approachable at the same time.”
Her faculty mentor, Ryan Kinser, associate professor of mathematics, supervises her research and helped her with the application process. He says her drive to explore other interests sets her apart from her peers.
“Nyah has also developed talents in several other areas besides mathematics while at Iowa, for example chemistry and drawing,” he says. “This passion to explore different paths will ultimately make her a more creative, well-rounded, and impactful researcher.”
Davis says Kinser is a very approachable and supportive professor.
“It is really cool to have a professor be actively invested in my success,” she says. “He takes the time. He doesn’t just give me a book or a research paper and say, ‘OK, go figure it out.’ He wants to talk about it. He has helped me practice articulating my thought process, which was a skill I needed to develop.”
Davis also sees her experience as a helpful example for other Black students. She is the only Black student in the majority of her math classes, nor is there a Black female professor in the department. But she is in the vanguard of change.
“That doesn’t mean that I couldn’t do it just because I couldn’t see it done,” Davis says. “Don’t let the lack of role models prevent you from pursuing what you are passionate about.”
—Excerpted from an article in Iowa Now.