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Outstanding Math Honors Students Pursuing Advanced Degrees

The honors program in the UT Department of Math is a nationally competitive program for highly motivated and mathematically gifted undergraduate students. Originally funded by a $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation, it is one of the most challenging and rewarding undergraduate math programs in the country.

This spring, five undergraduate students in the math honors program graduated and were accepted into prestigious graduate programs for fall 2020.


Carl Edwards, from Knoxville, Tennessee, graduated with degrees in computer science and math. Edwards will begin work on his PhD in computer science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) to research machine learning and AI. He thinks the next critical step in the development of machine learning will be the creation of models that can generalize well on multiple tasks and learn from multiple contrasting yet complementary domains of data.

“UT has clearly had a monumental impact on my undergraduate career. It has provided me with a wide range of opportunities that have been fundamental in shaping my academic trajectory. I’ve felt like my math courses have greatly contributed in this way, especially things like probability and graph theory. UT has had an ineffable impact on my education in myriad other ways.”


Spencer McDonald, from Knoxville, Tennessee, graduated with degrees in math and aerospace engineering. McDonald was accepted into the AeroAstro program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He will be investigating autonomous and secure aerial platforms using adaptation and machine learning. He wants to change the aerospace industry fundamentally through his direction and facilitated research on autonomous aircraft at his future aerospace company.

“UT has prepared me in multiple different ways. The most obvious being a great education, so beyond that, the three biggest ways I can describe are the engagement opportunities, connections, and people. I was able to get involved with undergraduate research, meet alumni and professionals through various networking events, and connect with some of the most supportive people. My experience in the Math Honors Program at UT has been life-changing.”

McDonald is encouraged by the support he has received on his journey into the aerospace industry even after graduation. Everyone’s guidance and support has pushed him onto his dream job path.


Niharika Sharda, from Delhi, India, graduated with a degree in math focused on real analysis and abstract algebra and was accepted into the master’s in mathematics program at Brandeis University. She is focused strongly on pure mathematics and the field of algebra. She eventually wants to become a professional algebraist and continue to expand on pure mathematics.

“After coming to UT and joining the math department as an honors student, I was exposed to all the pure math classes and realized that there is nothing more creative than math. It is an amazing field of creativity and challenge. I will forever be grateful to UT and my professors.”

Sharda credits Professors Frazier and Thistlethwaite for sparking her interest in the field. The honors program was fundamental to Sharda completing her studies and her growing interest in pure mathematics.


Alan Gan will begin the PhD program in statistics at Ohio State in the fall. Daniel McBride will continue his education at UT and begin the PhD program in mathematics in the fall.


Students in the program take courses that can also be used towards the requirements of the Chancellor’s Honors Program. Professor Remus Nicoara, director of the program, advises math honors students each semester. In addition, every student has a faculty mentor and thesis advisor. Through their classes and seminars, the math honors students develop close working relationships among themselves and with the UT math graduate students.

Many math honors students have received prestigious national and international prizes during their undergraduate studies UT, such as the Goldwater Scholarship, Rhodes Scholarship, and Fulbright Scholarship. Recent graduates pursue graduate work in mathematics, computer science, economics, engineering, medicine, and more.

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