February 11, 2011

Norwood wins Gates Cambridge scholarship for math

Zach Norwood

Senior mathematics major Zach Norwood of Papillion has become the first University of Nebraska-Lincoln student to win the Gates Cambridge Scholarship, and one of 30 in the United States this year. The scholarship is for graduate study in any field at the University of Cambridge in England.

The scholarship covers tuition, room, board and travel and a student stipend. The awards were announced this week following interviews of 80 U.S. finalists in New York City Feb. 4-5. There were 800 applicants for the awards.

Norwood will graduate in May and travel to England in mid-September. He will spend one year studying math at Cambridge. The coursework is designed to prepare students for research toward a Ph.D.

The Gates Cambridge scholarship was created in 2000 when the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation donated $210 million to the University of Cambridge. The scholarship process identifies students who show leadership skills and want to better others’ lives. The scholarship can be awarded to students from any country in the world except for the United Kingdom. Scholars can renew the scholarship for up to four years of study.

Norwood said he is excited to have the opportunity to study at Cambridge because it “is one of the best places in the world to study math,” he said. He said he plans to use his time at Cambridge to be exposed to different areas of math. “I felt like if I went straight to grad school I wouldn’t have the opportunity to explore any more areas of math,” he said. And he can also look forward to working with other Gates Cambridge scholars.

“Interacting with the other Gates Cambridge scholars will give me an opportunity to talk to really talented, bright people in other fields,” he said.

After he finishes studying at Cambridge, Norwood plans to attend graduate school, with the long-term goal of perhaps becoming a math professor at a research university.

UNL math professor Roger Wiegand has worked with Norwood since last year as his UCARE faculty sponsor. The Undergraduate Creative Activities and Research Experiences program is funded by Pepsi Endowment and Program of Excellence funds, and creates scholarly, research partnerships between UNL faculty and undergraduates – getting students engaged in research early in their college careers.

“It’s an honor for the department and for all of the University of Nebraska for someone to do so well in this nationally competitive program,” Wiegand said.

Wiegand said he is amazed by how quickly Norwood absorbs advanced material. Norwood has been taking graduate courses in math as an undergraduate and has had two summer math experiences, one at Indiana and another at UCLA.

“He’s one of the best students I’ve ever encountered,” Wiegand said.

In addition to his work with Wiegand, Norwood works for the Department of Mathematics as a teaching assistant and as a tutor in the Math Resource Center. Wiegand said Norwood enjoys teaching and “helping other students to understand and get excited about math.”

Norwood also works with other students in the University Honors Program and served as president of the Honors Program Student Advisory Board for two years.

“The best thing about the honors program, for me, is the opportunity to interact with other honors students who are bright and interested in a variety of things, and are intellectually curious,” Norwood said.

Norwood said he is “humbled” to have won the Gates Cambridge Scholarship but he also understands the responsibility he has to do well.

“I have a challenge to achieve at a high level at Cambridge,” he said. He said he expects to be the first of many UNL students to win the award.

His advice to future applicants? Don’t participate in activities just to build a resume.

“Decide what you want to do and if there happens to be a nice scholarship out there that’s looking for applicants that share your goals and values, then great, apply for it,” Norwood said.

The 30 American scholars are from 22 states and 25 colleges – including, for the first time, scholars from Northeastern Ohio Universities College of Medicine, University of Akron, University of Rochester, Virginia Military Institute, Wake Forest University, Yeshiva University and UNL.

  • Christine Scalora