Rainie Heck Receives NSF Graduate Research Fellowship

May 14, 2020
Amanda Nagy
Woman standing in front of stone structure.
Senior Rainie Heck has received the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship. Photo credit: Courtesy of Rainie Heck

Rainie Heck, a senior mathematics and physics major, has received a National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship, an award that supports graduate students in NSF-supported science, technology, engineering, and mathematics disciplines who are pursuing research-based master's and doctoral degrees in the United States.

Fellows benefit from a three-year annual stipend of $34,000, along with a $12,000 cost of education allowance for tuition and fees, opportunities for international research and professional development, and the freedom to conduct their own research at any accredited U.S. institution of graduate education they choose.

Heck has been accepted into a graduate program at the University of Washington, where she plans to pursue a PhD in mathematics. 

“I am really excited to be part of such a great program, and while there I plan to also take advantage of UW’s strength in data science and computer science and to strengthen my background in these areas,” says Heck, who is from Chapel Hill, North Carolina. “Longer term, I plan to work in industry and become involved in the deep mathematics behind subjects such as artificial intelligence and machine learning.”

With the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship, Heck will not have to work as a teaching assistant during her three years of graduate studies—a critical benefit that allows more time and freedom to focus on coursework and research. 

“I plan to take advantage of that extra time to become involved in research earlier in my PhD than I might otherwise be able to do, both by working on projects that interest me and also by taking extra reading courses to learn about new subjects,” she says. “I am also very interested in the international funding and internship opportunities for NSF fellows, and I plan to take advantage of those during and after my PhD.”

Heck was a recipient of the prestigious Goldwater Scholarship in 2019. In spring 2019, she studied abroad in Hungary with the Budapest Semesters in Mathematics program. She is interested in number theory, geometry, and combinatorics, and she has worked on three research projects in these areas. 

During the summer of her second year, Heck completed a NSF research experience for undergraduate students (REU) at University of California Berkeley and wrote a paper about connections between geometric and algebraic properties of hyperbolic three manifolds.

For her honors project at Oberlin with Assistant Professor of Mathematics Ben Linowitz, she studied geometric and topological properties of a particular type of hyperbolic surface called an arithmetic hyperbolic surface. “The really interesting thing about this project is that these types of surfaces relate closely to number theory, so I was able to use a lot of techniques from number theory to answer geometric questions.”

Last summer, Heck worked on a project in algebraic combinatorics through an REU at the University of Michigan with Professor Anna Weigandt. “We studied how combinatorics can be used to determine the diagonal Groebner geometry of matrix Schubert varieties. I have been fortunate enough to work on projects in an array of areas, and I have really enjoyed the interdisciplinary nature of all of these projects.”

Heck is a member of the varsity women’s tennis team and a member of Sigma Xi, the Scientific Research Honor Society. She has also worked as an OWLS tutor and grader for a variety of math and physics classes.

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